I live in North Carolina. Perhaps you’ve heard of us lately. We’re the 31st state to pass an amendment to the constitution not only banning gay marriage (because in case you didn’t know it, gay marriage has been illegal here for 16 years already) but making the only recognized union a marriage between one man and one woman.
I first became aware of this amendment sometime last summer when a worker from Equality NC came to speak at our church and I immediately signed up for a postcard campaign to address my concerns as a voting constituent with my state representatives. Packet after packet passed through my hands and I, in turn, passed them on to friends, co-workers, and family (well, my mother, at least). Over time the groundswell of worry over the amendment passing grew and we became more involved in campaigning against it. The language was intentionally complex and the ramifications would be devastating to domestic partners and families – both gay and straight—all across North Carolina.
Rather than work the phone banks to call those who were already on our side to encourage them to get out and vote, my partner, Li, and I felt very strongly that we needed to engage people personally. It’s never easy to take 2-3 hours out of my day to volunteer when I’m a full-time mom who is self-employed with so many overlapping deadlines and Li’s job doesn’t allow for two days off in a row and rarely allows time for lunch, let alone any time for luxuries like volunteering but we felt we could get out there and do what we could in our own way. Both of us subscribe to the tenet of truly entering into relationship with others. Whether those relationships are deep friendships or passing encounters throughout a day—and that is how we went about engaging the “other” side in daily conversation about the facts regarding Amendment One.
I printed up dozens of flyers and kept them with me at all times. Everywhere I went I found opportunities to hand them out and talk to people about the truth buried in the rhetoric. “This is not a gay issue,” I kept repeating. Sometimes I’d feel as though I were beating my head against a brick wall but every day I’d find at least one person who hadn’t heard about the amendment or who had but didn’t understand that 38,000 children would soon be without health insurance if the amendment passed.
We attended rallies and interfaith services and we were buoyed by the overwhelming support among the throngs of people attending. The diversity was great and it made me feel proud to be a part of something rooted in social justice and radical love—the very heart of what we try to teach my son every day of his life. Eventually it came time for early voting and we headed out to the polls filled with hope and a handful of flyers, not yet ready to give up. I could still hear the fat lady sing.
Unfortunately, peace, love, and understanding abandoned me as we ran the gauntlet of volunteers offering last minute advice on who or how to vote. A woman held out a card and clearly said to me (in direct violation of State law—a volunteer is not supposed to tell someone how to vote but can answer questions or ask if you are familiar with a certain candidate), “Vote FOR Amendment One!” I immediately reached out my flyer stating the 10 facts about the Amendment and said “Vote against Amendment One!” She took a step back and I lost it. She started in like a broken record about the sanctity of marriage and I started in about gay marriage already being illegal in this state and before I knew it I was yelling and my blood was boiling and she was backing up as though she thought I might reach up and strangle her, which, in the moment, may actually have given me slight satisfaction. Some young girl volunteering against the amendment ran up and hugged me as the volunteer I had assailed fled into the building to whine about how “this wasn’t what I signed up for when I agreed to volunteer!” Waaaaah! Know your facts, lady, and don’t volunteer for something if you can’t stand up for your own cause.
We voted. I volunteered at the polls the following Tuesday. That night we watched the numbers roll in.
I wandered around feeling as though I had somehow personally failed the state of North Carolina all by myself. I didn’t talk to enough people. I didn’t send out enough postcards. I didn’t raise enough awareness, post enough messages on Facebook, sing loudly enough at the Interfaith services, cheer boisterously enough at the rallies. Grief and anger and self-pity rolled over me in a wave that threatened to take me under. I felt crushed by the weight of a million self-righteous hypocrites who could throw the same Bible I have in my face and tell me that mine isn’t as good as theirs. Li and I talked of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and moving on. We’re well into our late 40s and we know what it’s like to fight for our civil rights and lose and fight again. So we slept in each others’ arms and we woke to a new day.
One that brought us an unexpected gift. Our president, Barack Obama, publicly announced that he supported gay marriage. While others saw this as a crumb thrown out to the GLBTQ population or perhaps as a political maneuver, those of us standing here in the buckle of the Bible belt, woozy from our knockout punch, felt the POTUS reach down from Washington and embrace us in a hug that said “I’m with you and one day it’s going to be okay.”
Our state is largely democratic but it is also a swing state and these days I’m not too sure Obama can count on the electorate vote. What he did was risky at best. As the first sitting president to fully support gay marriage, he lifted the spirits of so many who had spent the better part of a year or more fighting tooth and nail for that which so many take for granted that we think we are guaranteed in the constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are second-class citizens without basic civil rights but we are also strong and we are united and we are not going away.
We shall overcome. One day.