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Posted by on Jan 16, 2009 in Society | 32 comments

Andrew Sullivan, Rod Dreher, and Eightmaps

388502292_351fa0e2fa_m.jpgA mash up of public information about who donated to Proposition 8 in California and a Google map plotting all of that information out is causing a bit of a stir in the old blogosphere. Rod Dreher of Crunchy Con first wrote about the map saying this,

Here is a Google map that allows you to find your way to the homes of people who donated money to Prop 8 in California. It’s damn creepy, is what it is. What could possibly be the use of this kind of information, presented in this way? It’s intended to intimidate people into not participating in politics by donating money. Do that, and you’ll end up on some activist group’s map, with hotheads being able to find your street address on their iPhones.

Prominent gay blogger over at the Atlantic Andrew Sullivan, on the other hand, doesn’t see quite what the fuss is about,

If Prop 8 supporters truly feel that barring equality for gay couples is vital for saving civilization, shouldn’t they be proud of their financial support? Why don’t they actually have posters advertising their support for discriminating against gay people – as a matter of pride?

Sullivan also says in that post that the map could be used by marriage equality advocates to better understand who it is that they need to engage in a healthy discussion about why same-sex marriage shouldn’t be seen as a threat.

Dreher; however, thinks Sullivan is being naive and perhaps a touch disingenuous,

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Neither Andrew nor any other gay-marriage backer who likes Eightmaps intends to use it as a guide to where to dispatch gay missionaries, like fashion-forward Jehovah’s Witnesses, to do front-porch evangelism on behalf of same-sex marriage. The question is, what do they think it’s supposed to be used for? I can’t read minds, but it seems clear to me that the anger of many gay-marriage supporters is such that they feel justified in exposing people who gave money to the Prop 8 campaign like this, and letting the chips fall where they may. I can’t prove it, but I believe they’d be pleased if these people were attacked in some way, or had their property vandalized, just to “show them.”

The debate rages on and I encourage you to check both Dreher and Sullivan’s sites if the topic interests you, right now it seems to be the only thing that Dreher is interested in writing about.

While I think that he’s tending to be a touch hyperbolic about the whole thing, my immediate reaction to seeing the map was very much in line with Dreher’s, “Wow, that’s kind of creepy.” I say that as a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage. My mind keeps whirling around the question, “What would someone possibly do with this?” And the most prominent answer that pushes to the front of my mind is, just like Dreher, that it seems like a perfect tool for backlash.

Of course, the problem here is that we’re talking about potentials. Both Dreher and Sullivan impute their take on the map primarily based on their stance on the issue it highlights. As it stands, no one has done anything wrong here. The map itself is made up of public information, available to anyone who has a mind to collect it. The webpage doesn’t give any direction on what to do with the information.

The map is an artifact and what it might be used for exists in the realm of speculation. And speculation, of course, is no grounds for indictment of wrong doing, particularly potential future wrong doing.

But I think that what is really troubling me here is not so much the idea of marauding bands of anti-Prop 8 activists setting out to the countryside with maps in hand intent on harassing Prop 8 supporters, it is rather the general state of things around same-sex marriage.

During the campaign around and immediately following the passage of Proposition 8, tensions ran extremely high. While you haven’t heard much from either side over the last few weeks, that doesn’t mean that those tensions aren’t lying just under surface, prepared to boil over at a moments notice.

At some point, the issue of same-sex marriage and its legalization requires the emergence of cooler and saner heads to achieve resolution. Putting the issue to rest in a satisfactory manner, if it can ever be put fully to rest, is going to involve incremental persuasion of opposition, which itself requires engagement in a manner that leaves both parties feeling at ease.

In and of itself, the existence of Eightmaps doesn’t mean anything wrong has been done, and Sullivan might be correct that in the right hands it could in fact do some good. But the perception of its existence by those with whom same-sex marriage advocates need to engage does more harm, at least at this point in time, than any good it might be able to achieve. It likely inflames a situation, causing reactions like Dreher’s, that needs time to cool off a bit.

And in that regard, I think that on balance it would be better if Eightmaps hadn’t been put together in the first place.

Update: one of Sullivan’s readers echoes my concerns much more eloquently.