Same Sex Marriage and the Internet
Usree Bhattacharya, a frequent writer here and a classmate of mine in Rick Kern’s class on writing and technology, encouraged me to write a bit about Proposition 8 for Found In Translation. Since I saw how important the Internet was in my involvement in Prop 8, I thought I’d write about technological aspects of what I see as the next steps for folks like me who would like to see same sex marriage legalized in California.
Background. As a gay man who would like to marry my partner, I worked fairly hard to defeat Proposition 8.* Disappointed when the proposition won, I have spent the last few weeks like everyone else interested in this issue thinking about the next steps, which seem to include demonstrations, boycotts, court cases and possible attempts to repeal Prop 8 in 2010. While it is obvious that the Internet will continue to benefit us in three ways – by allowing us to gain information, by alerting us to upcoming events, and by tracking donations – is it possible that online activism also hinders the efforts of those of us interested in legalizing same sex marriage? I’ll explore each of these three benefits briefly before discussing how the Internet might actually be a drawback in legalizing same sex marriage.
Gaining information. Yesterday I wanted to know the basics of how a proposition in California could get repealed. I had heard that repealing a proposition required two-thirds of the voters’ approval, but I wanted to find out if this was true. I tried using Google to answer this fairly straightforward question, but I couldn’t find an answer. As a librarian, I felt a mixture of exasperation and inadequacy. I’ll look this question up later, or maybe I’ll come across the answer by accident while reading an article or a blog, or perhaps someone reading this will leave a comment that answers the question. In general, the Internet is, of course, great for gaining information. For example, a month ago I wanted to know more about Perez vs. Sharp, the case that ended the ban on interracial marriage in California, so I found a nice overview of it at Wikipedia, which also linked me to the court’s opinion within seconds.
Events alerts. I’ve signed up to receive e-mail alerts from a website called something like “The 8 Accountability Project” so that I can learn about demonstrations in front of businesses owned by folks who donated money to the Yes on 8 campaign. Knowing where and when these protests will be held is a lot like knowing how a proposition is repealed – it’s only the beginning of “knowing”. I’m not only interested in learning about the basic information about these protests, but I’m also eager to discuss the ethical dimensions of boycotting and demonstrating, which can be discussed to some degree on this same website.
Tracking donations. I have looked through an online database of donations to Prop 8 campaigns to see if I know donors. In fact, when I read about a dentist in Palo Alto who donated $1000 to Yes on 8 lost two patients, I got to thinking about my dentist! I looked him up in the database to see if he had donated money one way or the other. So far, I haven’t found anyone I know who has donated to the Yes on 8 campaign – including my dentist – in this database. Do I think boycotting a dentist for voting yes on 8 is ethical? Yes, I do, but I’d like to talk to folks who will challenge me on this.
Winning votes. Finally, I think the Internet might hinder my work to legalize same sex marriage by giving me a false sense of having tried to win votes. At Thanksgiving I talked to an 86 year old friend from the foothills of the Sierras who, along with his wife, voted no on 8. He complained that the queer community hadn’t done any outreach in his area because we had been too busy preaching to the choir in San Francisco. My outreach to rural areas of California before Prop 8 was limited to writing a dozen or so online “Letters to the Editors” in newspapers read by rural voters. Something tells me I didn’t sway a single voter; I sense that these online forums are places to rant. I think that to win votes I needed to be there on the person’s porch, talking to voters in their church’s adult education class, or at their senior center’s lunch. Maybe a massive queer face to face charm offensive is what we need – a fabulous series of adventures: the Road to Manteca, the Road to Redding, the Road to Salinas. I can’t quite picture how to start these trips now since the issue hasn’t come to a new head, but waiting seems wrong, too. I’m picturing setting up some sort of discussion of marriage event with my 86 year old friend and his 78 year old wife in their town. Maybe outreach efforts to the Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Masonic groups and to mainline Protestant denominations, where congregations tend to be more moderate, are possible strategies.
Maybe a useful next step for legalizing same sex marriage is to reflect on online and offline strategies. I feel that one reason we lost is that our opponents are excellent at offline organizing. I critique my online work to legalize same sex marriage as a way to have a sense of engagement in activism without actually coming face to face with strangers. Usree showed us in the lead up to Election Day one way to proceed: online she blogged her heart out in support of Obama, but offline she also went door to door wooing Obama supporters in Nevada. This might be just the sort of marriage we need: online organizing among ourselves and offline activism to woo hearts and win votes.
*I acknowledge that many folks reading this voted yes on Prop 8. Congratulations on your victory! I welcome your comments and wish to engage in ongoing dialogue with you, especially so that I can better understand your views on same sex marriage.