On May 8th, my neighbors, my mom and sister and brother and aunts and grandma, my postal worker, my landlord, my local firefighters, the checkout people and the manager and the baker from the grocery store, the old drunk but friendly guy who walks up and down our street all day long, other parents at the playground, drivers beside and around me at any given stoplight, and many thousands of people I will never see or meet will have the opportunity to vote on the validity of my marriage.
On that day, the people of North Carolina will go to the polls to vote for or against amending the state constitution with this sentence: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Many will stay home because they don’t feel passionately one way or another, or they’ll be too busy with their valid marriages and recognized families to weigh in.
I’m not going to write about all of the consequences, unintended or not, of the amendment passing, including those for straight people and unmarried couples and their children, because to me it should be enough that it’s wrong for voters to literally deem thousands of same-sex couples’ relationships invalid. But if you’d like to read more about all of the amendment’s other harms, visit www.protectallncfamilies.org.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about us.
My partner and I have been together for seven years. We have two kids, and moved to North Carolina from Georgia last year after my partner finished a doctorate degree and was offered a professor position at a local college. Even though we left good friends and a comfortable-for-our-family social climate behind in Atlanta, we were so thrilled to leave the big city for beautiful North Carolina where the majority of my extended family lives. We’re now an hour and a half away by car from my mom and aunt whom our boys adore. We love being able to take a Sunday drive to see them, and do it often. Having nearer-by, reliably loving babysitters is another added perk. You can imagine our dismay then, when only a month after we moved here, the North Carolina legislature voted to put Amendment One on the spring 2012 primary ballot.
On a typical day in our lives, the baby wakes up at seven. I blearily roll out of bed to change his diaper. On my way, I turn off the hall light that was on all night in case our older son made his way from his bedroom to ours. After diaper duty, I let the dogs outside, start the coffee, and fire up my computer while the baby chases the cat faster on his hands and knees than I can move on two legs before coffee. A few minutes later, our older son bounds out of our room and wants to “WATCH VIDEOS!” or “GO TO THE MUSEUM!” or “EAT 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 WAFFLES!” I cajole him into using the potty and putting on big kid underpants. My partner washes dishes from the night before while I make breakfast. After we eat, I check Facebook and email and focus for a little while on my part-time, work-from-home gig.
After I finish up, my partner and I trade off the kids so we can each get ready for the day. One of us feeds the dogs. My partner leaves for work. The kids and I meet our playgroup at a local park. After a couple of hours of my older son charging around like an angry ram, incurring and inflicting countless boo-boos, while the baby (who insists on crawling on the ground) stuffs mulch and other inedibles in his mouth and I hang him upside down and do finger sweeps trying not to panic, we go home for lunch and naps. After naps, there might be painting or coloring or playing out back. My partner arrives home from work around 5:30, except for the very long days when I’m on my own until 9:30. On the short days, I cook while the boys jump on our bed with my partner. On the very, very long ones, I cook alone while my older son watches Sesame Street, the baby raids the cabinets and stalks the cat, and I drink a well-deserved glass of wine.
Bedtime is complicated. Our older son has never been an easy sleeper. We’ve come a long way from his infant days of constant night time waking but he still needs help falling asleep. Currently, after coerced teeth-brushing and pajama wrangling, my partner or I read aloud to him in his big kid bed, and then hold his hand while reading quietly in the dark with a tiny book light until he falls asleep, at which point we creep out of his room, holding our breath, praying he’ll stay asleep. The baby has been an easier sleeper from the start, thank goodness, but lately with new teeth coming in, he takes a lot longer to settle. At some point, they’re both asleep and my partner and I collapse on the couch to report our day’s events to one another. Some nights we’re too tired to do anything but lose ourselves together in DVR-ed Survivor or American Idol. (Or the Bachelor which is, oddly, my partner’s favorite show.)
On the weekends, our mornings are the same except that I sometimes attempt pancakes. Later, we go “exploring for bears”, grocery-shop, my partner mows the lawn, we do laundry, we tend to our growing garden as our older son digs for worms or turns over rocks looking for bugs while the baby rips at grass and sneaks some into his mouth, and my partner and I attempt meaningful conversation over the constant din of a shouting toddler and a screeching baby. Some days and weeks are hard and long, full of tantrums and sickness and bad news. Others are soft and light and seem to dreamily zoom past.
