Gay marriage conversation stays limited to the web

| Editor-in-Chief

In a matter of hours Tuesday, Facebook went red with signs of equality.

The campus response to the gay marriage debate happening before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., has centered on social media and while some hope that the blitz of Facebook profile-picture changes leads to some conversation, the conversation is likely to remain primarily online, a number of student group leaders said.

The pink equals sign on a square, red background was adopted by the Human Rights Campaign this week as a more dramatic version of its standard logo and has since spread across various social media platforms as the national buzz over gay marriage continues to heighten.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in favor of and against California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which keeps gay marriages from receiving federal recognition.

The state of California has chosen not to defend Proposition 8 before the court, leaving the task to anti-same-sex marriage activists. The Obama administration turned its back on the nearly two decades-old DOMA in 2011.

The Supreme Court is not expected to announce its decision until late June, and while the national response to the case has been pronounced, some worry that the web-focused hubbub will detract from the actual cases—and other ones on which the court is also deliberating.

“There’s more social media buzz than there is actual conversation, and I think we saw that with the Bear’s Den incident—was people being able to rant on the Internet and not actually have conversations,” junior Vinita Chaudhry, president of Pride Alliance, said.

Chaudhry said Pride Alliance is not holding any events specifically related to gay marriage both because of logistical concerns and the polarizing nature of the debate.

“Pride doesn’t want to establish a political leaning, we don’t want to alienate people,” Chaudhry said. “I’ve never met someone who’s actively against it for the reasons you hear…but there is a pretty strong queer, radical critique of marriage as an institution.”

Gregory Magarian, a professor in the school of law who focuses on constitutional law, worries that the focus on gay marriage—an issue quickly becoming a non-issue for most Americans, will let the court off the hook for some other major cases it is deliberating on this year.

“People on the left are putting too much energy into an issue that they’re going to win spectacularly. I’m a little more concerned about things that we’re losing on,” Magarian said.

Among those, Margarian said, are a number of race issues—including affirmative action, in Fisher v. University of Texas, in which Abigail Fisher is arguing that a top-10 percent admissions policy effectively discriminated against her for being white.

The same-sex marriage issue has made additional headlines in Missouri after Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., came out in support of gay marriage in a blog post Monday. She titled the post with a quote from Corinthians.

Sophomore Stephanie Ostroff, public relations chair for the Wash U College Democrats, said that while many students may have changed their voter registration to Missouri in the hope that they would have a bigger effect in last fall’s presidential election, many still do not follow local or state politics as much as they should.

She said that many students following the gay marriage debate in the U.S. Supreme Court likely don’t realize that the issue strikes much closer to the University.

“We go to school here but I don’t know if we’re necessarily invested as much in the community as someone who’s grown up in St. Louis their whole life, or grown up in Missouri their whole life,” Ostroff said. “I think people in the state are definitely aware of what [McCaskill] is doing.”

McCaskill’s press office did not provide additional details Wednesday about her stance on gay marriage as it relates to the wider national conversation on the subject.

Sophomore Daniel Bram, president of the College Democrats, said that their main aim at the moment is to make students cognizant of what is happening at the state and national level.

“Student awareness of the issue is our main focus, because it’s happening at the judicial level, and not necessarily the legislative, which makes it more difficult to actually enact any kind of change from our perspective,” Bram said.

“Wash. U.’s campus specifically is very in favor of same-sex marriage, and it’s pretty well-established on this campus that that’s the case, so it’s really just getting those people who might not otherwise be involved in the process to kind of start entering the conversation,” he added.

He noted that social media may serve as an important step in starting that conversation—but noted that in terms of the Supreme Court’s actual decision-making process, it isn’t necessarily relevant or timely.

“This is how a lot of these issues work, is that there’s kind of some big event that sparks an explosion of interest,” Bram said. “In the scheme of things, Supreme Court oral arguments aren’t really that important to the actual case, because the judges take months to deliberate…so a lot of the real decision-making doesn’t happen at this moment. But this moment is when the media can capture [it]. This moment is when students can really be engaged in this issue.”

Chaudhry said that she personally hopes the social media campaign that has clearly made a splash on campus will bring some of the national conversation as well.

“At Wash. U., conversations on social media do affect people. They do eventually cause conversation, so I think there is potential there,” Chaudhry said. “There’s something remarkable about the potential magnitude of it. My Facebook is covered with red.”

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