A self-proclaimed “indie-folk” duo, backed by bassist and drum machine, were singing their hearts out at the Royal Room, Columbia City’s splendid jazz-plus music club. The ditties were so simple and sappy they made Barry Manilow sound like Bob Dylan — giving proof, if more were needed, that “indie-folk” and “singer-songwriter” are among the most dreaded words in the English language. Snapshots rolled across the screen above the stage, most of them sideways. Many showed a newly married lesbian couple: one black, one white, but otherwise similar enough to be twins, both wearing white gowns, striking the usual wedding-picture poses.
A good-sized crowd, ranging widely in age, listened, smiled and clapped, like family members at a school talent show. I wanted to flee, but I was meeting someone and I’d already ordered a beer. I covered my my pint and ducked outside until what was supposed to be the last set ended. When I returned, a tall, rangy African fellow had taken the seat beside my empty chair. He seemed to have stopped in out of curiosity. He wasn’t drinking. He wore a windbreaker, slacks and running shoes and looked, pardon the stereotype, like one of the taxi drivers who frequent the East African cafes just down the street.
Perhaps my mind leapt to that presumption because of a much-publicized incident in Portland in July: A lesbian couple claimed that an immigrant cabbie verbally abused them and forced them out of his cab onto the unsafe freeway. The cabbie claimed, desperately it seemed, that the couple was drunk and refused to pay, but he lost his hackney license anyway.
Suddenly — oh, the horror! — the indie-folkies took the stage again. Instead of singing, however, they called on everyone to raise a glass to “our dear friends,” the newlyweds in the pictures, who then took the stage themselves, smiling sweetly in their wedding dresses.
“Excuse me,” my African bar buddy asked, looking puzzled. “Do they have… husband?”
Nope, I replied. They’re married to each other.
His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He mused a moment, then grinned and nodded: “That’s nice!” He took out his phone and snapped a picture. I shuddered for an instant: Would this photo serve to target its subjects? Nah, you’d never recognize them outside their wedding dresses from this fuzzy snapshot in barroom light. He only wanted the picture as proof of what he'd seen.
A woman who looked like one of the brides, only older, stepped up and began offering tearful, effusive praise to the other. “Who is that?” my buddy asked. The mother of one of the brides, I replied.
He nodded and smiled again. “That’s nice!”
The consensus in the movement for marriage equality and against orientation-based discrimination is that once people get to know (or discover that they’ve all along known) gay people, their fear and resistance fade. Maybe it doesn’t even require actually getting to know someone; maybe all it takes is seeing a couple looking silly but standing proud, like any other newlyweds, on an improbable barroom stage.