The birth of a marriage equality meme

MARRIAGE EQUALITY MEMEThis morning, you may have noticed an onslaught of red equal signs taking over your Facebook feed … and maybe even your Twitter stream. And Instagram. What we’re witnessing here is a social campaign gone viral – and if you’re feeling out of the loop (as obvious as the symbol may be), we’re going to break it down for you. 

What’s up with these red equal signs?

The United States Supreme Court is hearing an argument today about Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case that will determine whether California’s controversial Proposition 8 law is constitutional. Prop 8 declares marriage can only be between a man and a woman, so if the Court strikes it down, it will be celebrated as a victory for everyone who supports marriage equality. Tomorrow, the Court will hear United States v. Windsor, which will determine the constitutional fate of DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act. Together, these two cases are by far the deepest the Supreme Court has entered into the debate over marriage.

To say this is a significant moment in the fight for equal rights is an understatement – even though neither outcome will determine the legality of gay marriage in the U.S., both decisions will have a major impact on how the issue is addressed in the future.

red equal signs

So where did the red and pink icon itself start? The Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, changed its symbol from a blue and yellow equal sign to the pink on red version today to draw attention to the importance of the Court decisions explained above. 

How did it spread so fast?

The HRC is a sizable lobby, and it does a good job of engaging with the Facebook community – right now, over 40,000 shared its original post to spread the word some 23 hours ago, and that’s just from the group’s homepage.

Internet superstars like George Takei helped boost support by re-posting to their popular pages; Takei got over 60,000 “likes” for his post.

And it’s not just Facebook. The red sign migrated to Twitter and Instagram as well – hashtags like #MarriageEquality and #SCOTUS are trending, with people changing their pictures there to the red equal sign, and many others weighing in – including President Obama’s official account:

Taking the sign and running with it

A lot of people are putting individual twists on the symbol, adding some personality to the otherwise identical see of red equal signs.

Now, obviously not everyone in the United States supports marriage equality, or it wouldn’t be as contentious an issue.

In fact, a recent study illustrated how what people express on Twitter differs from actual mainstream opinion, and the same likely holds true for Facebook. And since the Twitter study showed that opinions on Twitter did not match up how people voted for Prop 8, it’s safe to say social media is not an entirely accurate barometer for popular sentiment. 

Still, there isn’t an anti-gay marriage symbol gaining nearly as much traction. The closest thing we found was the National Organization for Marriage’s symbol, and while the group didn’t come prepared with a viral-ready image, it is advertising a march on the Capitol today to defend Prop 8 and DOMA.

Social media’s problems predicting actual popular opinion may stem from who uses it. Twitter users skew younger than the general population, so while this marriage equality meme campaign’s popularity doesn’t necessarily mean that mainstream opinion has shifted substantially, it does mean that the kind of people who post on social media – which is generally a younger demographic – hold these views. And that may help presage future popular sentiment, if not how the nation feels on average today.

We still don’t know how the Court will decide these pivotal cases, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that we know how “The Golden Girls” felt about marriage equality:

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