When Newsweek published a cover this week that declared Obama America’s “first gay president” after he came out in favor of same-sex marriage, it raised some eyebrows. On Tuesday, comedian Bill Maher addressed the controversial cover during an interview with Conan O’Brien, declaring to the late night talk show host that he didn’t understand the connection.
Maher drew a comparison to when author Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton “the first black president,” a link he said he understood. “She said so many things were similar to the black experience ... single mother, working class, grew up poor,” Maher said, adding that Morrison also included the fact that Clinton played the saxophone and ate at McDonald’s. “Clinton was like black people for those reasons.”
However, Maher and O’Brien struggled to make sense of why Newsweek would consider Obama the first gay president.
“What about Obama is gay ... I don’t understand how this translates,” Maher said. “Why is he the first, what did he do that’s gay?” —TEB
For the record, The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan, who wrote the Newsweek article, made the comparison this way:
And yet there is something on this subject with Obama that goes deeper in my view than cold, calculating politics and a commitment to civil rights. The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.
And this, in a different way, is Obama’s life story as well.