After President Obama’s announcement on May 9, that he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, the covers of news magazines have taken advantage of this historical moment to represent it visually and artistically (and to sell magazines). Newsweek’s cover story is titled “The First Gay President,” and is written by Andrew Sullivan, who is openly gay. The cover depicts Obama with a rainbow halo, a clear nod to the religious debate on gay marriage. Then there is the New Yorker cover, which depicts a rainbow columned White House by artist Bob Staake, who said "I am honored to be doing this cover. It’s a celebratory moment for our country, and that’s what I tried to capture… I wanted to celebrate the bravery of the president’s statement — a statement long overdue — but all the more appreciated in this political year. We are on the right side of history."
If Clinton was known as “the first black president,” is it OK to say Obama is the first gay president? It’s OK, as long as we remember that just because you advocate for gay people, undocumented people or black people, doesn’t make you gay, undocumented or black. The implications of having a president who supports gay marriage does not change any laws immediately, but it does raise the stakes for election 2012 and re-energizes the LGBT community.
As Sullivan writes in Newsweek, “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And Obama has much in common with the gay community. “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.”
Sullivan also discussed the implications of Obama’s announcement on his blog for The Daily Beast:
I think of all the gay kids out there who now know they have their president on their side. I think of Where the Wild Things Are? author Maurice Sendak, who just died, whose decades-long relationship was never given the respect it deserved. I think of the centuries and decades in which gay people found it impossible to believe that marriage and inclusion in their own families was possible for them, so crushed were they by the weight of social and religious pressure. I think of all those in the plague years shut out of hospital rooms, thrown out of apartments, written out of wills, treated like human garbage because they loved another human being.
Sullivan adds that while the interview has no tangible effect, it:
"Reaffirms for me the integrity of this man we are immensely lucky to have in the White House. Obama’s journey on this has been like that of many other Americans, when faced with the actual reality of gay lives and gay relationships. Yes, there was politics in a lot of it. But not all of it. I was in the room long before the 2008 primaries when Obama spoke to the mother of a gay son about marriage equality. He said he was for equality, but not marriage. Five years later, he sees – as we all see – that you cannot have one without the other. But even then, you knew he saw that woman’s son as his equal as a citizen. It was a moment – way off the record at the time – that clinched my support for him."
The magazine covers may not all be so tasteful, but they are covering the issue and trying to sell magazines. I don’t mind a little edginess, as long as there is depth beyond the cover page.