Your Vote Affects Real People

Four years ago, I reached my second presidential election and voted for John McCain. I thought I knew why I picked who I did, and I had many reasons I thought that it was important to vote Republican. If there was one issue that I felt was most important, it would have been the social side to politics, first and foremost abortion rights, and by that I mean I was against abortion. I considered myself strongly pro-life, and I even bragged about being a one issue voter. I have since come to question many of the “pro-life” assumptions I made at the time, Libby Ann gives a great breakdown of some of the questions surrounding this issue here.

Regardless of why I voted for John McCain, I started wondering about my vote by the very next day. We went to a supermarket for something, I don’t even remember what. And the elderly African-American greeter at the entrance of the store had tears rolling down his cheeks. He smiled ear to ear as he said something about today being such a great day, because for the first time in his life, he could truly tell his grandkids that anything was possible. A man of color was president of the United States. This man’s life had been changed. He was old enough to remember when people of his race weren’t allowed to use the same bathrooms as white people, and now he had lived long enough to see a black man lead his country.

4 years later, I’m in a very different place than I was for the election in 2008. The woman who felt disgusted to hear a speech where Obama included “gay and straight Americans” as part of a lengthy list of people he planned to represent in the white house has changed considerably.  I now have LGBTQ friends for the first time in my life. And with the changes in my own life and marriage, I am now in a place where politics has become more personal than ever before.

This spring I went to a family equality conference. We were newly out, and had just moved to the area the month before. Despite my knowledge and acceptance of myself and my spouse, I found myself incredibly nervous going to my first LGBTQ gathering. I worried that we wouldn’t fit in. I worried that these people would somehow be able to see the remnants of homophobia and self-loathing that still lingered in my mind. I worried that somehow people would be able to tell that I had voted against them and spoken against them for the first 25 years of my life, and in that process voted against myself.

I found myself hanging on the edge of the crowd, just watching people. Couples together, laughing and smiling. Kids running around, hanging on a parent’s leg, eating snacks. There were women with short hair, and women with long hair. Men wearing slacks and button downs, and men wearing jeans and t-shirts. Women who were thin and women who were plump. Men who were short and men who were tall. Women who had make up and jewelry on, and women who looked as if they hadn’t plucked their eyebrows or chin in many years. Where were the colored hair and piercings? The leather clothes and random sex acts? I knew that the stereotypes and lies I had been fed back in the day of overly-sexual always flamboyant queer people were just that, stereotypes and lies. But having no other exposure or experience I found myself realizing how many of those misunderstandings were still in the back of my mind.

I attended a talk about being an LGBTQ family with children in school. I heard a woman talk about how wonderful her sons experience had been in his small private school. The school valued and was inclusive of him having  2 moms. I also heard a father talk about the bullying and hateful treatment his son had received at his public school for no other reason than having 2 dads.  I heard a middle aged woman talk about how her 2 dads used to get human feces put in their mailbox, left by other people who lived in their small Iowa town. I watched men and women cheer and cry as an adult child of 2 dads told them that their families counted and that their love and support for their children really would make a difference.

I had always been told that LGBTQ people were unable to commit to stable lasting relationships or raise a family. I had been told they hopped around from one sexual encounter to the next. And even though I now knew from the stats that this was inaccurate, I was now meeting people who had been together for years, married in more than one of the states that would recognize their marriage. I was meeting people who stuck together and raised their kids and shared their lives, even though society only complicates that process by refusing to acknowledge their relationship legally. They were just like anyone else, and yet they were treated so differently by society.

I saw this in my own life as we came out. People had been happy to acknowledge us as friends, family or acquaintances when we were a straight couple; were now ashamed of us, angry with us, or completely ignoring us.  What had changed? We were still a committed loving couple, seeking to raise our children well and interact with society, just as we always were, but some people cannot see that.

As the election has gotten closer, I’ve experienced this season in a different way than ever before. I hear candidates say that one of their top priorities if they gain office is to undermine marriages like mine, all based on their religious belief. I’ve seen ads arguing against my marriage that claim they are fighting to “protect children” and it makes me wonder,  what about my children? I simply cannot fathom how my marriage impacts anyone else for the worse, any more than my neighbor’s marriage could impact my marriage or children. People have beliefs, relationships, marriages and children, and most of them get to make those choices and live their lives in relative privacy. In my mind, my life is the same way, and I should be able to live it in relative safety and privacy. And yet, people somehow think it is about them.

