Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

The times they are a-changin'

A few days ago, a U.S. Marine returned to the States after six months in Afghanistan. Spotting his new honey among the people waiting, he rushed forward and planted an enthusiastic kiss -- their first kiss, as it turns out. A friend snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook.

And all heck broke loose.

Under other circumstances, it would have been an event noteworthy only for being ordinary, a scene we've seen played out a million times. But we've never seen it like this. That's because Sgt. Brandon Morgan's "honey" is a guy named Dalan Wells, and that photo of them playing same-sex tonsil hockey thus manages to simultaneously affirm and subvert a cherished bit of patriotic iconography: the returning serviceman being greeted by the one he loves.

The image forces us to see an old thing in a new way. It is a sign of the times -- jarringly so for some.

That's why it went viral, why it has made international headlines and sparked thousands of comments on message boards. You can probably predict the contents without bothering to read them. On the one hand are best wishes for the happy couple and gratitude for Sergeant Morgan's service. On the other, claims that the picture induces nausea or proves the country is going to hell at Warp 9.

One individual phrased it thusly on a Miami Herald message board: "Sick, degrading, and deviant behavior. these low life's (sic) need to be dishonorably discharged from the Marines."

And so it goes.

As it happens, there is serendipity in the timing of this controversy. It comes, after all, just months after the mortifying episode wherein a gay soldier who had served in Iraq was booed by the audience at a GOP debate while the presidential contenders stood by and said nothing.

Indeed, at least one GOP candidate -- the reliably entertaining Rick Santorum -- has promised, if elected, to reinstate the military's demeaning "don't ask, don't tell" policy, under which gay people were considered good enough to risk their lives for this country but not good enough to be open about their sexual identities while so doing.

That promise is part of a breathtaking Republican lurch -- not just to the right, as a number of pundits have framed it, but to the past. On issue after issue -- gay rights, contraception, labor rights -- the goal seems to be to return the nation to the supposed tranquillity of its Beaver Cleaver years, before Martin Luther King had his dream, before Betty Friedan wrote her book, before Rock Hudson was gay, before everything changed.

And while it's doubtful Sergeant Morgan and Mr. Wells set out to make any particular point, the sheer joyousness of their reunion makes one, nonetheless -- the same point a similar kiss between two Navy petty officers, both women, made just two months ago. Namely, that you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Or, as Fleetwood Mac once put it, "yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone." And the sooner the Grand Old Party concedes that and stops pandering to the bitterness and fear of dead-enders and hardliners still desperately clinging to the broken remains of Beaver Cleaver's white picket fence, the better off we all will be.

Their fear is that pretty soon, no one will fear, that we are approaching a day when a kiss like this will make no news, merit no attention, because it will be normal. They are right, of course. That is entirely the point.

There is something bracing in the very publicness and unselfconsciousness of that lip lock. Coming after years of government-imposed silence and government-mandated lies of omission, it feels not unlike sunlight and fresh air blasting into a room that has been dark and stuffy for years. And it suggests four words of advice to those discomfited by this newborn change.

Get used to it.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts

    Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts

    It would be easier to buy the theory that he committed suicide if not for the terrible history of police violence against blacks

  • Educators call for an end to PARCC testing

    Educators call for an end to PARCC testing

    While a modest reduction in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing hours, announced last week, is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough to address the many problems of the new online, high-stakes standardized assessment.

  • Veto of felon voting bill disenfranchised 40,000 Marylanders

    Veto of felon voting bill disenfranchised 40,000 Marylanders

    After the death of Freddie Gray, leaders from Annapolis came into our neighborhoods, shot some hoops, attended church services and gave lip service about change. But those leaders have never endured the high levels of poverty, lack of access to fresh food, dilapidated housing or high levels of...

  • Can the GOP win back the White House?

    Can the GOP win back the White House?

    So far, the 2016 Republican presidential primary is a complete puzzle to me.

  • Going gentle into that good night in Md.

    Going gentle into that good night in Md.

    Despite widespread support in the General Assembly, the "Death with Dignity" bill, which would permit a doctor to prescribe life-ending drugs to certain terminally ill patients, was not voted upon in its recent legislative session. Instead, it was remanded to "summer study." There are some who...

  • On Memorial Day's memorials

    On Memorial Day's memorials

    World War I was one of the most destructive events in human history, killing 16 million soldiers and civilians worldwide, including 116,000 Americans. The Great War also destroyed much of the next generation: those who would have provided leadership to Europe in the 1920s and '30s, when once again...

  • Hillary: hiding in plain sight

    Hillary: hiding in plain sight

    In President Barack Obama's struggle with Congress to win fast-track authority on trade with 12 Pacific nations, a conspicuously missing voice has been that of his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now a declared 2016 presidential candidate. It's in keeping with her obvious strategy to...

  • We can save lives now

    We can save lives now

    Heroin is not a new problem to Baltimore. Like many cities across the U.S., we have struggled with the heroin epidemic for years. Heroin ties into the very fabric of our city and cannot be separated from the problems of violence, mass incarceration and rampant health disparities.

Comments
Loading

73°