A few days ago, I Twittered: "I can't stop laughing at the bigots who celebrated their solidarity with each other by gorging themselves on shitty fast food. Bravo, jerks."
I still think it's silly that eating at a fast food restaurant is considered political activism today, but that's not what this is about. What I said clearly struck a nerve with people who were really angry with me for saying that, so I did what my friend Tom Merrit advised me to do: remove the charged language, and see what's left behind. After a couple of days, it became clear that a number of people genuinely did not see themselves that way, and they were hurt by the language I used to describe them. I've thought about this a lot, and this is what I have to say:
It’s all too easy to forget that there’s a human being on the other end of the Internet. That human being has a name. That human being has friends and family; hopes, fears, and dreams. The person behind those words and that avatar is loved by people, and that person loves them in return.
It’s far too easy to lose our basic humanity and compassion for each other when we forget this. In my recent righteous anger, I’ve forgotten that, and though the people I’ve recently disagreed with have infuriated me, when my white hot anger fades, all that remains is sadness that we can’t speak to each other in a civil way.
So today I am setting aside my anger, and trading my recent mocking derision for something I hope is more kind.
To the people who are so angry at me: Whoever you are, whatever you believe, I hope that you’ll find someone you love and who loves you, and share a quiet, peaceful moment together. I hope you’ll appreciate the love you share, and if you’re a heterosexual couple, be very grateful that tens of thousands of people didn’t get together in the last few days to tell you that the love you feel is not just wrong, but it’s evil. It should be marginalized, and you should be a second-class citizen because of it.
If you can imagine that feeling — I mean, viscerally imagine it and think how it would make you feel — you may understand why I’ll fight with my dying breath to ensure that no two people ever have to feel that. I believe that it’s fundamentally wrong to prevent two people who love each other as much as Anne and I do the right to marry and be treated the same way in the eyes of the law and society as we are, simply because they are a same-sex couple.
Now, I’ve learned something in the last couple of days: I saw a clear statement of solidarity with a man who has spent millions of dollars supporting hate organizations that work tirelessly to restrict the rights of same-sex couples. But what I saw was viewed by a not-insignificant number of participants as a statement against censorship, an affirmative statement for the rights of an individual to express an unpopular opinion. They fully support the rights of same-sex couples to marry, but feel even more passionate about freedom of expression; they weren’t there to support this man’s goals and beliefs, they were simply there to support his right to have them.
On the one hand, I believe that requires a willingness to ignore a simple equation: You buy fast food -> fast food profits go to CEO -> CEO gives money to hate group -> hate group lobbies for laws that hurt same-sex couples. Therefore, your participation in an event organized and promoted by people who support those laws gives your support to them and the laws they hope to pass.
On the other hand, I have to believe that — even though it’s clear from interviews with many of the participants that they did view this as solidarity with the owner, and was not about the Constitution — at least some of the people who ate what I called “shitty fast food” did so because they genuinely believed they were standing up for someone’s right to express an unpopular opinion.
To those people who viewed this not as a statement of solidarity with that man’s opinion, but his right to express it – and those people alone – I apologize for labeling you as a bigot. You were shoulder to shoulder with a lot of them that day, but if you genuinely believed that you were standing up for someone’s right to express an unpopular opinion, and you weren’t there because you were supporting that same person’s efforts to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexual couples take for granted by spending the money you gave him on that day, I sincerely apologize for putting a label on you that was hurtful. I imagine there are some same-sex couples who watched lines stretch down the block outside a chicken restaurant that day who can relate to that feeling.
For what it’s worth, I never supported mayors telling a restaurant it couldn’t open in their cities for political reasons — that’s unconstitutional, stupid, and wrong. I believe very strongly in the rights of individuals to express unpopular opinions, but I also believe even more strongly that people who love each other have the fundamental right to marry, and in this case, especially considering the millions and millions of dollars this man has spent trying to deny same-sex couples that right, I hope his unpopular opinion has negative consequences for him and his company. I hope that the incredible number of people who turned out to give him time and money will give an equal amount of time and money at a homeless shelter, or some other organization that desperately needs that time and money to help people who are suffering.
But I’ve veered slightly off track. My goal today is to clarify in more than 140 characters why I feel the way I do, and sincerely apologize to people who were certainly with a lot of bigots, but don’t believe they are bigots themselves. Words can be hurtful; ask anyone who’s been called a faggot or a dyke or worse for holding hands with the person they love.
But for now, Person Who Is Angry With Me, I’m going to step away and spend the day with my wife and our sons, and be grateful that there isn’t a very wealthy man spending the money he earns with his very profitable and popular fast food restaurant trying to make us less of a family.