All the rainbow flags of Facebook

July 1, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Ask not, ye gleeful sodomites of America, whether it really made any difference, whether all 26 million (!) of those rainbow-enhanced Facebook profile pictures that swarmed the Internet like ecstatic confetti – not to mention all the other protest icons, equality signs, anti Prop 8 symbols posted throughout social media in recent years – ask not if such seemingly tiny, slightly narcissistic gestures could actually move the needle on social issues, could nudge the nation closer to a completely otherworldly, unexpected moment in history, much like the one we’re standing in right now, breathtaking in its wash of love, staggering in its shocking sense of Maybe All is Not Lost After All.

(The answer, if you must know? Of course they helped, of course it’s all about mindshare, about overall tone and timbre, about normalization and generational shifts, about tipping points and turning tides and while there’s no way to parse exactly how much such gestures effect change, it all adds to the tilt and the momentum. After all, you can never know which rubber band will finally burst the watermelon, right)?

Rather, let us ask about the alternative. That is, let us wonder if Facebook, just in case, had some kind of nasty substitute tool at the ready, some sort of “Screw the awful gays” photo-modification thing haters could use if SCOTUS had decided against gay marriage, so America’s remaining homophobes could hiss out their fear by slathering their profile pic in… I’m not sure what. Ashen gray, flicked with blood? Rush Limbaugh’s flared nostrils? The Alabama state seal?

Because really, isn’t this how you know? Isn’t this a viable measure of progress, to ponder the flipside, to wonder about the reaction, deep down and nationwide, had the decision had gone the other way, ultimately realizing it simply could not have gone any other way?

Of this we can be reasonably sure: With the exception of some dingy Alabama basements and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s gay fetish dungeon, had SCOTUS shut down gay marriage, there would have been no wild outpourings of conservative glee in the streets.

Obviously, right? No parades, no packing every major city’s bars and cafes with celebrants, no millions of humans hugging in disbelief, tweeting ten million tweets within handful of hours, a rush of awe, joy, true amazement flooding over the nation, an unprecedented outpouring of hope not seen since, well, since Obama was elected. Both times.

Also: No rush of marriage proposals. No photographers taking iconic photos, to be shown to future generations; “This is the day it happened,” we will say to young, baffled gazes. No amazing union of George and Jack, together 54 years, finally tying the knot in Dallas because, well, they finally can.

A most astonishing vision, unprecedented in American history

A most astonishing vision, unprecedented in American history

What would have happened, instead? A sickly pallor. A thick emotional gauze wrapping the nation in a dank revulsion, stifling and difficult to breathe, an overall feeling that real progress had, once again, been stabbed in the heart.

That feeling is not uncommon, unfortunately. It happened when Bush 43 was elected to a second term. It happened when he declared his terrible war on Iraq. It happened when SCOTUS decided corporations were people, when they gutted the Voting Rights Act, even more so when they decided hateful employers like Hobby Lobby could wield their spiteful definition of God as a weapon.

In short, it would have been a visceral punch in the heart – felt most profoundly, perhaps, by those under 30, a whole generation entirely unused to having a jackboot of right-wing terror stomped into their necks. “Maybe in another 20 years,” the rest of us would have sighed, as more white guys bought guns, because fear.

Let’s put it this way: No one cheers regression. No one weeps tears of joy when they are told that millions will suddenly be stripped of health care, or that corporations and cadres of insufferable billionaires like the Kochs are free to buy elections, when women, immigrants, or people who love one another dearly are told, once again, they are inferior. At least, no one worthy of knowing.

Did you know people are actually discussing, semi-seriously, when it’s appropriate to take down your rainbow Facebook photo? Brands, too? And that some are asking if it was all another grand Facebook conspiracy designed to gather nefarious data? Isn’t that wonderful?

We’re already in an ironic, post gay-marriage landscape. It’s already foregone and complete. We are moving on, making light, breathing clearer. It was just that obvious. It was so very ready to burst forth, and leave the embittered and the heartless in its wake. Let us relish.

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Mark Morford

About Mark Morford