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.

CNN.com'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. Sylar75

    Personally I don't care at all what other people do as long as it doesn't effect me. Of course I'm the minority in this aspect. Of course I work 55+ hours a week and only have time to worry about myself and loved ones. I wish I had so much time that I could stick my nose in everyones business.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Concerned in Cleveland

    I dont understand, Muslims can be the Gay?

    May 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      what an ignorant remark!

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

      Sure, why not? You prove to us that republicans can be complete i d i o t s.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. big blue nation

    No respect for the office of President!!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • goodtymes

      biden helped out the president / forced him.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Maybe Michelle is really Michael and that is why Obama "came out"!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      He doesn't deserve it! Let's talk about the Economy! He can't and won't because he put us an additional 13 trillions in debt with the Chinese

      May 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ILOVETHE 80's

      MIKE: We owe China 1.2 trillion in debt, not 13 trillion.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ben22

    I don't think gay marriage is the right thing for America. That is why I am voting for Romney

    May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • skyle

      No one cares, Ben.

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

      Small minded, one issue voters stick together, don't they?

      May 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • PirateJohn

      So you'd rather vote for someone who stands for absolutely nothing and has repeatedly demonstrated that he doesn't care in the least about the working-class?

      May 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • kev28

      Would you vote for Romey if the gay item wasn't on the table.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cheryl

    In outhree years... he's been turned out!!!!! All of you God fearing people out there be steadfast to God's word and not man's word.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. goodtymes

    Thanks biden for the gift, this is Great.

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

    It's AMAZING to me how this President wants to talk about EVERYTHING... except the economy, self sustaining energy NOW, not where will be 10 years from now... Gays, abortion pills, basketball... EVERYTHING except what this country cares about and where he sucks!!! It's the ECONOMY STUPID!!!

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

      Really don't think you've been listening Mike – you're hearing only what you want to hear. President Obama talks about the issues all the time, but if you only watch Faux News you'll never hear him.

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

      I voted for Obama specifically to address social issues such as gay and reproductive rights. Not everyone is suffering in this economy. And of those that are, they were suffering long before this current recession/depression... the terminally poor. That is who I am concerned about and so is Obama. I couldn't be happier with the job he's done advocating for women, gays, the poor and minorities. I guess that what separates intellectuals from cattle. We still have incomes and still have an interest in pushing for equality. Four more years.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ben

    What a fantastic reward for his very brave one-week evolution...he really deserves another Nobel Prize. What a fraud. This entire thing, from the president to the press to the made up conflict is a fraud.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hamsta

    That explains obama flip flopping on every issue.... he likes to take it in both ends... we can call him the peter puffer president.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Darryl P.

    How funny, the republicans are really freekin-out. Pres.Obama is the 1st president in history who has stood up for all the people, no matter who you are.What a wonderful thing to happen finally in this country.The time couldn't be more perfact.The politics,the religion,the division between races and all the horrible things that have been going on for years an years are finally comming to a head. This country has to progress and people are going to be respected and tolerated and accepted like it or not.Everyone has the right to believe what they want and thats what this country is about.But NOBODY has the right to force their beliefs and religion on anyone else period. President Obama will see this through and we will all benefit from it.This is a new world and we need to be United and Stand together for eachother.

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

      Well said!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ILOVETHE 80's

    Nice going Newsweek, now you have equality and racial discrimination in one issue.

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

    Canceling my subscriptions now..bye...STUPID...PUBLISHERS...

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

    He is totally gay

    May 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • ILOVETHE 80's

      iIs it because you are too and can tell?

      May 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Pulvrizr

    I thought Van Buren or Polk or one of those guys was the first gay president. Had a Virginia boyfriend as I recall. But then that was a long time ago and such a triviality, I probably forgot.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. larry

    Now, not only can Obama go down in history as the countries worst President ever, this legacy will follow him for ever also. It couldn't happen to a better guy.

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