THE TWO of them, one with a crewcut and the other with long brown locks, walked through the produce section of this grocery store off Falls Road last week and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Then they leaned across the alfalfa sprouts for a kiss. It was quick, it was discreet, it was kind of sweet. And, because it was two young women, it might have driven the sexual watchdogs of TakeBackMaryland.org out of their disapproving little minds.
Mainly, this group of Peeping Toms chooses to watch citizens' behavior in bedrooms. The thought of gay people showing affection in a grocery store, or in any public place, would be considered catastrophic. What does this mean? These young women didn't seem ashamed. They didn't seem intimidated. They seemed as comfortable in their skin as ... well, as heterosexuals who grab a kiss without worrying that the vice squad's on its way.
For the members of TakeBackMaryland.org - and the 54,000 people who allegedly signed petitions at the organization's behest - this is too bad. In fact, for anyone who thinks someone else's love life is any of his business, it is tough luck. But it is what it is: the beating of human hearts, desiring what nature - their nature, their genetic makeup - has decreed they will desire.
And so, as the two young women strolled through the grocery store last week - one with an extended finger occasionally wrapped around the belt loop of the other - we had a few pieces of sexual politics in the news.
One was the gesture by TakeBackMaryland.org. It is the group responding to last winter's action by the Maryland General Assembly extending the state's anti-discrimination protections in employment and housing and public accommodations.
In other words, the law says quite specifically, nobody should lose a job, or a home, or get thrown out of a public place, because someone has discovered their desires are not heterosexual. Such acts of cruelty have happened throughout history. Is this news to anyone?
Perhaps it is for the members of TakeBackMaryland.org. Nearly two dozen of them showed up last week at the secretary of state's office in Annapolis and handed in four boxes of petitions seeking a public referendum next year that would overturn the newly enacted anti-discrimination laws.
Then they pronounced themselves quite proud of their efforts and predicted that Marylanders would go to the polls in 2002 and strike down the General Assembly's work. (This, despite a poll commissioned by this newspaper last year showing more than 60 percent of the state's residents supported outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.)
Then, a few days after the petitions were handed over, the U.S. Census Bureau released new population figures. These indicated about 11,000 Maryland households are headed by same-sex couples. This would be about a half-percent of the state's nearly 2 million households.
Immediately, members of the gay and lesbian community called this a pathetically low approximation of actual numbers. Do we need an explanation? There are still untold numbers of homosexual couples, intimidated by a history of discrimination, who would no more admit their sexual orientation to a government official than they would - well, exchange even the most discreet kiss in a grocery store.
But gay rights advocates did take a certain comfort in the census numbers, which showed gays and lesbians living in communities across the entire state. Such a fact indicates a certain universality - they're everywhere, folks - as well as certain needs, and certain political strengths.
For members of TakeBackMaryland.org, this seems to represent a threat. Their argument against anti-discrimination legislation is couched in language both direct and veiled. They ask: Why do we need "special" laws for gays? They ask: Why do we need more government involvement in private life?
Such questions seem to mask a more overriding cultural concern, sometimes stated explicitly and sometimes not: that homosexual behavior is inherently wrong, that conscious, subversive "lifestyle choices" have been made by gays and lesbians, that homosexuals can be "cured" and made into heterosexuals if only they'll work at it diligently enough - and that the genetic makeup that determines human desire has nothing to do with how all people live their lives.
People do make choices. We choose to live and let live, or meddle in other people's lives. We choose to honor people's right to sexual privacy, or use it to stigmatize them.
And we choose to ignore a history of discrimination, of humiliating people because of their hearts' desires - or ensure that such cruelty does not continue any longer among civilized human beings.