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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Gay rights: A step forward or just sideways?

The 800 or so UA employees, and probably scores of students and other UA affiliates, who are in domestic partnerships or civil unions can now express it in a new way: as their Facebook relationship status.

The social networking site added “”in a domestic partnership”” and “”in a civil union”” to the list of relationship statuses its 500 million or so active users can use to define themselves. The changes began to go into effect last week and during the weekend, and so far have been implemented in five countries, including the United States.

While many heterosexual couples define themselves as domestic partners, both those new designations on Facebook are widely seen as a nod to gay relationships. And, for many, they are cause for celebration. Gay and lesbian activists have hailed the move as a statement from Facebook in support of the LGBT rights movement. “”Facebook sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,”” Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

More visibility and more options by which LGBT couples can express their love seem like an amazing step forward. And the wider a net social networking sites like Facebook cast to make their users feel included and represented, the better. But it’s hard to believe Facebook’s aims are altogether altruistic — after all, this is the company that, despite being widely used as a communication device for revolutionary young people across the globe, shut down several of the Egyptian protestors’ groups because the organizers were using pseudonyms to protect themselves. Unlike Google or Twitter, Facebook has been reticent to identify itself with the revolutionaries; it’s a company with a serious stake in not rocking the boat too hard, in working within the system.

In that light, Facebook’s addition of new relationship designations seems less like a statement of solidarity, and more like a move that allows the company to avoid such a statement. For some in the gay community, domestic partnerships and civil unions smack of “”separate but equal”” policies. They are, in many cases, the way governments justify not allowing gay marriage — if gay people have these equally good options, why do they need marriage?

So, while couples in civil unions and domestic partnerships should have the opportunity to express that online, Facebook doesn’t deserve much of the praise it’s garnering. The company didn’t come out in support of gay marriage; it merely added seemingly progressive relationship designations, quietly, and let the buzz spread. This may be exciting and long awaited for many couples, but it’s not a particularly definitive moment for a multi-billion dollar company. And, with little at stake for the company besides perhaps a smattering of lame boycotts, it’s not all that bold or brave.

It might be time to take a break from worshipping the Almighty Facebook and acknowledge that the company has a financial stake in appearing progressive without actually having to do much. Facebook doesn’t want to be part of the winds of social change; it wants to make money, and it’s doing an awesome job at that.

— Heather Price-Wright is the assistant arts editor for the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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