From the Editor: “If You’re Not With Us, You’re With Us?”
During the two days of the Supreme Court hearings regarding Prop 8 and DOMA, those of us on social networking watched our News Feeds fill with red and pink equality symbols, a special redesign of the Human Rights Campaign’s usual blue and yellow iconic logo. People swapped out their own profile photos for the quickly claimed red and pink marriage equality logo and the feeling of solidarity was one that I hadn’t felt since the VOTE NO campaign. Whether on a computer or my iPhone, nine of every ten posts were that of people changing their primary personal online representation to be that of a uniform message of marriage equality.
Most of the changes were predictable, some weren’t. Some photos didn’t change, particularly of those friends who I know are against marriage equality (who I hope to influence in positive ways). Other photos that didn’t change to the marriage equality symbol were surprising; there were people who are online often and are very interested in marriage equality that didn’t adopt this red and pink symbol like the rest of us. Mysterious. One of them who is a student in law school came right out and said that she obviously supports same-sex marriage, but not the Supreme Court…so she wasn’t going to change her picture. Another friend sent me a private message, not because I said a single thing about her non-uniformity, but because she trusted me. She told me that of course she is a supporter of marriage equality, but she was having liberal guilt for being a conscientious objector to changing her picture for a reason that was important to her–reason enough to not join in the sea of red and pink.
My response was (paraphrased): “Good call, friend. No matter what, this is the symbol that’s been embraced by the community. It is marriage equality this week.” She didn’t ask for my approval. She didn’t ask for my advice. She simply wanted to state to someone her reason for being a conscientious objector and I turned it around to say to her that no matter what her reason was, it shouldn’t be talked about…that the easiest thing to do is just be quiet and go with the flow.
What I did was inexcusable. It doesn’t fit into my values to silence a voice that is being critical in a respectful, thoughtful way. Usually, my knee-jerk reaction is to debate the topic, not to debate that the topic was even raised. My standard operating procedure is that I’m going to tell you that I don’t agree with you–and why I don’t–instead of telling you to be quiet. With her, I threw in the towel on her behalf and conceded that she should follow her own gag order.
When did this become acceptable to me as an option? Why did I do it? When did I turn from leading by example to actively encouraging a voice to silence itself? I had to look into myself and my motivations. For one thing, I didn’t understand what she was saying. I didn’t have time to look into it–I just knew that it was against the popular sentiment. To explain it would appear to be in opposition to the equality. But, more worrisome, is that I’ve seen a wave of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” rhetoric lately, and it’s made me wary of expressing real, valid opinions.
The “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” rhetoric is easy to claim, but hard to defend. It’s isolating, by definition. It turns conversations into oppositional debates, needlessly. It’s a fallacy, because it can be untrue based on the conditions of what constitutes being “with” someone. And it puts fear where there doesn’t need to be more fear…implying that I should be afraid to be seen as against you. The peer pressure tactic is a poor one to choose, especially within a community that has been historically pressured to stay quiet and in a closet.
If you tell me that it’s good to present a united front when we campaign for the freedom to marry, I will agree with you. If you start putting conditions on what a unified front looks like, we’ll probably start disagreeing. If you then say that breaching those conditions of what a unified front looks like actually means I’m working against the campaign, I will reject that notion with confidence. You see, one can be critical of a movement one supports. It’s good to stay nimble in one’s beliefs. But, in our own community, there’s been a different model of intolerance that’s been rearing its ugly head, one that would place Lavender somewhere outside of wanting the freedom to marry, which is simply not the case.
I won’t lie. Controversy is not my favorite space to be suspended; it would be much easier to stick to the popular coverage and not defend any challenge or critique of what is popular and would mean a clear victory for equality. Freedom of speech isn’t easy and people will hear what they want to hear, regardless of what is said. Lavender’s printed 39 articles about marriage equality since Election Day of 2012. Of them, 29 have been easily pinpointed as being pro-marriage as the only option; 8 have been pro-marriage as the only option but critical as to how it’s being achieved; 2 have been pro-marriage, critical of the legislators and, therefore, positioning civil unions as a fallback if marriage isn’t going to have the votes. Really. I went back and read every single piece we’ve published and those are the most concise ways of describing the pieces and how they play a role in how we’re viewing the current campaign for marriage equality. Of these 39 pieces regarding marriage equality, 26 were written before the bills to legalize same-sex marriage were introduced in the House and Senate on February 28, 2013.
Between the beginning of November and the end of February, we were in limbo as a community, not knowing if we were going to have an organized campaign for the freedom to marry or who would be quarterbacking any legislation. We couldn’t not talk about what could be happening. So, we brought Brett Stevens on as a political columnist to push the topic. Being that the DFL is in the majority and has in its power to make marriage equality happen, a gay conservative columnist who is for the freedom to marry but critical of the party in power is a useful voice in the conversation. He may not represent 100% of us in 100% of our beliefs, but he represents a very real segment of our community and asks questions that many of us might prefer not to, despite wondering about them. He’s asked when the will legislation be introduced. Will it be for marriage equality? Will DOMA be struck down on the state level regardless of the status of legalizing same-sex marriage? Will there be a contingency plan to get rights to this community if the party in power does not pass same-sex marriage this year? Will Minnesota step up and vote on same-sex marriage regardless of what the Supreme Court does?
It’s never been that the community deserves less than marriage equality. It’s that the party in power may not be able–or choose–to make it happen and, therefore, when and what will this community get?
We all have different opinions about the when, what, which, and how despite most wanting full equality. Please see each other as being with us, not against us, no matter how much critical thinking and second-guessing goes into the process of “continuing the conversation.” See each other for where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. To question authority and doubt its success does not make someone a “self-hating gay.” To believe that the DFL will do the right thing and pass the freedom to marry does not make someone “naive” to the history of the movement. We’re all in different places and have different degrees of faith in the system working for us or not; but we’re in this together. Moving forward.