When I left First Coast Connect this morning, I left a bit angry at myself. As you may or may not know, I take part in a media roundtable some Fridays — it’s a collection of the week’s news, usually local and statewide stuff. This week, however, there was a ton of national news with implications everywhere, so we talked about those stories, too, including the striking down of a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. All week long, I had been thinking about what I would say if we covered this story on the roundtable. As a journalist, it’s drilled into us not to “take sides,” especially on issues seen as divisive. Also, it depends on if I get asked to comment on a particular part of the conversation — I can’t just say whatever I want if it doesn’t make sense. I won’t. But the final comment regarding marriage equality struck a chord. Below is a transcription, or if you’d rather listen, I’ve uploaded the full comment to SoundCloud.
“You know, personal opinions aside, the bottom line should be economics here. In a world where we have such a high divorce rate, if you can manage to stay partnered with someone for a long time and show a commitment, then you should have the same rights, economically speaking. Then, a stable marriage — a stable partnership — means insurance is getting paid, which means paychecks are getting paid. Everybody is happier on that and I think that’s going to be — maybe not brought to the forefront — but I think should be discussed. Stability in a family life is very important in the 21st century right now. We don’t have it. We’ve been discussing instability in family lives for the past half-hour, so let’s make things a little easier and maybe one less thing to worry about when it comes to just being a family — a couple.”
Let me begin by saying that I applaud the commenter for a lot of this and I encourage you to listen to all of this segment on WJCT’s website. I agree that stability in a family is important. I agree that we need more of it. And I truly believe the commenter didn’t have negative intent or thought behind this at all. He’s knowledgable, friendly and a great guy to chat with. We get along and I enjoy and am happy to be on the panel when he is. I also think the beauty of the show is that it provides different perspectives and allows us — and, in turn, the community — to have a real conversation. In fact, I love the show for this reason. But I absolutely disagree with the notion that “the bottom line should be economics.” Unfortunately, the on-air conversation had to end there. But that doesn’t mean the entire conversation is anywhere near over.
There are surely economic considerations to be made and discussed with this. In fact, we talked about it this morning on my show. And economics could be something that sways people to the right side of history. That said, I don’t believe anyone who supports marriage equality would call it anywhere close to “the bottom line.” Here’s the bottom line: An entire group of people — a minority — faces discrimination daily. A law was actively discriminating against them. The Supreme Court fixed it — or at least took a huge step toward doing so. There’s obviously more work to be done. And while economical considerations might sway some people, they shouldn’t have to. I think the need to have equality in this country should be enough. I think the need to make progress should be enough. I think the happiness of millions of families should be enough.
Regarding what I’m “allowed” to say publicly about this issue, I’m tired of pretending that there’s one side and another side and both are equally valid arguments. We do this too much in journalism. No. Sometimes, there is just a right and there’s just a wrong. And if the other side of this argument can feel that they’re entirely right, then I’m entitled to do so, as well. History will determine the victor. I’m confident equality will win. That said, I realize others haven’t made up their minds. Professionally, I’ll always offer other perspectives. Personally, I’m convinced that doing so — even impartially — will show which perspective is the winning one. I don’t need to hide anything. I just need to be honest about everything. It’s not like I have to be “fair” and acknowledge the KKK’s perspective as a legitimate one. Why do I have to do anything similar with marriage equality or other gay rights?
In the hours since the show, I’ve thought a lot about why I had such a strong reaction to the comments, knowing the commenter didn’t mean to be hurtful or at all negative. I’ve thought about why I could feel my body temperature rising. I’ve thought about why my mind was moving at a frenetic pace, almost to the point of physical manifestation. Here’s why: I felt like my life, my love, my equality just got turned into a spreadsheet.
How would you have felt as a woman fighting for the right to do a job typically reserved for a man if you were told the “bottom line” as to why women should be able to get those sorts of jobs is because it increases productivity? As a black man, fighting for equality, how would you like to have been told that African-Americans should be considered equal mostly because it’s a real good economic stimulator?
The focus of marriage equality isn’t economics. It’s equality itself. It’s love. It’s happiness. And anyone who needs any other reason to accept it isn’t accepting it for the right reasons.