Did we already have a gay president and vice president?

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William_Rufus_DeVane_King_1839_portraitA Gay President and Vice President?

Some say this would be the ultimate breaking down of discrimination for the LBGTQ communities. Others say the idea would be abhorrent. Yet, several historians have discussed and debated for over 160 years if in fact we have already elected a gay president and vice president.

In 1853, James Buchanan was elected as the 13th President of the United States. His vice president was his longtime associate and some say lover William Rufus DeVane King. Some historians assert that the men may have been asexual or celibate. Other historians feel that there are strong indicators that suggest King and Buchannan were in fact gay.

Buchanan and King shared a Washington boardinghouse room for ten years. The two men lived together from 1834 until King’s departure for France in 1844. King is quoted as having referred to their relationship as a “communion.” The pair were often together during Washington social functions. Andrew Jackson dubbed the pair as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” The term “Aunt Fancy” was commonly used during the 19th-century for an effeminate male. United States Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan’s “better half.” Buchanan and King each had strong political ambitions. It was widely known that the two planned to run together for president and vice president for many years prior to their election. King had served in many elected and appointed offices.

Ironically, King also served the shortest term of office of any elected Vice President in U.S. history. Upon his election, King was ill with tuberculosis and had traveled to Cuba to regain his health. He was not able to travel to Washington to take the oath of office on March 4, 1853. By a Special Act of Congress, he was allowed to take the oath outside the United States, and was sworn in on March 24, 1853 in Havana. Shortly afterward, King returned to the U.S. where he died within two days. William R. King never presided over a legislative session or executed any duties of the elected office as Vice President. The office remained open until the next election, when John C. Breckinridge was inaugurated with James Buchanan in March, 1857.

While some of their correspondences were destroyed by family members, the length and intimacy of some surviving letters illustrate “the affection of a special friendship.” In May 1844, Buchanan wrote a letter to Cornelia Roosevelt, the grandmother of President Theodore Roosevelt, which seems to indicate his true emotions. In it he said, “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.” Upon King’s death, Buchanan described him as “among the best, the purest and most consistent public men I have known.” History has left us to make up our minds for ourselves, and this will continue to be debated.

One lasting legacy was given to William Rufus DeVane King and then taken away. In 1852, the Oregon Territorial Legislature named King County for him. King County became part of Washington Territory when it was created the following year. King County is where Seattle, the largest city in Washington, is located. The King County government later amended its designation in 1986 to honor instead the late Civil Rights movement leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.,

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