We’re thinking about buying a house. It’s a buyer’s market, we hear, but as we drive around pondering our options, we worry about the usual stuff: What if we get into a loan we can’t afford? What if one of us loses our job? Will the house appreciate? We also worry about not only the education quality of the local schools but whether our boys will feel safe and comfortable in them. Will they be bullied for having same-sex parents? We wonder if prospective neighbors will be dismayed to have a same-sex couple with children move in next door. What if we buy only to find that we’re not wanted in our own cul-de-sac? As we drive around, my heart skips and swells every time a I see a “Vote Against Amendment One” yard sign, but deflates every time I spot a “Vote For.” The good news is that the former far outnumber the latter, at least inside the city limits of Winston-Salem.
Here’s what we hope and dream for our future: we want our boys to become kind, smart, and capable people. We want my partner’s professional career to continue to develop. I want a room of my own to pursue a Writer’s life, or at least to find a way to contribute to our family income with my writing. My partner supports this dream. I’d also like a third child. My partner is a little dubious on this desire, mainly because we don’t have the money to go there right now, and might never. I want chickens too and my partner is fine with that as long as we wait until our current herd of pets have passed on. Mostly, we just want to stay healthy, stick together, grow together, and support each other until the end of our days.
No matter how hard I squint, I cannot figure out what’s so threatening about this little life of ours. I believe in compassion and accepting people different from me so I have spent a lot of mental energy puzzling over the motivations of people who would vote to invalidate our family. I understand those who object to us mainly do so on the basis of their religious beliefs. I affirm that these people are entitled to their religious beliefs but I do not understand why my fellow citizens’ religious beliefs dictate how our government classifies my marriage and family. Why does my neighbor get a say over who is eligible to be my valid life partner? Why do other people get to vote at all on my access to the same legal rights and privileges they’re free to enjoy without a referendum?
If you’re a North Carolina voter, I want you to know that when you vote on this issue, real people and sweet families will be on the receiving end of the button you push. My family will be glued to the TV screen on May 8th, anxiously watching the voting numbers roll in. At the end of the day, or when the tipping point is reached, we will either be crushed or buoyed by your choice. Choosing to not vote is as good as voting for the amendment.
And if you vote for the amendment, you’re not stopping North Carolina from legalizing gay marriage as the pro-amendment side would have you believe. Gay marriage is already illegal here. No, a vote for this amendment is merely a public shaming of people like us. It’s a vote for heterosexual superiority. It’s a pep rally for the privileged against the already oppressed. It also has specific legal and healthcare-related consequences. The amendment bans all civil unions or domestic partnership recognition. We’re lucky that I receive healthcare benefits through my partner’s employer. We have to pay income tax on those benefits because we’re not–get this–legally married. But it’s unlikely that we’d lose them given my partner’s private employer’s equality-friendly track record. Many other fellow North Carolinians will not be so lucky, especially those receiving domestic partner benefits from municipalities like Carrboro. (For more information on the specific consequences of Amendment One for same-sex couples and others, please visit: www.protectallncfamilies.org.)
We’re also lucky that my partner was able to legally adopt both of our kids before we moved here. Those adoptions are binding across state lines but second parent adoption cannot be obtained by residents of North Carolina. For same-sex couples in North Carolina who have children where only one parent is the legal parent, this amendment could result in children being removed from a parent they’ve loved from birth if the only legal parent dies. It could mean employers refusing to extend benefits to children of non-legal parents. It could also absolve a non-legal parent from any support responsibility if a couple with children separates. This is not an exhaustive list. I implore you to visit www.protectallncfamilies.org for that.
If Amendment One passes, and I fear it will, for us there will be that initial gut punch, then tears, and then a burning rage at all of those people in our community who voted for it. This rage will slowly simmer down to a low boil on the back burner of our busy lives. I know this because we moved from Georgia where a similar amendment passed in 2004. Three years later, we stood before family and friends and had a beautiful wedding anyway. Georgia’s amendment and the federal Defense of Marriage Act restricted us from many rights and privileges enjoyed by straight married couples but no amendment or law could or will stop us from staying committed to each other and our little family.
Whether or not the people of my state judge our marriage to be invalid or unworthy of being recognized on May 8th, on May 9th, we will wake up around seven. I’ll probably be tired and grumpy from nursing a teething baby through the night but I’ll make the coffee and get breakfast going anyway. Four days later, my partner and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. We might get to go on a date if my mom and aunt can drive over to babysit. That same month, our boys will turn three and one. The baby will likely be walking by then, and suddenly having two independently ambulatory kids will bring a host of new, more pressing problems to worry about.