Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Our Grandmothers Are Voting No

I did it. I made the phone call, scurried across Capitol Square in Madison to the City Clerk's office, and froze my nose off. I voted today.

As I went into the office, I was greeted by a warm smile and the question of the day. "Are you registered to vote in the city of Madison?" she asked. "Yes, I am, ma'am." She handed me a few pieces of paper to sign, an envelope, my ballot, and the black magic marker.

When I took my seat, I noticed an elderly lady also voting today via absentee ballot. She looked a lot like my grandmother, with silver-grey hair and a large overcoat covering her petite frame. As I glanced over at her, I was praying she would vote no, just as I have been praying for the entire state of Wisconsin to vote no for several months now. Here was a woman who had lived much longer than I have, seen much more than I've seen, and experienced much more than I have. She had lived through a time when being unmarried was not acceptable by most, and being gay not openly talked about. Yet today, we were both equals at the polling booth, despite our ages and backgrounds.

By the swipe of her pen, she could cast a vote that would change the way we treat unmarried couples - gay or straight - by denying hospital visitation rights, healthcare benefits, and the right to make medical decisions for loved ones. Or she could help us defeat the ban designed to discriminate against gays and lesbians yet would prove to be far more sweeping if passed.

She folded up her ballot and turned toward me. To my surprise, she wore a Fair Wisconsin button. I hadn't noticed it before. Surely, she had voted no.

This brings me back to my own grandmother. Only a few short weeks ago, I decided it was time to set the record straight. On my grandma's 74th birthday, I drove down to Janesville to surprise her. Since she thought I was still in Arizona at school, she definitely was quite shocked that I was back home. And the questions immediately began. Where are you living? What are you doing? Who are you working for? As my hands shook, I asked my grandma to sit down. "I have something to tell you," I said.

Right then, I came out to my grandma. She was the last family member to find out, and I really wasn't sure how she was going to take it. I told her I was working for Fair Wisconsin, and I was trying to defeat the ban on civil unions and marriage for gay and lesbian couples in our state. As I searched for answers in her expressions, one thing became clear to me. I underestimated my grandma - she was overjoyed that I finally told her and even began asking about my dating life!

And just as I have been doing with all of my campuses in Greater Wisconsin, I asked my grandma to stand with us and vote no. Now, my grandma is a smart woman, but she doesn't know politics. She's not sure who is running against Gov. Doyle in this year's election, she has no clue who Kathleen Falk or JB Van Hollen are, and if asked about Herb Kohl, I'm confident she would ask me if he owns Kohl's Foods down the street from us. Yet one thing is for sure, she pledges to me to vote no - the first time she will have ever voted in her 74 years.

This is a symbol of the real impact that this amendment would have on our lives, and how it will undoubtedly affect our loves ones. While all I know about the elderly woman I sat with earlier today is that she's from "liberal" Madison, my grandmother surely is not and I guarantee I am the only gay person she knows. Yet because this amendment will have a real impact on all of us and our neighbors, these two women and I all are voting early, and we're voting for fairness. I urge you all to do so as well.

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