You don’t get credit for being decent

Disclaimer: I don’t speak for the LGBT community or marriage equality movement. Yet I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit ridiculous that we’re giving Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman, Claire McCaskill, or the countless others who have publicly come out for gay marriage or gay rights in the last few weeks praise for doing the right thing. For publicly proclaiming that all families deserve equal protection of the law and equal access to the legislated benefits of marriage (a ridiculous thing, in and of itself).

Sure, public support, shown through polls or the statements of public figures, is great for this issue. The court decision will no doubt be impacted by the sea change in public opinion and broader base of voices calling for equality. It’s great that more and more people are speaking out about their support for same sex marriage. And hopefully it’ll inspire others to rethink their positions and get on the right side of history, squaring their beliefs with what’s ethical and just and fair.

But you don’t get credit just for being a decent. At the end of the day, I don’t get an award for not saying something racist or not abusing a woman. And politicians shouldn’t get praise for publicly opposing homophobia. That’s just being a decent person: Publicly standing for friends, family members, or constituents who want to have families and safety and equal protection of the laws. Let’s focus on some important news like this polar bear:

Update (3-25-2013): With more folks taking public stands in favor of same-sex marriage and acceptance, and arguments beginning tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court, I’m happy to see popular opinion shifting (not that the NY Times is representative of views in this country). Allies should work with others to advance social justice, but we don’t get to ask for pats on the back or praise for doing so. The struggle is much harder for the minoritized who have to live with and fight against oppression every day. But the public figures who are speaking out for same-sex marriage are drawing attention to themselves, away from the people who have struggled for decades to achieve equality and safety and legal protections. The media spotlight on these individuals can be a positive, conveying a broad message of equality and acceptance, especially if the efforts appear genuine and not solely self-interested.

Yet I’m troubled when the media fails to center the experiences of the oppressed, of those who have been consistently denied equal rights. At the end of this, straight allies can return to their day-to-day with very little cost if marriage inequality is upheld. We should hold them accountable to do more than make public statements, like actively engaging straight folks in developing acceptance and embracing equality (something Scott Fujita is actively involved in). But if marriage equality fails, it’s just another blow to justice and fairness in our society, and the consequences will continue to fall on the LGBT community, not those of us who can have legally recognized marriages and over a thousand legal benefits.

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