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Tom Murse

What Barack Obama and James Buchanan Have in Common

By May 26, 2012

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Barack ObamaPresidents Barack Obama and James Buchanan served at very different times in American history, but they now share a bond that spans the centuries: Both have been called the "first gay president."

Obama isn't really gay, of course. But his open support of allowing same-sex couples to marry earned him that symbolic label from Newsweek magazine.

With Buchanan, who served as president in the mid-1800s, it's a little different story.

Some historians argue that the nation's 15th president was gay. One of them, Jim Loewen, took issue with Newsweek's proclamation on Obama, calling it "a superficial way to characterize an important development of thought that the president - along with the country - has been making over recent years."

"It is also entirely wrong. Like the mini-furor a couple of months back about the claim that Richard Nixon was our first gay president, the story simply ignores that the U.S. already had a gay president more than a century ago," Loewen wrote on George Mason University's History News Network.

That, of course, would be Buchanan - a lifelong bachelor who lived with a man he considered his soulmate, William Rufus De Vane King, for many years.

"There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during, and after his four years in the White House," Loewen wrote. "Moreover, the nation knew it, too - he was not far into the closet. Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual."

Loewen's larger point about Buchanan's sexuality and why it is rarely discussed is a valid one: It would be wrong to portray America now as being more tolerant than it ever has been.

"Forgetting Buchanan's sexual orientation helps us forget all the other national secrets we have packed into that closet with him," he wrote. "Ultimately, it prompts us to succumb to chronological ethnocentrism. If, however, we can rid ourselves of the fantasy that we are already always getting better, then maybe we can create a nation that actually becomes more tolerant. Then we might - again - elect a real gay president."

[Photo caption: President Barack Obama announces his support for gay marriage during a May 2012 interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America in the Cabinet Room of the White House. The White House / Getty Images News]

Comments

May 27, 2012 at 11:22 am
(1) RealTime53 says:

Hi Tom –

Good point…… and let’s not forget Abe Lincoln …… so much more than a vampire hunter!

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