President Barack Obama's declaration in favor of same-sex marriage and the resulting banshee screeching from the right wing made me think about my best friend of 52 years and wonder once again: Just what is all the fuss about?
The issue of gay and lesbian rights has been a constant tremor in the U.S. political landscape for years and has been used by opportunists to divide the country in numerous ways, especially during presidential election years.
The latest dustup over Obama's pronouncement was preceded by the resignation of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's national security spokesman, Richard Grenell, because of the right-wing outrage that Grenell is openly gay. His resignation led to boisterous celebrations by some evangelical pundits, proclaiming that they had taught Romney a lesson.
Unfortunately, it is clear that gay rights again will be a lightning rod in the presidential campaign.
That brings me back to my best friend.
We have been friends since we were 12, grew up with each other and our respective families, endured the insecurities of our teenage years, passed into adulthood together and, despite living in different states since we were 22, have had an enduring and trusting relationship that never wavered.
And, yes, he is gay.
When we were in junior high and high school, he was the good boy. I was the screw-up. I would get in trouble; he would roll his eyes and give me sound advice. He worked hard in school, was a member of the swim team, was chosen as one of our school's representatives at Boys State and volunteered for all the school-spirit jobs decorating the halls for football games and helping plan the pep rallies.
I, meanwhile, smoked behind the football bleachers at lunchtime.
When we were sophomores, we had the same English teacher but at different times. One day I accompanied him to her room after school to pick up an assignment and she looked astonished that we were together.
"Are you two friends?" she asked.
"Yes," we answered. "We're best friends."
"You two are best friends?" she choked. "I can't believe it. You seem so different."
Then she turned to my friend and said, "You're such a nice boy."
That provided us years of entertainment, retelling the story and laughing with his parents. We not only were best friends, but my parents considered him another son and his parents treated me the same. I was there for his graduation from ROTC at the University of Utah and saw him off when he moved out of state for graduate school.
When I was on the verge of flunking out of college, he sat me down, talked for hours and convinced me to reconstitute my priorities for the sake of my future.
We double-dated several times in high school. He always had a prom date. But I knew he was different. He talked a little differently. His mannerisms were a little different. When I liked going outside to kick a football, he preferred baking in the kitchen with his mother.
I got married, had kids, stayed close to his parents after my parents died and always kept in touch with him. He never married, which didn't surprise me. When two of my children were young adults, they traveled a bit. Each of them, when they were in the East, stayed a few days with my friend.
It didn't turn them gay. My affection for him has never made me want to be gay.
Yet, he didn't come out of the closet to me until about eight years ago when we rendezvoused in St. Louis for the wedding of another close friend, the third member of our close-knit trio from high school.
When he did, I told him that I always had known, and that it never made a bit of difference. We also figured out that I knew he was gay before he knew he was gay.
He acted relieved that he finally told me. But he also seemed surprised that it didn't matter to me.
That made me a little sad.