Bittner, 33, who lives in Marietta with his girlfriend, Crystal, said for him it’s a matter of equal protection under the law.
If you’re on Facebook, it’s unlikely you haven’t noticed people who have changed their profile picture to a red box with the equal sign on it. The logo is a variation of the Human Rights Campaign’s logo, which is a yellow equal sign inside of a blue square. The HRC describes itself as the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Brooks Mathis, 30, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development, said he turned his Facebook profile picture red also.
“My friend list turned red, and you see everything changing into red, and it brought me to do it as well, because I support that initiative,” said Mathis, who also serves as the executive director of Cobb’s Competitive EDGE economic development program.
“I think equality for every person on the planet is important,” Mathis said. “Equal rights, I think it’s something that everybody in my opinion should care about. And what better way to let the masses know what you stand for than through some sort of social media, because obviously it takes hold, and I think it’s something that’s important.”
‘Not a religious issue’
Meral Clarke of Marietta, 50, the past president of the Marietta Business Association, who identifies as a straight ally, said she turned her Facebook profile red to lend her support to the LGBT community.
“You know, to me it’s not a religious issue, it’s really not, it’s a civil issue,” Clarke said. “Lesbians and gays, they don’t have any civil rights in our society, and the fact that they want to marry and enjoy those rights as equal human beings, I think our entire society is built on fairness, and what can be more fair than to allow everybody to become equal?”
Bittner, who is chairman of the Cobb County Libertarian Party and executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, said if it were up to him, government would get out of the marriage business altogether.
“But in the interim, because I realize that government does not cede power quickly or easily, I would like to see equal treatment under the law,” Bittner said.
A sea of red
April Phillips, 33, of Mableton, who works in the nonprofit industry and has a boyfriend, said every now and then there will be people who change their Facebook profiles to support breast cancer awareness or some other issue.
“But this is the first time that I’ve noticed where you can open up your Facebook page and you just see a sea of red, and it’s so great to see all of that support,” Phillips said. “Just 10 minutes ago, I posted a comment on Facebook about how inspired I am to see all of my friends who are publicly showing their support for equality. I keep great company.”
Bittner believes the sea change has more to do with people knowing someone in the LGBT community than anything else.
“I think those personal relationships probably have more of an affect rather than your political or religious feelings about the issue,” he said.
Just look at U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who recently came out in support of gay marriage on account of having a gay son.
“I think as there’s less of the ‘in the closet’ in the LGBT community these days, you’re probably seeing more people realize that they have a gay friend or a gay family member or a gay coworker,” Bittner said. “They have a relationship with these people, and it’s a personal relationship. As more people have experience with somebody that they know as gay, they’re going to want to see them have the same rights, and the same views and the same privileges that anybody else has.”
A divided east Cobb high school
Meredith Freeman, 17, a junior at Walton High School who wants to study biology at Stanford University, said based on what she sees on Facebook, Walton students are divided on the matter of marriage equality.
Freeman, who is a member of Walton High School’s Gay Straight Alliance and who calls herself a gay ally, says her profile picture is a photo of her at the prom.
“I think it’s really split in half because we have a lot of devout Christians at my school, and the Christians’ posts are like five paragraphs long,” she said. “They post essays on why they believe what they believe, why they oppose gay marriage, what leads them to think that.”
There is also a movement of Christians posting blue crosses to signify opposition to gay marriage. Those people come in for no small amount of abuse, she said.
“They get a lot of angry comments and a lot of insults and a lot of bad messages,” she said. “It’s really awful. I’m for gay marriage, but I think it’s awful that people are so accepting because they’re for gay marriage, but then they go on people’s profiles and they just hate the people with the blue crosses.”
A number of people going red are just doing it to be fashionable rather than any devout belief in equality, she said.
“I think it’s really popular right this second because people hear about it on Facebook, and it’s going to die down a lot and no one’s going to think about it again until June, and then it will be big again. I’m definitely going to be red at that point,” she said.
Rick Tace, 32, of Marietta, a data base manager, and president of the Atlanta Freethought Society, said both he and his girlfriend have posted the red logo in their Facebook profiles.
“It was important to me because I have Facebook friends that are atheist, gay, straight, Christian, you name it,” Tace said. “I’m friends with all, and I wanted to let it be known. It’s not like I’m really quiet about it anyway, but I want to let it be known that I support them.”
Natural or unnatural?
One woman who has not “gone red” is Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart of east Cobb, although she’s aware of the movement.
“Lord, I’m going to get in trouble over this, but it is not natural for two women or two men to be married,” Everhart said. “If it was natural, they would have the equipment to have a sexual relationship.”
Everhart said while she respects all people, if same sex marriage is legalized across the country, there will be fraud.
“You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow,” Everhart said. “Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you’re gay, and y’all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it’s unreal. I believe a husband and a wife should be a man and a woman, the benefits should be for a man and a woman. There is no way that this is about equality. To me, it’s all about a free ride.”
Everhart said if she had a young child, she wouldn’t want them to have gay parents who would influence that child’s sexual orientation.
“You’re creating with this child that it’s a lifestyle, don’t go out and marry someone else of a different sex because this is natural,” Everhart said. “But if I had a next door neighbor who was in a gay relationship, I could be just as friendly to them as I could be to you and your wife or anybody else. I’m not saying that we ostracize them or anything like that. I’m just saying I’m against marriage because once you get the gay marriage you get everything else.”