Haley and Me

In 4 states across America, my marriage is up for the public vote.  I don’t get to vote on heterosexuals getting married, any guy and girl who hook up can get married in Vegas. But my friends who have been together for 12 years? You get to vote in their marriage, because they are both women.  This doesn’t make sense to me, any more than the widespread bans on interracial marriage from only 50 years ago makes any sense to me. Even when it was my religious belief that getting married to someone of the same sex was wrong, I no longer believed that I had the right to impose that belief onto people who felt differently than me. I go to my job, clean my house, do laundry, eat meals with my family and read books to my kids like anyone else. I fell in love and started a family, just like anyone else. And yet political groups can put my marriage up for a vote.  These bans and amendments to prevent marriage equality do not protect anything but a specific personal individual belief in a country where we supposedly have the freedom to have our own. These laws making the lives of LGBTQ families more complicated and difficult, do not protect anyone. Instead, my friends have to face a future of continuing to worry about being able to see their spouse if they are sick and in the hospital, or whether or not they will be granted the right to their own children if tragedy takes their spouse away from them.

When you go to the polls this week, I want to use this idea I saw in a friend’s facebook status and ask you to take these statements that are made about LGBTQ people by these political and religious groups, and replace the word “Gay” with my name. Or if you want to put yourself in my shoes use your own name.

Melissa shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
Melissa getting married is a threat to families.
Melissa cannot be a good parent.
Melissa doesn’t love, it’s only lust.
Melissa is ‘fixable’ with electroshock therapy and psychological torture.
Melissa is what is wrong with this country.
If Melissa can marry, it’s a slippery slope until we let people marry animals.
Being Melissa is a choice.

How would you vote if you were me and more than just money was at stake?
How do you think I would vote if it were your human rights on the ballot?

  • Adel

    I’ve been lurking for a little while; I devoured your archives after seeing your Healthcare entry show up on Jezebel, I think. Your personal journey is amazing to me, inspiring. I seriously teared up a bit at the picture of you two.

    I live in Maryland.
    I am voting tomorrow.
    Question 6 shouldn’t even be on the ballot – it makes me vaguely nauseous to vote for *rights* that should be inalienable.
    I am For Question 6.
    For You and Haley, and for my friends Donn and X, and Greg and Manny, and Mo and Chris. For Spike, for Hawk, for Zach and Brandon. The list goes on and on, all names dear to my heart.

    • Melissa

      Thank you for your comment and your vote. :)

  • e

    Frankly, I don’t care for either one of them (for a number of reasons, some that they share, some that they differ on). Yet one of them is going to win. No matter what, tomorrow is going to be rather depressing. The silver lining is at least the ads will stop.

    • Melissa

      I am also relieved that it will finally be done with after this week. Sooooo tired of all the ads. :/

  • Stef

    Honestly, sometimes it breaks my heart that you guy had to leave Canada. I worry for all the LGBTQIA folks that I know living in the USA… and if the election goes the way I fear it will and not the way I HOPE it will, then that worry will become outright fear, not just for LGBTQIA people, but also non-Christians and ALL women.

    I really hope that Obama supporters understand how VITAL it is that they get out and vote tomorrow, and that people who aren’t really fans of Obama, but value human rights and Freedom of Religion realize that no one is perfect, but when you are ‘socially liberal, but fiscally conservative’ and vote conservative, you are saying unequivically that HUMAN RIGHTS are only important when they don’t COST you anything, otherwise- money is more important to you than taking care of and protecting your friends and coworkers.

  • alfaretta

    Thank you for making this personal — because it is personal, for you and for everyone LGTBQ or who loves someone LGTBQ.

    My joy 4 years ago at having Barack Obama win the White House was seriously tainted because in my state the evil Prop. H8 passed. America has come a long way since then — but the battle is never over, the past is never totally past (as we’ve learned this year with all manner of reproductive rights that were considered settled law for almost 50 years).

  • ToastedTofu

    I know you have guilt over being a conservative who was against gay rights, universal health-care, and abortion rights, BUT one of the things that makes your writing SO GOOD is that you are able to draw from your past to create multi-faceted arguments that are VERY compelling.

    P.s. I remember you saying something about getting engaged and touching Haley’s hair, AND I CAN WHY, it looks so soft and beautiful!

    • Melissa

      Isn’t it? I stil love playing with her hair. :)

      • Liberated Liberal

        I’m sorry if this is off-topic, but Haley looks like Uma Thurman. Seriously. You are a beautiful couple.

  • Amy

    Hi Mel!! Woow, gf! LOVED this post.. and as you know I adore you and Haley.
    My vote goes for PRO family.. and that includes ALL humanity, not just some.
    Loves to you.. my hope is that our culture continues to transform and evolve, so that all families have the right to marry and enjoy all the benefits that come with being legally married.
    THAT is truly as it should be.. human rights for all.

    • Melissa

      Thank you Amy.

  • Kálvin

    Although I could not vote in good conscience vote for either of the two major candidates, I was able to vote in favor of the same sex marriage initiative on my state’s ballot even though I consider myself to be a conservative Christian.

