May 14th, 2012
02:14 PM ET

From first black president to 'first gay president'?

As if becoming the first black president wasn't momentous enough, Barack Obama has just been handed a new title: "First gay president."

A Newsweek magazine cover bestowed that distinction on Obama this week with a picture of the president and a rainbow halo. If you view that as a naked attempt to grab your attention, capitalize on the moment and have you pick up a newsmagazine, you might be right.

But that illustration - along with a New Yorker cover showing the columns of the White House lit up in rainbow colors - certainly shows how the president’s public support of same-sex marriage has pushed the issue back into the spotlight.

The magazines’ choices also speak to the broad cultural impact of Obama's announcement and pose questions about whether this moment may become a lasting part of his legacy.

That's not to say the president's announcement is necessarily a watershed moment. It earned him kudos and criticism despite the fact that he left the legal standing of same-sex marriage in the hands of the states and made no policy changes.

The issue also is far from resolved in the African-American community, and some conservatives say Obama's announcement comes at a political cost.'s John Blake writes that some suggest the black church may punish Obama for announcing his support for same-sex marriage.

As millions went to church this weekend after the president's announcement, clergy across the country offered their opinions, with the words of black pastors - a key base of support for Obama in 2008 - carrying special weight in a presidential election year. But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks.

Blake points out that a backlash by some African-American pastors, a campaign worry following the announcement, can be seen as historical irony. Black church leaders arguing against same-sex marriage are making some of the same arguments that supporters of slavery made in the 18th and 19th centuries, some historians say. Both groups adopted a literal reading of the Bible to justify withholding basic rights from a particular group.

Patrick R. Tull, a Lumberton, New Jersey, iReporter and Obama supporter, said that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman and that the president has alienated a big section of his supporters in the black community who have not "evolved" as the president has.

"The fact is many Americans, which includes Democrats, have not 'evolved' on the issue of same-sex marriage," Tull said. "Mr. President, you should have stood your ground and said, that you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but you are against discrimination of any kind. Individual states should decide what's best for their state. It is a free country and people are free to love whomever they want and that's OK with me, but I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Vera Richardson, also an Obama supporter, said the president’s stance on same-sex marriage will be his undoing for re-election.

“I am confused, I cannot vote for (Mitt) Romney, and I know Obama needs our vote, but he has caused anxiety in the black community," she said in an iReport.

But for Andrew Sullivan, the writer of the Newsweek article and also a gay man, Obama's announcement meant everything for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"For gay Americans and their families, the emotional darkness of Tuesday night became a canvas on which Obama could paint a widening dawn," Sullivan writes. "But I didn’t expect it. Like many others, I braced myself for disappointment. And yet when I watched the interview, the tears came flooding down. ...

"I was utterly unprepared for how psychologically transformative the moment would be. To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity - and the humanity of all gay Americans - was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders - from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer - backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous."

And for one Republican, the announcement swayed him toward supporting Obama.

“I'm very happy with Obama's decision because at the end of the business day I can see my partner and feel hopeful,” said iReporter David A. Seaman of Lansford, Pennsylvania. “I never would have thought he would do something like this. Just this decision alone made me swing way left to vote.”

While that analysis may be true for some, others wondered if the Newsweek cover went too far in enshrining the moment and its significance.

It's not entirely unprecedented to bestow such a title to a sitting president. In the '90s, Bill Clinton was dubbed America's first black president.

"African-American men seemed to understand it right away," Toni Morrison wrote in The New Yorker in 1998 about the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked Washington. "Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

And in many ways, the shared connections or perceived ones that earned Clinton that title, mockingly or not, is part of why Sullivan has bestowed "First Gay President" upon Obama.

Sullivan writes that a black president who likely had to go through a period of self-discovery growing up as well as struggle for equality shared in some way the plight of gay Americans. As Obama eventually shattered the barrier of office to the "White" House, his announcement will allow gay Americans to shatter the stereotypes placed on them, Sullivan argues.

“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family," he writes. "The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.”

This week's column in The New Yorker, headlined "Wedding Bells," argues that Obama's announcement is on par with the importance of abolishing laws against interracial marriage in the 1960s.

Writer Margaret Talbot points to the Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws, saying the acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable.

"One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage," Talbot writes in the New Yorker.

