On May 4th, my partner and I took our two boys with us to vote early against North Carolina’s Amendment One. We expected to peacefully fulfill our civic duty before my partner headed off to work and I figured out what to do all day with a sickly-but-energetic three-year-old and his ever-more-independent baby brother.
We were not prepared at all for the drama that we encountered as we approached the early voting location. A crowd of people stood along the path we needed to walk down to enter the building. It was clear these people were campaigning from their signs and the way that they all quietly stared at us as we made our way across the parking lot. I got the sense that the crowd was lying in wait, that as soon as we were close enough to pounce upon, we would be pounced.
My partner held our three-year-old’s hand as we walked and I hugged our one-year-old who was snug against me in a front carrier. Surely, these people wouldn’t be ugly to us in front of our children. My heart raced as I scanned for friendly faces or messages. I could see signs both for and against the amendment, as well as individual candidate paraphernalia. As we moved to within speaking distance, a woman feebly called out the name of her candidate, and asked if we would vote for him. We barely had time to respond before the rest of the group erupted with their messages.
I was so overcome with the cacophony and the pounding of my own blood in my ears that I didn’t catch a lot of what was being said. I did hear “Vote for marriage!” and my partner say something back like, “This is our family. We’re here to vote to protect our family.”
Two young men were there campaigning against the amendment, one of whom wore an anti-amendment homemade sandwich board. I smiled at him and managed to say, “Thank you for being here to support us.” The other anti-amendment campaigner called out to us over the mayhem in a sing-song tone to “Vote agaaainst this prejudicial amendmennnnnt!” His silly but kind expression of support helped to briefly becalm my racing heart. I pumped my fist in the air and replied, “That’s what we’re here for!”
Inside the polling location, the atmosphere was calm and quiet. Everyone we encountered was respectful and kind. One poll worker cooed over our youngest, and tickled his feet. We didn’t have to wait at all to vote and the whole process from start to finish took fewer than five minutes.
As we walked toward the exit, we could see the crowd again through the glass doors. The anti-amendment supporters argued with the pro-amendment campaigners. I felt an intense flush of gratitude that these young guys were willing to stand out in the hot sun, unwaveringly weathering the anger of our opponents, to fight for our family’s rights and the rights of many others like us.
I hoped we’d be left alone as we walked to our cars because no amount of shouting was going to change what we’d already done. But no, we re-entered the chaos as we exited the building. Again I thanked the young men for their presence. As we passed the crowd, a woman who looked to be the same age as my mother shouted after us, “Children are already suffering! VOTE FOR!” Her voice was shrill and angry, and she clearly meant to harm us with her words.
Unfortunately, in the moment, she succeeded. Tears pricked my eyes but I held it together until we got to our cars. Still within view of the crowd and the malevolent woman, my partner and I carefully put our children in their carseats, and then hugged before before driving off separately. As I drove away, my tears spilled out. My three-year-old asked where we were going and I replied that I didn’t know yet. He asked me why I was sad. I told him that the woman who shouted at us hurt my feelings. He told me she wasn’t very nice.
I told him he was right. I knew that the woman was wrong not only in how she spoke to us but she was wrong about what she said too. Our children are not suffering. One need only spend a day with us to realize that our children are thriving, happy, and well-loved. They’re fortunate to not only have two adoring parents but also an assortment of doting grandparents, aunts, and uncles. If that woman only knew us or any family with same-sex parents personally, I believe her heart would soften, and her mind would change.
In Georgia, where my partner and I voted regularly for the last ten years, people campaigning at voting locations must stand 150 feet from the entrance of the building. So even though we’d voted in controversial elections before, we’d always parked inside the buffer zone and never had to walk through a gauntlet of electioneers. In North Carolina, the buffer zone is much smaller, set by law to be a minimum of 25 feet to a maximum of 50 feet, varying by location.
This law has got to change. Voters should never have to walk through a gauntlet to get to the polls, especially when they’re voting on deeply personal issues. I plan to always bring my children with me when I vote so that they understand from an early age that voting is an important and meaningful part of adult life. They should not have to be exposed to the uncivil, oppressive harassment we experienced on May 4th.
As I drove home, I was disappointed in myself for not responding to that woman, for letting her get away with hurting us without consequence. What kind of example was I for my children? Have I really come this far in life to lose my voice now? So I turned the car around, heart hammering away again, and decided to confront her.
As we drove back toward the polling place, my mind scrambled to think of what to say. I thought about telling her she and her ilk were the only source of suffering in my children’s lives, or that no amendment or law would stop me or people like me from continuing to build families and that our children will rise up to overturn this backwards BS if it passes anyway. I was angry. I was shaking. I admit that I wanted to wound this woman verbally as she did me.
But I realized as I circled the parking lot that nothing I could say would affect her, and shouting out the window of my car while my children sat inside would only serve to drive up my blood pressure, bewilder my children, or worse, frighten them. Besides, yelling angrily at people different from me isn’t my thing. It doesn’t feel right to me.
I realized that I hadn’t lost my voice. I used it that morning to vote and I would use it again to share this experience on my blog and over Facebook too. So, with my heart ready to quit on me from the stress of the morning, I drove off again and in the spirit of nonviolent resistance, I bought my son an organic chocolate milk and me a green smoothie at the Starbucks drive-thru and started writing this post out in my head.