Chicken Sandwiches, Interracial Marriage, Autism Speaks, and Popularity Contests

It’s lunchtime, so, having some time, I thought it would be good to talk about, well, lunch.  This week, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lost out in the USA.  Their fellow citizens showed that, given the choice between supporting equal rights and eating a chicken sandwich, the sandwich will win.  It was kind of a modern version of the Two Minutes Hate, just with chicken instead of a telescreen (and, as John Stewart says, in the clip below, finally a type of protest that Americans can manage – eating fast food).

But that’s not what is interesting – or even most depressing – to me.  Both sides of the gay marriage issue have taken sides, with the Human Rights Campaign and others now promoting a Starbucks Appreciation Day (Starbucks has publicly stated their support of same-sex marriage).  Essentially, people seem to have a need to show that more people support a their own view than support the other sides’ view(s).

Autistic people who have campaigned against Autism Speaks know the dangers of this.  I would guess that for every person who has spoken out or taken direct action against Autism Speaks, that there have been 1,000 people who have walked in one of the Autism Speaks “Autism Walks.”  The majority is uninformed and wrong when it comes to Autism Speaks.

This isn’t just an autistic issue, either, where a minority finds itself oppressed by a majority that supports causes counter to their own goals.  People referring to themselves as “Jerry’s Orphans” have spoken out about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon (featuring “Jerry’s Kids” – that is, children with muscular dystrophy that were used by the former telethon host, Jerry Lewis, to invoke feelings of pity and loss towards disabled people with muscular dystrophy).  Yet, the MDA’s telethon continues to get popular support, as does the MDA itself (I cringe every time I see firemen standing in the middle of the street holding out boots for me to donate to the MDA).  Popularity doesn’t make something right.

Nor is it even just a disability issue.  You may know that while interracial marriage became legal for the entire USA in 1967, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia.  What you may not know is that, in 1968, one year after the legalization throughout the nation (it was legal most places other than the south before 1967, which makes this number more shocking), only 20% of the US population support interracial marriage (67% opposed).  Even as late as 1983, most people in the US opposed interracial marriage – 50% – while only 43% supported it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1997 that a majority of the population was willing to indicate they supported interracial marriage, according to Gallop polls (there were polls in 1994 where only 48% supported interracial marriage, and then again in 1997 where, finally, over 50% – 64% actually – supported it).  What is interesting is that the shift occurred fairly quickly, but if eating at certain restaurants was the key to getting people the right to marry, they would have lost for a long time.  Fortunately we have a good court system that was willing to undo some past prejudice, and not decide whether people have rights based on popularity.

Minorities – whether autistic, people with muscular dystrophy, or interracial couples – don’t get rights by popularity.  It’s decidedly unpopular to extend rights to anyone that doesn’t already have them.  It stays unpopular for years, even decades, after the rights are granted.  Eventually things change, but true courage involves standing up for those rights before your friends and family do so.  It’s not about standing in a Starbucks line with a bunch of like-minded folks, or keeping people from standing in a Chick Fil A line with a bunch of like-minded people.  It’s about doing what the people around you are not doing. We should be teaching people to do the right thing, even if others aren’t doing it with them.  It’s never popular to challenge the status quo.

I’m off to salvage what is left of my lunch hour!  And, no, I’m not in the mood for Chicken.