I was born in North Carolina in a medium-sized town just west of Charlotte. Against the backdrop of dinner is at 2 p.m. on Sundays and love my neck when you leave, I grew up listening to my grandparents and extended families talking about the shifts they worked at the local textile mill. They all aspired to the first shift, daytime work. Some made it, others worked the third shift until they were forced to retire in the late 1980s when their jobs simply went away. They never said it out right but I knew they worked hard. They told me to study hard, to go to school and get into college. So I did. I never worked third shift spinning cotton. I left North Carolina but it’s never left me.
So Tuesday I was following with great interest the vote there on Amendment One, the constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage. I think I knew down deep that it would likely pass but I held out hope that maybe just maybe my home state would not become the 20th state to adopt a marriage-is-between-one-man-and-one-woman edict.
I was not proud of the vote in N.C. but I understood how the amendment passed. I don’t know if my grandmothers voted Tuesday but I do know if they did, they voted yes. Neither has ever met a same-sex couple (that they were aware of) in their lives and they have no frame of reference for this debate. One man, one woman mirrors their lives. It’s all they know.
But it isn’t all I know. For them this conversation is faceless but for me it is anything but. When I think of marriage equality I see friends, families, regular people just trying to live their lives. People who deserve every right I enjoy.
For years I worked as an abortion counselor and I used to get so frustrated at the political dickering that went on around the debate. Mandatory ultrasounds, parental notification, counseling requirements, spousal notification. Every week, I saw through the smoke and mirrors of political distraction a woman asking me to hold her hand, wipe the tears streaming down her face, call her husband to tell him it was over. In that job, I saw the love women are capable of. But all of the yammering on the campaign trails and in the halls of the legislature neglects to mention these women at all.
I felt a similar frustration yesterday when I heard President Obama had finally come out of his own “my views are evolving” closet to support marriage equality. While I understand the significance of, as one friend put it, a sitting president speaking out in support of marriage equality, I am still a little annoyed at his timing. Did you finally get a backbone Mr. President? Or did some statistician whisper in your ear that the day after a big vote in a swing state was precisely the right time to show your support? I suspect the latter and I think that’s what saddens me most.
I understand there is likely necessary political strategy at work but it’s the principle of the thing, Mr. President. Just as the abortion debate is so far from a woman sitting in an exam room, so is this discussion so far from the women, men and children it affects. You are playing with their lives, their rights and, by turn, you are playing with yours and mine. Maybe it’s just too much to ask but I don’t want the scraps of support offered at a time of vulnerability, I want from-the-gut, it’s-the-right-thing-to-do kind of support that forces a deeper conversation and systematic change. I know it’s a pipe dream but a girl can hope. Remember that word, Mr. President? I do.