Saturday, March 21, 2009

(another chapter of The Brides of March)

A Devastating Election

The day after the November election, my neighbor, Chris, a white, able, middle-class gay man, marched across the street when he saw me dragging in my yard debris cans, and told me that for the first time in his entire life, he felt oppressed. He said that we had clearly been told to get to the back of the bus. And he was mad.

I started that Wednesday like so many, numb with disbelief, almost in denial. I’d turned off the television and gone to bed by nine on election night, already fried emotionally, and eager to avoid watching the seemingly inevitable re-election of George W. Bush, and the possible passage of Measure 36, constitutionally barring same-sex marriage in Oregon. In the morning, I opened my Oregonian to find that my home state, the state I love, did not love me. Our state constitution was amended to ensure that couples like us would never enjoy the benefits of marriage.

Bush, I tried to ignore, hoping recounts would throw him out of office, even if Kerry did concede.

Since I didn’t start the day drinking highballs, the numbness wore off and emotion set in: first, in the form of tears, when our friend, Jason, e-mailed us to say that he would always think of us as married, that we were married, and that no one could take that away, then, like my neighbor, in the form of anger. I started constructing editorial essays in my head as I paced from room to room, picking up childhood debris and dog toys on automatic pilot. So, when journalist Bill Graves called wanting a reaction to the news that Measure 36 passed, he got an earful.

My primary argument has always been that denying gay men and lesbians the right to marry makes us less than second class citizens; it marks us as separate from the human race. An argument that the protester affirmed last spring as he screamed, “Why don’t you marry your dog?” while we waited peacefully in line for our marriage license. But the other point I made to that reporter (but didn’t end up in print) was what I think constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage do to gay and lesbian youth.

It was one thing for me, in an almost eighteen-year relationship, to be outraged that once again the majority felt it had the right to systematically discriminate against me, and my family. It is quite another for a fourteen or fifteen year-old, just coming out, to get the message, loud and clear, that he or she is considered—by the majority—unworthy of marriage.

For some, this message will spur them to become happy, productive adults, despite this collective vote of no confidence. But, I imagine, more will internalize that message, be more suicidal, more promiscuous, and more inclined to stuff their feelings in a bottle of beer or the next ecstasy high.

The election hit us harder than I let on to the reporter, and much harder than we allowed the Oregonian photographer to see when he came by that afternoon and photographed us playing with Graeme on our dining room floor. Polls had shown Kerry winning the presidential election and the constitutional amendment losing, only the day before, lending us an optimism that was dashed to pieces as the early election returns came in.

While I wanted to bounce back fast and keep on fighting for marriage, there was a part of me so hurt by the voters who drew the line between us and them, that it was hard to recover from, and go about the day, the next day, and the weeks to come, knowing that we were legally enshrined as less; the possibility of our marriages so threatening they needed to be voted out of existence.

We went through a lot of chocolate as I recall.

The part of Jannine that opened up and flowered with our wedding, our celebration, and the community that embraced us after all these years (transcending the survival strategies she’d learned as a military brat to keep her guard up and her circle small), closed, withered, and barred the door.

That part of me that had felt at one with our neighborhood, our village, all at once felt alien and alone. The rebel from 1986 wanted to resurface in black leather, and say “screw you,” since it seemed obvious that being a good sport, a good citizen, and Carol Brady in blue jeans had done nothing to change our status as “other.”

There was a deafening silence at school for the week after the election. Silence from those who secretly voted with hearts and agendas that disagreed with ours. Silence from those who understood that words couldn’t fix the damage or close the wounds that were still weeping quietly while other people went about their lives.

Anna’s teacher, our friend Diane, pulled me into a hug the day after the election, holding me tight before asking what Measure 36 would mean for our own marriage.

“They can’t take that away from you can they?” she asked. “You’re already married!”We still didn’t know whether the state would let our marriage stand, it was going to the Oregon Supreme Court.

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