Not in the Fifties anymore

You probably wouldn't have taken a 10-year-old to see "Sapphire" when it came out nearly 55 years ago. Today, the average 10-year-old wouldn't be shocked by any of the themes in this movie. (January 18, 2013)

Way back in the late 1950s, my parents and I frequently went to the movies. On one occasion, we went to the College Theater in Swarthmore, Pa., near our home, to view a film called "Sapphire."

My guess is very few of you, if any, have ever heard of, much less seen, this film, which was made in Great Britain. "Sapphire" begins with the murder of a young woman. The police have no clues but are astonished to find that while the victim, named Sapphire, is white, her brother, and only next of kin, has coal black skin. They were from a mixed marriage, he explains to the police, one of the parents being from the West Indies. She had lighter skin than he, and he suspects she had been passing for being white.

This was astonishing to me, but it gets better. In the best tradition of the CSI genre to come, forensics discovers that Sapphire was pregnant. While DNA had been discovered by then, it wasn't used to identify or eliminate people suspected in crimes. To my recollection, the police did eventually track down the killer, and I believe he turned out to be a successful white man who was married; nothing unusual about that twist to the plot.

For a 10-year-old (with no brothers or sisters) "Sapphire" was something of a revelation. I had pretty much been operating under a belief, instilled by my parents, that people had to be married before they got babies and that white people only married white people and "Negroes," to use the "acceptable" word of the day, only married Negroes. So, in the words of another 1950s icon, my parents suddenly had "a lot o' 'splainin' to do" about what was euphemistically then called "the facts of life."


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More than 50 years later, I can't say if my parents understood what "Sapphire" was about before we went to theater. My guess is they didn't. A few years earlier, my mother had foolishly taken me to see the movie "Them," because she misread the listing in the paper and thought the latest Disney film was playing. As a 5-year-old, after seeing the one of the atomically enhanced giant ants squash James Whitmore, I had nightmares for a year, maybe longer.

In my parents' company I also viewed "Advise and Consent," an early 1960s political thriller based upon a popular novel from the late '50s of the same name, where the outing of a homosexual congressman plays a major part in the plot. That one went right over my head, too. Nor, did I receive a satisfactory explanation from my two companions about what had driven the unfortunate congressman to commit suicide.

My point in all this is to relate some of the phone calls we received complaining about the photograph of the two men kissing that appeared on the bottom of the front page of the Friday, Jan. 4, edition. I'm not going to get into the whys or wherefores of how it was decided to run this photograph. We did receive a number of complaints, which probably was anticipated, although that was not a deciding factor in the choice of photographs, obviously.

During the legislative session last winter, I wrote that same sex marriage wasn't a priority for me and many other people, and the delegates and senators ought to be more concerned about passing a budget – which they failed to do on the first go-round – rather than worrying about whether two men or two women can get married. My reasoning was fairly simple: Most companies today offer benefits for "partners," the one I work for has done so for years, and I didn't see the point of going any further. Maybe that was my old 1950s bias showing.

I also wrote at the time that I wasn't going to vote for what became known as Question 6. I really had no strong conviction at that time, however, and as Election Day drew closer, I began to lean toward voting for the question because it seemed like it was an equal rights issue, constitutionally protected, if you wish. But then, I read an interview with former Harford County congressman Bob Bauman, who is gay, as many of you will recall, in which Bauman said he did not support same-sex marriage.

"I have never supported gay marriage," Bauman told The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper and website. "To me, marriage is between a man and a woman. I don't think you can replace centuries of religious tradition when it comes to marriage. It does not include two people of the same sex."

Bauman went on to say he supports legal recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships, according to The Blade, "saying same-sex couples joined in that form of legal relationship should be given all of the rights and benefits of marriage."

Even though our political views were sharply at odds on many issues, I had a great deal of respect for Bob Bauman and for what he went he went through – an almost surreal replay of Advise and Consent, with some, but obviously not all, of the horrific consequences. I still value Bauman's opinions and views. I voted against Question 6.

There is, however, a big difference between what I think about a particular issue and I how I perceive my job, which is to provide you with information of value about your community and events that affect it. The first legal same sex marriage at the Harford County Courthouse is historic news, like it or not.

There are some of you who no doubt will still quarrel with the way the message was presented. Typically, a caller complaining about the photograph got around to saying, "I don't want my children seeing this on the front page of the newspaper." Yeah, so my guess is, these callers don't have TV, Internet, radio or other connections to the world around them.

The cynic in me harks back to another old movie you've never heard of, let alone seen called "X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes." Poor Ray Milland, on the downside of a great career, stars in a sci-film from the early '60s where he invents a potion that allows him to see through things, with disastrous unintended consequences. At the end of the film, he follows a Biblical dictate, from the Gospel of Matthew, "If thine eye offends thee ..."

As a society, I hope we've moved well beyond the prudish hypocrisy of my youth. When it comes to Harford County, however, I can never be too sure.