"And, eventually, the Court will do the right thing on same-sex marriage, just as the President did last week. As in the Loving decision, the Court will reaffirm that the 'freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.' And it will finally uphold that freedom for gay and lesbian Americans."

soundoff (1,368 Responses)
  1. The King

    Sure, and rombot crapped his magic underwear and thinks the holy land is in Missouri.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MartinH

    Ok so about 50% of America supports gay marriage and only about 3% are gay. Some people need to do the math 50-3= 47% so 47% of Americans that support gay marriage are not gay like President Obama and myself. What I don't get is why this is an issue and why some people are not willing to give the same rights to all Americans. Also why should religion have a play in our government when America has a separation of Church and State.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CollisionCourse

    He looks like a fool not a president of USA.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • JaxBob

      and you sound like an idiot or a Republican – basically the same thing

      May 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JaxBob

    I'll take gay over STUPID (Bush) any day

    May 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • cptpooppants


      May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mb2010a

    I'm canceling my subscriptions to both magazines today.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • JaxBob

      You can read?

      May 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I'm sure they'll miss you, mb2010a!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dave

    I am a hetero minority male, these are my thoughts.

    If you believe in women having rights that makes you a woman.
    If you believe in children's rights that makes you a child.
    Worry about yourself and stop worrying about others especially when they don't concern you in the least bit because everyone knows you are garbage.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • liehunter

      That makes zero sense. You can't believe in a woman's right unless you are a woman? You must be a child with such lack of logic.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tigrr

    Look at who owns these magazines. If USA gets Romeny, he will launch Israel's war on Iran. Just as Senior did Iraq, and puppet Jr did 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Be very wary.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      I concur – When W was elected I knew we would be going to war with Iraq. Romney will answer to the same group of neo-cons and war with Iran with be a certainty.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      Any who (Obama) launched the attacks in Libya and Syria? Also, and this was a good thing he did not back out on the killing of Osama.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BLKvotingAmerican

    When will American's get it.........................DISCRIMINATION is bad for everyone and COSTS American's toooooooooo much $, that frankly could be used to better our public schools and infristructions.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Folkes, don't be so pessimistic about that magazine cover! A decade from now it will be in the Smithsonian! Better get your copies while they last! That magazine cover will have the opposite effect than that intended by the publisher! That magazine cover reminds me of FDR in his limo smoking a cigar after signing the New Deal! Go get your copies while they lasts! Its historic!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kgt

    The US has over 15 trillion in debt (15,000,000,000,000). Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. The number of Americans on food stamps and welfare have soared. The workforce is shrinking. The US has the highest corporate taxes in the world. The senate hasn't passed a budget in years. We're paying $4 per gallon for gas. The infrastructure of the nation is crumbling. The white house cabinet is full of criminals.

    And all you idiots can talk about is gay marriage? Whether Obama is Muslim? The fact that Romney's a Mormon? Abortion?

    These are all side shows people. Let's focus on the real issues here.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Where are you still paying $4 for gas? Prices are coming down and will continue (hopefull). It's ironic though that they shot up right after the Repubs took over the House in 2010.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Barry

    Newsweek just lost my subscription!! Pretty poor taste!!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    Next he will be getting yo mama jokes, sad thing is that many Americans are actually stupid enough to form an opinion off trash talk.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CollisionCourse

    What is wrong with Civil Unions? That’s not enough; they have to muck thousands of years of traditions. Marriage was always defined as a union between man and woman. Do whatever you want with your life but stay away from other people traditions.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sugarpunk

      They aim to destroy everything that was once ALL American values

      May 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • cptpooppants

      Evolution doesn't stop at physical traits. Society also evolves. Try and keep up with the rest of us people that have grown thumbs already you troglodite.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Defined by who, exactly, Collision? If you look at history for two minutes, you'll learn that the "definition" of marriage has changed over and over again. Marriage used to be only "one white man and one white woman" or "one black man and one black woman." There was a time when marriage included "one man and however many wives he wanted to have." Marriage in other countries AT THIS VERY MOMENT includes "one man and one man" and "one woman and one woman." So, to suggest that there is some singular definition of marriage that is rooted in tradition is simply false.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • jennymay

      How about people maintain their own tradtions and if the government wants to confer benefits on two consenting people in love, they offer them to every person and not just ones they perfer.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sugarpunk

    This will be the picture on the new $3 dollar bill...hahahahahaha!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dan hartley

    i guess he finally came out of the closet.a man or a woman who has earned respect and honour really dont need to say to much.a man or a woman who is a complete failure or an idiot cant keep there mouths doesnt matter if he or she has a harvard degree or not.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      what the hell are you trying to say!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
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