If I had to distill into one image the experience of growing up gay in America, it would be that of the angry right-wing protester brandishing a handmade sign with "GOD HATES FAGS!" menacingly scrawled across it in capital letters. I was born in 1960, and in my 53 years, I've had the unfortunate opportunity to see some version of this image countless times in the media.
As a gay teen still years away from my first kiss, I was not buying it. Ironically, religion saved me. I didn't know who that God was, but he wasn't mine. I was a good Catholic boy who was taught that Jesus loves all of us unconditionally. I believed it then, and I believe it now.
Still, I was not immune to the hatred of gays that permeated American society and the havoc that such pervasive ill-will can wreak on one's spirit. What made things even worse was that anti-gay bias was echoed in laws that rendered gays criminal at worst, second-class citizens at best. Thankfully, all of that is waning now.
But it was just a few years back that the suicides of bullied gay teens were making the headlines with alarming frequency. At a time in life when most kids are filled with the excitement of their journeys, some ofthese kids were made to feel so unwelcome in their worlds that they could not face one more day. They were casualties of intolerance and unfathomable cruelty.
How I wish they had stayed with us long enough to see last week's broadcast of the 2014 Grammy Awards. For those who missed it, 33 couples, both gay and straight, were married in the middle of an extended performance of "Same Love," the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis rap hit that samples Mary Lambert's "She Keeps Me Warm."
In the song, Macklemore presents himself as a straight but earnest champion of gays and their right to marry. His gay uncles, mentioned in the lyrics, are no doubt very proud. But the real heart of the song, as well as its gay credibility, comes from the lovely, melodic chorus composed and sung by Ms. Lambert. At the Grammy performance, a surprise appearance by Madonna, who graciously harmonized with Ms. Lambert on the "She Keeps Me Warm" chorus, kicked up the excitement level to nearly ecstatic. (Say what you will about our lady of perpetual pop-stardom, Madonna knows how to walk the walk.)
The show-stopper, of course, was the wedding. Officiated charmingly by Queen Latifah, it was out of necessity a hurried ceremony. But brief nuptials aren't necessarily a bad thing. After all, it's really the party afterward that everyone looks forward to. Indeed, this performance/mass wedding itself was one glorious party and a whole lot of fun.
Despite the over-the-top nature of it all, I found the event profoundly moving. Yes, I admit it — I cried. I'm sure a number of social conservatives shed tears as well, but for very different reasons; this was their worst nightmare come true.
Maybe the wiser among them will realize they've had their day in the sun, and it's time to let equality and civility move front and center. Others will likely take comfort in knowing that in a large majority of American states, same-sex couples still cannot legally marry. As a lifelong Marylander, I am proud to live in one of the 17 states where they can.
Watching these couples tie the knot, I thought about how brazen the anti-gay forces are in publicly airing their biases. They say a lot of ugly things very loudly: "You are sick," "You are a sinner," "You are worthless." And, of course, "You should not be allowed to marry." In essence, what they're really saying is, "You cannot be who you are."