After breaking my heart, after leaving me with an unshakeable shadow of bitterness and cynicism that has kept me from ever fully giving my heart to the guys who came along later, Bill Clinton had the gall to call me on Election Day last November.
"Too little, too late!" I wanted to shout at him, as his robotic voice urged me to vote no on Proposition 8.
Over the past two years, I've watched my friends fall one by one under the spell of their Obama crushes. Even when I finally got over my sneering "He'll never win" response, I still didn't join in the love-fest. He could count on my vote, but my heart wasn't in it. "He'll just let us down in the end," I predicted. "They always do."
On election night, listening to Obama's impossible-made-real acceptance speech, I had to admit that I'm not so hard-hearted after all. Tears rolling down my face, I stared at my two-year-old daughter's wispy hair and whispered over and over, "He's going to be president for you." For your future.
Was that me hoping?
I didn't know I still had it in me—the hope that causes tears to fall. I used to have it—when I was younger. Back in 1992, say, when I wrote then president-elect Clinton a youthfully impassioned letter about how much faith I had in him, that he would bring the bright sun of enlightenment after the darkness of the Reagan-Bush I years. About how his courage in refusing to continue discrimination against gays would usher in the next chapter of civil rights in our country. About how I believed in him, the first presidential candidate to use the word "gay" out loud.
Less than four years later, on Sept. 21, 1996, the same day that I was exchanging vows with my partner, marrying her in all senses but the legal one, Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, guaranteeing that the federal government would not recognize our union, even if our state did. Guaranteeing that our taxes would eventually become a nightmare of trying to meet state requirements that we file as partners and federal ones that we file as single.
So, yes, you could call me bitter. I believed in him, and he let me down. Mr. Ivy League Liberal legitimized discrimination against my kind. And in justifying himself, he said that he thought long and hard, but in the end he based his decision on his religious faith. He copped out, claiming that God told him to do it.
Last year, my partner and I spent our 12th wedding anniversary fielding the question, "So, are you gonna get married?" Despite the hype and excitement surrounding us, we remained officially unhitched. "How many times are we supposed to get married, anyhow?" we complained. We had done the big '96 event, 200 guests and a band. We did the San Francisco City Hall, standing-in-line-with-two-tiny-children-wailing-through-the-echoing-marble-hallways civil rights statement. This time I simply wanted to know: will it make filing my taxes any easier?
As for Prop. 8, I didn't do my part. I didn't get involved beyond emailing some money to the No on 8 campaign. I wasn't ready to explain to my happily naive children that their other mom and I weren't already married in the eyes of the law. There's time for that, for explaining discrimination and intolerance and even outright hatred, but I'd like that time to be well past kindergarten.
As a not-so-activist this time around, I can't claim to be all high and mighty about Bill calling me. It's not like I was making calls that autumn day, opting instead to be spreading peanut butter on toast for my toddler. And even though he made me mad—not apologizing, not admitting he made a mistake, just telling me to vote no—I've had to admit that in a strange way, his call gave me back something important.
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Bill, a dozen years later, has been able to find space in himself for both his faith and for recognition that allowing gay marriage is the "right thing to do." If he could do that, then maybe, just maybe, there will soon be enough people who can also find that room within their faith to tip the balance. I may never really believe in another politician, but after all these years, and against all odds, it was Bill who managed to restore a tiny piece of my hope. Here's to 2010.
Kenna Lee-Ribas is a hospice nurse and co-mother of three small Sonoma County citizens-in-training. She blogs about maternal eco-anxiety at [ http://www.milliontinythings.com/ ]www.milliontinythings.com.
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