Today I got up, slugged down my coffee, and trundled off to the polls to cast my vote. In doing so, I relinquished my control over what happens today in the presidential election. Which is fine. This race is important, but for me it’s not as personal as something else that appeared on the Maryland ballot.
Question 6 on the Maryland ballot is a vote about civil rights, and it’s one that Means Something to me. There is also a sister ballot issue in Washington state on the opposite side of the country, Referendum Measure 74.
These two initiatives will decide something I feel should never even be a question: the right for people to marry.
My parents divorced when I was two years old. A couple years later, my mother began dating a woman called Kippy. My childhood was abnormal for many reasons — our frequent moves, our level of poverty, etc. — but my family wasn’t one of those reasons. I have always had a loving, generous family. I have beautiful memories of my early childhood in Alaska surrounded by women. I didn’t think of them as lesbians, even though I had some vague concept of what that meant. They were just friends, a group of wonderful women who adored me. Who sang beautiful songs and had funny dogs and always welcomed me into their homes. They were phenomenal women.
When my mother’s relationship with Kippy ended, we moved to Portland, and a couple years after that, she started seeing a different woman. I called her NeeNee, and when I was nine we moved in with her. NeeNee had three kids who were all older than me. Jayne, Tyler, and Patrick. I was significantly younger than they were, but they all treated me like a sister.
That goes for the bad as well as the good — I had been an only child and was now the youngest of four. I got all the fun of having to share a room with my new sister and all the bickering that went on when I swiped her lipstick (she’s four and a half years older than I).
My friends in Portland all knew about my mum and NeeNee. They still came to my house and I went to theirs. There was never a question of discomfort or rejection. My family just happened to have two mums. Sometime during my fifth grade year, one of my friends made a comment about it, though she’d never said anything about it before. “I think it’s just sad,” she said. And I didn’t understand why. NeeNee was stricter than my mother, but she loved me. We had wonderful friends like Jean (who I called Bean) and Allison. JoEllen and Phil and our neighbours Brian and Gary and D’Angelo. I had what I thought was a normal family. I had chores to do and kitties to feed. NeeNee taught me how to cook and bead.
When we moved to Montana a couple years later, it was as a family. Together we started building our house from scratch. We turned our barn into a cabin to live in. Jayne and I started a new school together, and that’s where I started finding out that people weren’t okay with my family.
Less than a week after I “came out” to my two best friends in seventh grade, they decided not to be friends with me anymore. It made me terrified. I was already a less-than-popular kid. My other close friend Megan acted like my friends from Portland — it just wasn’t an issue. (But then she was from California, and she was also a prodigy who left high school after two years and went to college.)
For the rest of school, I seldom had people over to our home. Only my neighbour Sam, whose parents were very liberal and who are to this day people I consider great friends.
When I was about 13, NeeNee fell from our barn roof and sustained a serious head injury. From there on, she was bedridden for some time, and every day when I came home from school, I’d go in and tell her about my day. We’d talk about my classes and the kids who were cruel for more reasons than the makeup of my home. They’d make fun of my clothes and how easily I blushed, and NeeNee always gave me wise advice and validated who I was.
Because of her injury, she had to return to Portland not long after for treatment. And she and my mother ended their relationship, but the relationship between NeeNee and me never stopped.
When I think of growing up with two mothers, I have nothing but positive memories. But I realised with an acute sense of the injustice of it, that people thought my family was lesser. That people thought my parents were worse parents just because they were both the same sex.
People will say all sorts of things when they think others will agree with them. And having two mums is something that isn’t tattooed on your forehead; just like being gay yourself. People often don’t know unless you tell them, and because of that, you hear a lot of things that they might not say to your face if they knew your background. I’ve had people say that gay people can’t raise children, that any children raised by homosexual parents would be somehow dysfunctional.
And yet I am a well-adjusted woman who credits two women with her raising.
I spoke to NeeNee on my wedding day. And here’s where the election comes into it again.
NeeNee was in a relationship with a woman named Carrie for years before they broke up for a time. It was during that broken up time that NeeNee got together with my mother, and shortly after NeeNee returned to Oregon for treatment, she and Carrie got together to give it another go. They have been together for a total of over twenty years. They live together in Washington state.
And today, Washington voters will decide if they will be allowed to get married.
Think about that for a moment. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve spent two decades of your life with someone and your ability to express that love with marriage was on the ballot today.
I spoke with both NeeNee and Carrie on the phone two days ago. I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes when I thought of their possible marriage being in the hands of millions of strangers. They want to be married. They’ve wanted to be married for years.
I don’t think that opponents of gay marriage quite understand the injury that comes with degrading homosexuality as immoral, especially when heterosexual marriage is nowhere near perfect and divorce rates hold steady at almost 50%. To hear the same politicians condemning my mums (because those are the faces I see whenever someone starts talking about how homosexuals “ruin marriage) when their own marriages are products of adultery, betrayal, and divorces — that doesn’t compute for me.
That’s why this day is personal for me. I want to wake up tomorrow knowing that NeeNee and Carrie will get to marry. I want to wake up tomorrow knowing that in my state, my gay and lesbian friends will have the same rights to marriage as I have.
And I want to say to everyone reading this that I have two mommies. And I’m okay. I’m better than okay. I am tremendously blessed for having NeeNee in my life. For the sister and brothers I gained from their relationship. For my eight nieces and nephews. For years of laughter and love. I wouldn’t go back and change that part of my childhood even if I could.
So today, Washington and Maryland voters, I’m asking for your vote. Please vote for families like mine. Vote to give us the same rights you enjoy. Vote so my NeeNee and Carrie can finally culminate their relationship in marriage.
My family is just as good and moral as yours.
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