A Plea for Decorum and Civility

Since the Presidential debates of 2008, I have been a believer in the potential of the Internet and social networking tools to be productive tools of public discourse. It was so exciting to come home from work every day and watch the news or the debates and connect online with people all over the country about issues.

I am decidedly left of center politically, a proud liberal dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and I am guilty of conversing with others who more often than not share my convictions. It is not that I don’t want to debate the issues, with people on the right, but I will admit that I don’t relish the conflict.

I would be interested in civil public discourse, but I have to say that the extreme views of the Tea Party led by Rush Limbaugh and the Fox Network are not conducive to such constructive discourse. And now it seems that some social networkers on the right are interested in public discourse, but only anonymously and only to be personally insulting and abusive to individuals who oppose them. At least that has been my experience.

It is natural for debate about important issues to make people angry, but if we can’t commit to treat each other with respect, and only resort to trying to intimidate each other by yelling down people with insults at town halls or tweeting cruel insults anonymously at people we disagree with, we’re never going to be able to find sustainable solutions to major problems.

I have invited conservatives to productive and respectful dialog here before, and I am doing it again. I continue to believe that finding common ground is possible, but this is a two way street, and people on both sides have to be willing to meet in the middle. Clinging to opposite extremes is only going to keep us stuck where are instead of moving productively forward.

Minding the Semantics of Marriage Equality

I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines in the press, mainstream and LGBT, about marriage equality framed in the term “gay marriage.” Here is an example from a tweet from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

I it unfortunate that “gay marriage” is the term that has stuck in the popular vernacular. My wife and I were on the front lines in the beginning of this civil rights movement when it began in 2004.  At that time, we were coached by the leading activists of the movement, including many folks from NCLR, not to talk about “gay marriage,” but rather same-sex marriage or marriage equality. There are many good reasons not to use the term “gay marriage.

On of the reasons I am opposed to the “gay marriage” frame is that many lesbians, myself included, don’t identify as “gay.” “Gay” is by and large a term used to describe homosexual men, and as a woman, I simply don’t identify. Gay is gender specific and exclusive of women.

Perhaps more importantly, the term “gay marriage” frames the civil rights issue as if the institution of marriage would be different for same-sex couples. Someone once said to me “we don’t want a disco version of marriage! We want equal marriage rights!”

I also understand the fact that “gay marriage” is the dominant paradigm, and that when people do a news search about it they are not going to search for marriage equality. Bloggers, journalists, and activists want their web pages to appear in the search, so they have to use the terms, too. I know, also, that “gay” is three letters and will take up far less real estate in a headline or a 140-character tweet.

However, is is too much to ask the queer press to at least make an effort to frame the national conversation differently? The example of the tweet that I cited before from NCLR didn’t take up nearly Twitter’s 140-character limit.

I understand the reasons why so many in the queer press write and talk about same-sex marriage using the frame of “gay marriage,” but I see plenty of opportunities where people can be mindful and talk about marriage equality instead. I fear that “gay marriage” has become so pervasive that we in the marriage equality movement have fully adopted it, too.

I sincerely hope that people will be more mindful and change the frame of the conversation whenever the opportunity arises.

A Matter of Semantics

I was discouraged a few weeks ago after the California Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8. While it looks likely that the court will not rule in favor of civil rights for the LGBT community, things are looking up in other parts of the world for marriage equality. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that marriage is a civil right for same sex couples. The Vermont Legislature overrode Governor Douglas’s veto of the marriage equality bill in that state. Same sex marriage was legalized in Sweden.

Friends and acquaintances have suggested to me that perhaps we should be fighting for civil unions for all couples, ending state-sanctioned marriage altogether. It’s a nice idea, and it supports the separation of church and state, if you subscribe to the idea that the word “marriage” means a holy union sanctioned by God. However, this seems like an even bigger undertaking to me than simply fighting for marriage equality for all couples. Trying to enforce a paradigm of civil unions, no matter what the gender of the couples involved, would work in the US about as well as converting us all to using the metric system did back in the 1970s.

We can debate the merits and drawbacks of what we’re going to call our committed, consensual, adult, two-person family units and whether the state should recognize us as married couples or civilly unionized couples. Cultures and languages evolve naturally, and like it or not, marriage is the dominant paradigm. Additionally, the anti-gay activists will oppose any protections for same sex couples whether they’re called civil unions or marriages, so the struggle remains the same.

It is how people live and speak about their day-to-day lives that ultimately gives shape to our identities and our family units. Same sex couples live in the world as opposite sex couples. We have careers and families, and we are productive members of our communities. Our parents, friends, siblings, and neighbors respect us and count on us. Some of us are vulnerable and need protections of the state like any other citizens. The people of the United States believe in fairness and equality. In the fight for marriage equality we are on the right side of history, and we will one day win our civil rights and be able to legally marry.

My Petition to Geithner About the AIG Bonuses

Today I signed the MoveOn petition to stop the AIG bonuses. Here is what I said:

I am outraged that my tax money is being used to pay bonuses to irresponsible executives who were motivated by greed, and wound up destroying the economy. I am already being unfairly taxed by thousands of dollars a year because my marriage is not allowed legal recognition in this country, and now I find out that my tax dollars are paying AIG executives bonuses. While my wife and I struggle to make ends meet, and while I watch my family, friends and neighbors deal with unaffordable housing and unemployment, I am enraged to know that my tax money is being used in this way.

I encourage you all to sign, too.

Marriage Equality Is About Marriage. Period.

I want to be legally married to my wife. I don’t want special rights, just the same rights that are granted to all heterosexual Americans. I don’t want to redefine marriage, rather I want my relationship with my spouse to be recognized and respected as a committed relationship just as other legal spouses are, with the same rights and responsibilities.

Within any same-sex union, marriage is marriage. In terms of how married couples live in the world, being in love, being committed, being responsible to and for each other, some times raising children, certainly working and paying taxes, being there for one another through sickness and health, prosperity and poverty, same-sex couples are no different than opposite-sex couples.

Whether between a man and a woman, two women, or two men, Marriage isn’t straight or gay. Marriage is marriage.

The marriage equality movement is about civil rights, not special rights, as our opponents continue to bark. As long as the media and popular culture continue to frame the marriage equality movement using the term of “gay marriage,” there will be people who see it as an issue of special rights and redefining marriage. This is simply not the case.

The other day on Twitter, the LA Times tweeted a headline about “gay marriage. ” I tweeted back asking that they use the term “marriage equality” instead. I was pleasantly surprised that someone actually tweeted back at me that “gay marriage” is actually in their style guide. This would never have occurred to me!

It turns out that the Associated Press Style Guide recommends using the term “gay marriage” (scroll down to the section on “Debates Over Terminology”) in articles about same-sex marriage, sometimes simply to save headline space! To their credit, they also recommend simply using the term “marriage” in articles about marriage equality. But clearly some education still needs to occur.

Since it’s updated every year, I think that supporters of marriage equality should lobby the AP to update that recommendation. I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing this, so I’m open to suggestion. However, I’m going to start simply by emailing their general info@ap.org address.

We started a civil rights revolution five years ago. We can certainly continue to influence this positive cultural shift.