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Leonard Pitts Jr. examines the outrage surrounding the photo of a gay Marine kissing his partner, in his column, “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

A few days ago, a U.S. Marine returned to the States after six months in Afghanistan. Spotting his new honey among the people waiting, he rushed forward and planted an enthusiastic kiss — their first kiss, as it turns out. A friend snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook.

And all heck broke loose.

Under other circumstances, it would have been an event noteworthy only for being ordinary, a scene we’ve seen played out a million times. But we’ve never seen it like this. That’s because Sgt. Brandon Morgan’s “honey” is a guy named Dalan Wells and that photo of them playing same-sex tonsil hockey thus manages to simultaneously affirm and subvert a cherished bit of patriotic iconography: the returning serviceman being greeted by the one he loves.

The image forces us to see an old thing in a new way. It is a sign of the times — jarringly so for some.

That’s why it went viral, why it has made international headlines and sparked thousands of comments on message boards. You can probably predict the contents without bothering to read them. On the one hand are best wishes for the happy couple and gratitude for Morgan’s service. On the other, claims that the picture induces nausea or proves the country is going to hell at warp 9.

One individual phrased it thusly on a Miami Herald message board: “Sick, degrading, and deviant behavior. these low life’s (sic) need to be dishonorably discharged from the Marines.”

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