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Facebook Profiles and the Gay Marriage Debate

Human Rights Campaign

Changing your Facebook profile picture to support gay marriage is not the same as protesting in the streets.

If you checked out Facebook in the week that the Supreme Court heard two cases on gay marriage, you saw many people's profile pictures changed to a pink equal sign on a red background.

"This got started because the 'Human Rights Campaign' -- a pro-gay rights organization -- started passing this image around on Monday as the first arguments were being heard before the Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8," explained Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense Making Project."

"Then Tuesday as the lawyers took on the Defense of Marriage Act, Beyonce posted something to her Instagram and it took off like wildfire after that."

While changing your Facebook avatar is certainly a way to make public your feelings on the issue, McBride pointed out that "changing your avatar on Facebook or Twitter is a pretty simple thing to do. It's a couple of keystrokes -- not nearly as uncomfortable as sitting down at a lunch counter during the civil rights movement or standing up to a hostile crowd in some other form of protest."

Some people did take a risk in changing their Facebook profile picture to support gay marriage. They were reporters and McBride said some of them crossed an ethical line in their newsrooms.

"Some of them got into a little bit of trouble with their bosses. In most traditional newsrooms you are not supposed to take a political stand. And some people see putting up the equality sign as taking a political stance. Other people will defend that on behalf of journalists as taking a stance for a civil rights issue or a human rights issue which is different than a political statement. So it really depends on whether you see this as a human rights issue or a political issue."

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