    I had spent much time thinking and praying about this initiative (as well as the other initiatives and races) and felt pretty confident about my vote. Before I cast my ballot though, I decided to read another couple articles on the issue, and one of them was a very good argument in favor of gay marriage by a pastor who had changed his mind on the issue over a course of time. I figured that the pastor was probably pretty liberal, but was surprised to read that his church would not be performing gay weddings. I was impressed to see another (I assume) conservative Christian who realizes that this issue is about giving people equal rights and treating people fairly. The same rights that allow him to not perform a wedding that violates his conscience should also allow another church to conduct this same wedding if it is in alignment with their belief system.

    Although this is conjecture on my part, I believe that there are many gay people who will adamantly defend a church’s right to refuse to hold same sex weddings. What does this say about conservative Christians in general when the same people who we do not want to give equal rights to, would (and again this is conjecture on my part) stand up for our rights?

    • Melissa

      Wow! Thank you so much Kalvin. Your comments are always thought provoking. I loved this line: “The same rights that allow him to not perform a wedding that violates his conscience should also allow another church to conduct this same wedding if it is in alignment with their belief system.” And I believe you are absolutely accurate in your statement about LGBTQ people defending a churches right to refuse to perform wedding ceremonies for same sex couples! Even many of the gay people I know hope that they church they are part of becomes more accepting, they would not advocate for those churches to be legally forced to do things they don’t believe in.

  • Anne — Quicksilver Queen

    GAH, now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t put on my “Can we vote on YOUR marriage?” pin on before voting today!! Very well-written article.

  • Rosa

    I was thinking about this today; spent the school day driving people to the polls, many of them older people. I hope I didn’t contribute any Yes voters on the amendments…but I do think if we win on the amendment tomorrow, we’ll see the state marriage laws changed in the next few years.

    • Melissa

      Thank you for helping people get out and vote! Even if there were some who voted yes, it is so important that every voice gets out and and gets heard. Thanks for helping make that possible.

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  • Kacy

    My state doesn’t have a marriage amendment on the ballot in this election, but I am voting for a few candidates who have come out in support of marriage equality. :-)

    I’m also curious about your personal marriage battles. Yours is a unique situation since your marriage began as heterosexual. Is your marriage still recognized after Haley’s transition? Does your state even recognize Haley as legally female after her transition? I know these a personal questions, and likely the subject of a whole new blog post.

  • Karen

    My state (California) screwed up on marriage equality a few years back, and we haven’t been able to deal with it again… yet. Supporters are waiting to see what happens through the courts. I do hope everyone reading this who has a chance to vote for marriage equality will do so.

    I’m not a Christian, I’m an atheist, but the Golden Rule is a big thing in my life. I ponder, when I choose candidates and propositions and local measures to vote for, how my vote will affect the poor, the marginalized, the folks who are struggling either economically and/or socially. Because I’ve been blessed by having neither kind of struggle, and it’s important to remember that my vote affects real people who aren’t all like me.

  • Karen

    Oh, and that’s a wonderful photo of the two of you. Post more!

  • Kálvin

    Melissa, :-)

  • Teshumai

    Hi Melissa,

    I enjoy your blog so much (found you during your post about how you wished you’d gone to college.) I’ve been meaning to post for a while.

    I’m curious, could you write more about the legality of your marriage to Haley? Since you married as a heterosexual couple, are there places that would declare your marriage null and void against both of your desires, due to her transition? The federal government still recognizes your marriage, doesn’t it?

    Proud to say marriage equality is newly a reality where I am!


  • Sherry

    Twenty three years ago I gave birth to my daughter, knowing she had a chromosome abnormality. She has Turner Syndrome and so she will always have a pre-existing condition. I’m anti-abortion and pro-choice and I’ve been shocked that so many people who claim to love a god would deny my child a fair shake at a future with the preventative health care she needs to live a full life.

    I’ve also been a fervent believer in equal civil rights for all humans after I spent 10 years in the USAF and worked with people of different cultures and creeds and sexual orientations.

    I’m happy for you Melissa and Haley. I’m happy for your children that they are being raised by two loving and complete human beings. You two give me hope for humanity. All the hate from the Limbaughs pale in comparison to the bright light that is your relationship!

  • Amethyst

    Marriage equality and other civil rights issues were the reason I bothered voting this year. DADT has been my go-to argument whenever someone says Obama hasn’t followed through on any of his campaign promises. I’m hoping that, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election (and popular opinion seems to be shifting in favor of our rights anyway), Still-President Obama will get DOMA repealed in the next four years, too.

  • Grikmeer

    So jealous of Haley’s hair… I’ve lost all mine on top.

    You two look beautiful, and I sat up all night (I’m in the UK) watching the elections on PBS just so I could shout for joy when I saw the four results coming in…