In the months and weeks leading up to the election, I went back and forth between feeling legitimately hopeful that Question 6 would pass in Maryland and distinctly hopeless that my home state would follow in the footsteps of the thirty-two previous states that had voted against such measures when they went to referendum. I kept asking myself, if California had banned gay marriage, why in the world was I holding out hope that it would pass here?
On Facebook, I watched my friends “like” Romney or Obama, I read their political comments, the back and forth, the liberal and conservative. “Vote for Six,” one friend posted, “or you’re a douche.” On Huffington Post, Kergan Edwards-Stout published an essay declaring that if you planned to vote for Romney, he wanted you to “defriend” him. “Your vote for him [Romney} means that you are totally fine with me being treated with disrespect,” he wrote. Nearly 130,000 people “liked” his post. I read it and felt, not energized or fired up, but disappointed and disheartened.
I couldn’t help but draw certain parallels. If a gay man could declare that a vote for Romney was a vote against his rights, couldn’t a pro-life proponent claim that a vote for Obama was a vote for murder? After all, many pro-lifers equate abortion with murder, and if was okay for Edwards-Stout to assign his own meaning to another person’s vote for Romney, why wouldn’t it be okay for the other side to do the same?
Surely, somewhere out there in the vast expanse of Facebook-land or the Twitter-verse, where it has become fashionable, not to have political discussions, but to make political declarations, some pro-lifers probably did just that, but would it be fair for them to take their moral framework and wrap my vote inside of it? Would it be fair for someone to presume that if I voted for Obama, it means that I have no regard for life? Of course it wouldn’t be fair; it would be ridiculous. And in much the same way, it’s ridiculous to assume that anyone who voted for Romney is “totally fine” with gay people being treated with a measure of inequality.
Which is why, even as a gay woman, I did not take it as a personal attack if a Facebook friend chose to vote for Romney. Did I see them in a very different light? Yes. Did I think less of them? I did, I’ll admit that. Did I block them from my feed if they were constantly posting extreme or antagonistic anti-Obama things on their page? Yes, but I also blocked a cousin who had an affinity for posting things about women that were both degrading and objectifying. I don’t want to spend my time reading a certain kind of offensive, over-the-top rhetoric, regardless of the subject matter. On the other hand, if someone had thought provoking things to share, I wanted to hear them, even when they ran counter to my deeply held beliefs.
Every once in a while, I think it’s important to peek out from behind the borders of my own moral framework because when I don’t, the other side starts to look a lot more like monsters (i.e. “murderers” or people who are “totally fine” with gays being discriminated against) and a lot less like people who just so happen to see the world in a different way.
There are plenty of real monsters out there — groups of people who call for the eradication of gays or who support ethnic cleansing. These are the people with whom I do not wish to be friends on Facebook. In fact, I hope to never cross paths with them, but the people who voted for Romney? The people who voted no on Question 6? If I cut them out of my life, or even just out of my Facebook feed, I lose a valuable opportunity to understand where the other side is coming from. More importantly, I l lose the opportunity to change the minds of the people who have minds open enough to be changed.
I find a certain degree of irony in the fact that these days, everyone seems so disgusted over the pig-headedness of politicians and their utter lack of progress over the past two years. Yet the things I see in the world of social media — the all or nothing, with me or against me — type of tirades, aren’t much better. They draw lines in the sand and demand that we choose a side. “Vote for six or you’re a douche.” What happens after we draw those lines? How long are we supposed to stand behind them?
So, if you voted for Romney or even against Question 6, I don’t want you to “un-friend” me, I want you to talk to me. I want you to get to know me — my character, my sense of humor, my morals. I want you to see the way that I love my partner because I believe that if you look, if you really look, you will understand that the way I love her is the same way that you love your spouse or significant other.
I want you to think of me the next time you go to the polls. I want you to hesitate, even if only for a moment, before you cast a vote against that ballot initiative or in favor of the anti-gay rights candidate. Maybe it’s not a lot to hope for — a hand lingering on a touch screen, an ounce of uncertainty, the briefest of pauses — but it’s more than standing behind a line in the sand and scowling at the monsters on the other side. It’s a beginning.
Danielle Ariano is a writer and cabinetmaker who lives in Baltimore. Barring any major catastrophes, she will graduate in the spring of 2013 with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. You can see more of her writing at www.daniwrites.org.