THE BLOG
09/09/2014 05:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka Marry and the "Angry Itch" Takes Over Social Media

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Over the weekend, Neil Patrick Harris and his partner tied the knot with their two young kids attending. Harris confirmed on Twitter: "Guess what? David Burtka and I got married over the weekend. In Italy. Yup, we put the 'n' and 'd' in 'husband.' " In case you missed the joke, that's "N" for "Neil" and "D" for "David."

Within hours of Harris's tweet, news of the actors' nuptials quickly became a trending topic on Facebook, going viral in the process. Not surprisingly, congratulations and "Likes" poured in, much like those for other married same-sex couples over the years. I'm thinking about celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Portia Di Rossi, for example, as well as Elton John and David Furnish. Not to be overlooked this weekend, tennis champion Martina Navratilova's proposal to her girlfriend at the U.S. Open also garnered strong crowd approval - both in the stands and on social media.

As a columnist who covers LGBT issues, especially same-sex marriage, I posted a photograph of the two husbands on my site, each holding one of their children. The caption:

"Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka are married. Join me in wishing congratulations to the happy couple."

Simple enough. Seemingly innocuous. No doubt the editor at People.com thought the same thing in posting the story with this headline:

"Neil Patrick Harris Marries David Burtka"

An hour or so later, though, I realized much more was at stake than a mere congratulations. I found myself witnessing a vociferous and widespread backlash against the newlyweds on both social media services and sites like People and E! Online. Virtual smack downs were taking place all over the Internet, with little regard for civility much less respect. In short order, the Harris-Burtkas were called out as "sad and sick," "disgusting perverts," "sodomites," "trash," and some anti-gay slurs that can't be reprinted here. Two posts in particular summed up the newlyweds' detractors:

"This is evil and we must condemn it no matter what, where or who
is involved."

"This is NOT marriage. This is a perversion of marriage.... Disgusting & immoral."

I mentioned in an email what was occurring to a colleague, who immediately wrote back: "HONESTLY, who does not LOVE Neil Patrick Harris deep down inside." That's right, the star of "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "How I Met Your Mother" had become a pariah to those opposed to same-sex marriage.

That's when the light went off on in my head: Optimists like me look at the most recent Gallup Poll (which showed support for gay marriage at an all-time high of 55%) and tend to forget about that other 45%, who most decidedly do not. Among those over 50 and those in the South, in fact, majorities remain firmly against. According to the poll analysis: "[T]he older an American is, the less likely he or she is to support marriage for same-sex couples. Currently, adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are nearly twice as likely to support marriage equality as adults aged of 65 and older." As for the year-long string of court wins, I'm reminded of the wisdom of philosopher Edmund Burke: "Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in great measure, the laws depend."

Court victories aside, the newlyweds' detractors provided a focused snapshot that the road to marriage equality is not without its speed bumps -- and its opponents not without their loud voices. If anything, yesterday's free-for-all was a powerful reminder of "the angry itch" that persists when it comes to same-sex marriage rights and rites.