Saturday, November 7, 2009
Everything but marriage
We laugh about the process, because although election day was Tuesday, the results for this referendum were not announced until today (Friday), and several other races have still not been decided. That's because most of Washington state has gone to mail-in ballots, which only have to be post-marked by Election Day, not received by Election Day. Lynne and I received our ballots a few weeks ago, filled them out and then dropped them off in a box in front of Bellingham's court house (to save postage--that's what we are like.) The reason that it took three days to announce the winner of the Referendum 71 issue is that the county clerks only count ballots form 9 - 5 pm, then go home for the day, and come back the next day to count some more. Not only do they not work overtime, they don't work weekends either. Plus, everyday, more ballots are delivered by the US Postal Service. So here's a heads up to the rest of the US--if you are waiting for election results from Washington state to determine a winner, then don't hold your breath! We two from Kentucky see this slowness as a contradiction to the otherwise progressive and well organized nature of this area.
The funny thing (not so funny, really) is that the opposition to Referendum 71 was led by two men, one of whom was not even from Washington (he's from Oregon.) The other, Larry Stickney, is on his third marriage and had a restraining order from his second wife. So these are the two who are upholding the moral virtue of marriage. That irony makes it depressing that we only garnered 52% of the popular vote. Of course, I am not complaining. I am proud to be living in the first state that has affirmed by popular vote the rights of marriage for same sex couples.
How does the result of Referendum 71, the "Everything But Marriage" amendment, change our lives? Its reassuring to know that our relationship as a couple is totally supported legally. We have been "coming out" in Kentucky for 35 years, more and more in recent years. Lynne was completely out to her co-workers at the VA, and had no problems there. She was not out to her patients. In the early years, several of them seemed interested in knowing what her husband did. She wasn't sure why they were asking, but in retrospect, she thinks they were working their way up to finding out if she were "available." Those questions about her husband completely stopped once she started wearing our wedding ring on her left hand. Over my four years of working there, I came completely out to the staff at Seton Catholic School, but not to the parents and students. I think I broke some new ground with some (if not most) of the teachers there. That process didn't always flow easily; even for me, it was hard to overcome the inclination to change the "we" to an "I" in my conversation, just to make the conversation more comfortable. It seemed like some teachers were comfortable asking about Lynne or hearing my unedited conversation about my life (with her), meaning that some were not. We were out to our neighbors; again, I think we were breaking new ground for some of them. We were out at our churches. We were out to our veterinarian's office, to our medical providers, and to most (but not all) of our house remodeling craftspeople. I know the guy who Lynne hired to replace the screens on the back porch was surprised when I came home from work. He asked me, "Do you live here?"
So, how does Referendum 71 change our lives? I guess its mostly an affirmation that all the outness that we have continued to experience has a legal basis, and can't be taken away if the social or political climate changes. I appreciate that the topic has been raised, publically, and state wide. It has been raised, discussed, debated and approved. It's like Washington as a state is now "out" in its support for gay people. We knew already that Washington was a more accepting place, on average, than Kentucky, for example. Now its not just an acceptance that we can expect from the liberal end of the population, but an acceptance that has a legal basis. So whether an individual disagrees with us or not, we feel safe in being ourselves everywhere, on all levels.
What's funny is that I witness occasions of gay people here who are not taking full advantage of this climate. I think the ultimate damper on being "out" as a gay person is still our willingness to risk disapproval. There are rewards for being one of the gang, and accepting approval for being cute, or freindly, or accomplished. Its harder to risk our beloved status, although, from my vantage point here, it's the only way to go. No longer does my face flush when I use the word "partner" when I refer to Lynne, such as when we are negotiating house insurance or establishing Winnie as a patient at a new vet's office. Having said this word so many times now, to so many strangers who haven't batted an eye, I'm used to it. The funniest time was in conversation with the man who sold us our radiant heat panels. He was reflecting on his current happiness, which involved his successful business as well as his recent marriage. He said, "I just really love having a woman in my life to come home to," and I replied, "Me too."