As many of you know, while the Supreme Court was deliberating over the fate of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act last month, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ song “Same Love” began monopolizing the air waves and climbing the charts. The first week of July, the song climbed as high as number 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100. More impressively, the song made number 5 on the Billboard Rap Chart.
Can we take a minute to acknowledge how exciting this is? For those of you unfamiliar with the song, “Same Love” advocates same-sex marriage. The lyrics strive to combat stereotypes about what it means to be gay, and call out the latent homophobia still rampant in our society.
I know some of my peers have become annoyed with this song, in the way that many of us become annoyed with any song that plays over and over again, especially redundant pop songs. But that’s the nature of radio—it plays a short list of songs in a loop, and those songs tend to be simplistic and repetitive. Since songs are overplayed on the radio anyway, we should be celebrating the fact that this particular song is basking in so much air time.
Why? Because homophobia still exists and is excruciating for those who experience it: “When kids are walking round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart / A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are.” Because the word “gay” is still used as a derogatory term and because homophobia is so systemic, we’re often blind to it: “If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me / Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / ‘Man that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily / We become so numb to what we’re saying.”
Because there are people who write angry letters to radio stations for playing a song like “Same Love,” viewing homosexuality as a personal affront. Because some people still think homosexuality is a choice, and an evil choice at that: “The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision / And you can be cured with some treatment and religion / Man-made rewiring of a predisposition / Playing God.”
Because a piece of legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the 90s, and it took seventeen years to finally overturn it. Because whether or not you advocate equality across the board, to be straight is to be normal and to be gay is not.
We don’t often view heterosexuality as a category. We tend to assume everyone is straight until they give us reason to believe otherwise. We “find out” someone is gay, yet, we never “find out” someone is straight. And unlike being straight, being gay is a defining characteristic. I have never heard anyone say, “My straight friend so and so,” just as I have never heard anyone say, “My white friend so and so.” But I do hear people say, “My gay friend so and so,” “My trans friend so and so,” “My friend so and so who’s black,” and so on. If you’re not straight (or white), your sexual orientation (and/or race) define you to the point of wiping everything else out. We should be able to refer anecdotally to our friends and people we know without referring to their homosexuality when it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand. Unless we want to start referring to people’s heterosexuality as well.
Until we effectively overcome discrimination based on sexual orientation, and until homosexuality is viewed as every bit as normal as heterosexuality, we need songs like “Same Love” to inundate mainstream culture. And when you consider the demographic that’s primarily soaking up radio hits like crack—kids—it becomes all the more clear just how important this is. Children are easily influenced and incredibly susceptible to branding and messaging of any kind. They’re the ones who will be most deeply impacted by songs like “Same Love” that promote equality, tolerance, compassion and understanding. When a song like “Same Love” becomes popular, it helps socialize kids to realize that people can’t help being gay, and even if they could, it wouldn’t matter. It helps them develop a belief system that says there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and being gay is every bit as legitimate as being straight. The more kids are exposed to positive messaging, the more likely they are to grow up to be even more open minded than the generations who preceded them.
Macklemore and Lewis sing, “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all / But it’s a damn good place to start / No law is going to change us / We have to change us.” It’s amazing that SCOTUS overturned Proposition 8 and DOMA. We irrefutably need equal protection under the law for all couples. But, eradicating both discrimination and stereotypes about homosexuality requires a dramatic makeover of our cultural perspective. And maybe the way to do that is by inundating the culture with songs and movies that strive to normalize homosexuality—romantic comedies and sitcoms that revolve around same sex couples would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s impossible to change the minds of an entire generation that was raised to believe homosexuality is not only aberrant, but sinful. But if we can socialize a new generation that understands “underneath it’s all the same love,” we will be well on our way to becoming a more empathetic and accepting society.