Politics is as personal as every, day 8: What if my family was yours?

Here’s the Back Story: Darling Virgo and I have been married four times. It’s true. Well, sort of true. I guess I should say we’ve been “married” four times (emphasis on the quotation marks). The first was in the summer of 2000, just a few days after Howard Dean signed Civil Unions into Vermont law. We hustled over to Brattleboro that weekend and were the fourteenth couple to “I DO” in front of an old man with long eyebrows who was very happy and very nervous to betroth us in civil unity. Of course it meant absolutely nothing unless you lived in Vermont, which we didn’t. A few weeks later our families gathered on the Maine coast for a homemade ceremony we officiated ourselves, lest anyone walk away with the misinformation that we were afforded any legal rights. The following spring when the City of Portland, Maine approved a domestic partnership law and we hopped out of bed early to be the first at City Hall the morning it went into affect. News crews interviewed us all day long even though the only thing we’d gained was the right to pick up each other’s children from the public schools (neither of us had children) and the right to visit each other at the city’s convalescent home (we were 26 years old). But then finally in 2004, the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts (where I was born and raised) ruled that marriage discrimination was unconstitutional and that on May 17th, city and town clerks across the land must begin issuing applications for marriage licenses to any two people who requested them. My mother was beside-herself proud and made sure we were at her house in the woods of Central Massachusetts the night before, so we could all--Darling Virgo, me, baby Hot Shot, and my parents--walk up to our little town hall together in the morning. But guess who was Governor of Massachusetts that year. That’s right: Mitt Romney. Supposedly in one of his more moderate reincarnations. But not that week. No, the week of May 17th, 2004, Mitt Romney was scurrying around being all fiery and outraged, trying to make sure the good straight people of Massachusetts didn’t have to worry about their gay neighbors getting married. Okay, well maybe they did have to worry about their gay neighbors getting married. It turned out there wasn’t much ol’ Mitt could do about that. But at the very least he would stop the out-of-state gays from coming to Massachusetts and spending their money on weddings. Yes, sure he could do that. And so Mitt looked and looked for a way to prevent the great gay flood of 2004, and he found it in a 1913 law which required clerks to refuse marriage licenses to those whose home state would not recognize their marriage. This law was of course written to stop the great interracial marriage flood of 1913 and hadn’t been enforced in decades. But Governor Romney declared it was time to dust off that old racist law, and he required all the clerks in all the towns and cities in the land to enforce that law. Most of them did, but some of them didn’t. Some of them went right on issuing licenses to all who applied. And so later that week, we made our way to Worcester, Massachusetts, and got married. Legally married. And it felt really, really good. Even though we lived in a State where it wasn’t recognized. And now for 2012: I was not surprised to learn, last May, that President Obama believes my family deserves the same rights as his. I know his official statement is that he “evolved” on this issue and has recently come to understand that Separate But Equal doesn’t work in our case either. My assumption is that, like many politicians, it’s not so much that he has evolved, but that the political climate around him has evolved. I assume that until now he, and Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton, and many others before and along side them have run on the premise that they love the gays (and our votes, thank you very much) but need to stop their support just short of equal marriage (so as not to lose everyone else’s votes, thank you very much). Like back in my old state of Maine, in 2009, after being elected twice on the insistence that he believed we deserved every right but marriage, Governor John Baldacci was, in the end, proud and happy to sign the equal marriage bill when the legislature placed it before him. We were not surprised then either. Elated, but not surprised. I’ve become used to politicians using my life as political bate this way. Some days it’s maddening. But you just can’t function if you’re mad every day. And for a long time it has felt like a reasonable way to make progress. To allow politicians to play both sides of this issue so they can get into office and hopefully, over time, advance the cause of our rights. And I’ll tell you, when it happened this year--when the social climate in this country evolved to the point that the Democratic political meteorologists declared it was time, and the sitting President of the United States announced his support for equal marriage--it felt pretty damn good. Even though I knew it was entirely calculated. Even though I knew he was doing it because the strategic equations revealed that supporting my rights would win him more votes than it would lose. It still felt good. And it felt like enough. I didn’t hear our President making any commitments to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. Or to making marriage discrimination unconstitutional. I heard him saying, sort of quietly and thoughtfully, that his kids made him realize gay families were no different than their own. I didn’t get a sense this was going to be an issue he would run on. That it would replace “GM is alive and Bin Laden is dead.” (Which, by the way, I find to be one of the most repulsive rally cries I’ve ever heard.) I assumed the President’s support of equal marriage would be a little point of note in his record. Something in small font on the website. An official stance that would matter to those who went looking for it, but not to be yelled from the mountain top, in case it landed upon the wrong ears. So I never dreamed that speaker after speaker at the Democratic National Convention would garner raucous cheers of approval by hollering their insistence that my family’s rights were worth fighting for. That the Democratic Party was the party of inclusion. That a vote to re-elect the President was not just a philosophical nod in the direction of equality, but a commitment to actually working for a socially just end to this epic oppression. I watched the coverage and I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Couldn’t believe we had gone from being a scapegoat voting block, to being a courted voting block, in just four years. It’s crazy really. The kind of crazy that feels really, really, really good. But when it finally happens, gaining equal marriage rights won’t just be about feeling really, really good. This is not, in the end, a self esteem issue. There are actual everyday ways that equal marriage will change my life. I will have more posts on this subject in the coming days. Posts that outline what exactly will change. But for today I’m just sticking with the emotional journey of this ride. Because politics are so damn personal this time around, it’s hard to be anything but emotional, so why try? See, right now, the choice between candidates is a choice between someone who may well grant my family the same rights he enjoys, and someone who has worked and will continue to work to make sure I remain without those rights. This doesn’t put me in an agree-to-disagree kind of place when it comes to making nice with Romney supporters. When that little ad appears on the right side of my Facebook screen showing me which of my friends “like” Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, I don’t look at the list of names and think, “well, I guess we have our differences.” No. That list of names feels like a hard kick in the stomach. Can you hear what I’m saying? I’m saying, seeing your name on that list takes my breath away. I’m saying “We don’t always agree on politics but we sure had fun in the sandbox back in the day” just doesn’t cut it this time around. Because this is not like differing health care plans or tax policies where people might disagree about what the actual outcome will be. This is fact. Your vote for Mitt Romney is decisively a vote against the well-being of my family. Please. Please. Read the posts to come in the next couple of days and think about what you would do if my family was yours.

Liz Rose-Cohen

Foreigner in Buckeye Nation

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