Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 3, 2013

House of Burgess: Marriage equality goes viral

Social media weighs in as SCOTUS deliberates.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— My Face­book news feed turned bright red last week. That’s because the Human Rights Campaign’s crimson “equal sign” spread like a grass fire as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two landmark same-sex marriage cases March 26 and 27. Dozens and dozens of my friends changed their profile pictures to this symbol, or some variation, in solidarity with the fight for equality. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who played witness to such a rubicund alteration.

“While millions of U.S. Facebook users update their profile photos on a given day, we found that significantly more users — roughly 2.7 million more — updated their profile photo March 26 compared to the previous Tuesday,” Eytan Bakshy, a data scientist with Facebook, wrote Friday. “We found that Washtenaw County — home of Ann Arbor, Michigan and the University of Michigan — topped the list. … Many of the top 25 counties that showed the greatest support for HRC’s campaign were home to college towns, including Orange (University of North Carolina), Durham (Duke University), Monroe (Indiana University), Johnson (University of Iowa), Athens (Ohio University), Dane (University of Wisconsin), Boulder (University of Colorado) and Travis (University of Texas at Austin).”

The social conservative blowback to this movement was uncharacteristically scattered. Some went for the equal sign with a slash through it, indicating non-equality. Others replaced the original image with a cross or a man and woman holding hands. What was strange to me were those who used it as an opportunity to revisit pet issues that really have nothing to do with gay rights. To wit, some chose to go with images of two assault rifles or two fetus footprints in parody of the equal sign. I guess some people never miss an opportunity to bring up gun rights or abortion, no matter how off-topic it might be.

“One side presents a sign of equality, the other presents weapons and necrotic fetal prints,” wrote my pal, Mario, after I asked for my friends’ opinions on the phenomenon. “Ask yourself which side seems like they’re presenting the sane argument.”

And me? My profile picture stayed the same. Not because I don’t believe in the cause. Far from it. Gay marriage should have been legal in all 50 states, like yesterday. It’s just that I’m not much of a joiner. I’m also allergic to passive forms of protest. It’s just my nature. (And I seriously doubt any of the nine justices of the court have a Facebook account.)

“There is also a story in all of the liberals who backlashed against it because they didn’t want to follow the crowd,” as my buddy, David, put it.

However, I don’t look down on anyone who decided to participate. It’s kind of like when you watch a sporting event and there’s a pre-planned card stunt in the bleachers. It may not make sense to each individual person who holds a colored card, but when combined with everyone else around them, they make a massive image together. I’ve never wanted to engage in such a happening, but I have to admit, it’s thrilling to see when the bigger picture comes together through collective action.

We won’t know how SCOTUS ruled on California’s Proposition 8 or the Defense of Marriage Act until sometime in June. I sincerely hope the court upholds the human rights of every American, regardless of sexual orientation. It’s the right thing to do, sure, but I’m also exhausted. Believe it or not, as fervent as I am in my support of my LGBT brothers and sisters, I don’t really ever think about what happens in the bedrooms of LGBT Americans. I’m a happily married, straight man. It just doesn’t even occur to me to ponder this sort of thing during the course of my day. If we as a nation have to keep having this debate past this summer, I’m going to have to start wondering if the opposition thinks about this more than most LGBT people I know. What’s the obsession, anyhow? If you need a list of more pressing issues to worry about, I can provide one.

But if we do have to keep waging this never-ending cultural war of attrition, my friend, Katie, had a grand idea for some improvements for the next campaign.

“Personally, I think that for a subculture stereotyped as being pretty daring with style they picked a pretty tame logo,” she wrote. “I’m all for equality but I just think this sign lacks a certain ‘flare.’ It seems to say, ‘We’re here! We’re queer! And it’d be pretty easy to get used to it ‘cause we don’t wanna make a big flashy scene, just get married and whatnot.’”

Indeed. We may as well fight the power with some flair. We’ve already got all the best designers on our side, anyway.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robaburg.