Saturday, July 28, 2012

Knowing, Then Dealing with What You Know: When Neighbors Sign Anti-Gay Petitions

The Washington Blade recently published a database of those who signed a petition in Maryland to put the question of civil marriage for same-sex couples up to a popular referendum.  Andrew Sullivan has published two statements about the publication of this database at his Daily Dish site (here and here).

I'm especially struck by the latter of the two postings, in which he cites the reflections of a Maryland resident who lives with his husband in a small rural town in Maryland.  Another gay couple live next door to him and his husband.  The next household contains a heterosexual married couple who happen to be an interracial couple.

When the man writing Sullivan checked the list of signatories for the marriage referendum, he found that these neighbors--the interracial heterosexual couple--had signed the petition to put the right of gay couples to civil marriage up to a vote.  And so what to do with this knowledge:

And now that I know they signed the petition, I don't know what to do with that knowledge.  It's very troubling to know for a fact that your neighbors would deny you the same rights they have.

This statement resonates with me for a number of reasons.  As I've shared in the past on this blog, after the Know Thy Neighbor website made public the names of my fellow Arkansans who had signed a petition to put a ballot blocking gay adoption in the last election, I found that several of my cousins had signed the petition.  One of these is a Southern Baptist minister, who signed with his wife.  The other is a wife of that cousin's brother; he, too, is a Southern Baptist minister, though this particular minister-cousin did not sign the petition along with his wife.

Another cousin who signed the petition along with his wife is a cousin I've always liked quite a bit, a staunch Methodist who has seemed to me on the liberal-understanding end of the spectrum.  He is more than a little bit educated, and taught for many years in the state's pharmacy school.

Seeing the name of the cousin who is a minister, and that of his wife, on the 2008 anti-gay adoption initiative didn't surprise me.  My brother has had email exchanges with this cousin in which he has repeatedly made plain his anti-gay religious views.  My brother eventually demanded that our cousin stop emailing him about these issues, because, as he told the cousin, he supports the right of everyone gay and straight to marry.  Knowing what my cousin thinks of me and my life has made for tense meetings on the few occasions when our paths have crossed at family gatherings in the past decade, and the tension will only be redoubled at any future meetings, since I refuse to apologize for who I am or pretend that this bigoted preacher-relative has the moral high road and the right to look down at me from that fictive high road.

Finding the name of the cousin who has presented himself as educated and tolerant on the list of signatories was a surprise for me.  It has had the following result: in the past half year, that cousin has sent me repeated requests to link to him at the Linked In site.

I have ignored those requests, and I intend to continue to ignore them if he sends them to me in the future.  If we meet at a family gathering and he asks me why I've ignored his requests to link to him at this networking site, I intend to tell him precisely why I've made that choice, and that I'm disappointed at him and his wife for supporting an initiative that deliberately targeted family members like me--and which cost the state a lot of money poor states like Arkansas cannot afford to throw away, as the state sought futilely to defend an initiated act that was overturned by the state Supreme Court as discriminatory.

The Know Thy Neighbor site also uploaded the list of those who signed to put a "marriage protection" amendment on the ballot in Florida in 2008.  Steve and I spent part of 2006 and much of 2007 living in Florida, and when the list of signatories for this initiative was made public, I was interested to look at it and see who among our neighbors might have signed the petition.

The discovery: few of our immediate neighbors, most of whom were mind-your-business, helpful neighbors had signed.  One neighbor who did sign the petition lived a street or two away with us, and we had had at least one nasty encounter with this neighbor when we left our trash can street side one afternoon after the city's garbage folks failed to pick it up that particular afternoon.  We were unaware that it was still sitting on the side of our curb as the workday ended.

This neighbor called us as she drove by in her car and saw the garbage can sitting on the street.  How she obtained our names and phone numbers, we never quite understood.  She told us in no uncertain terms that we were violating this and that ordinance and that she intended to take action.

We wondered, of course, if this was all about targeting the neighborhood gay couple when she singled us out in this way, since other neighbors all around us left their cans on the street for several days in a row sometimes, and she did not harass them.  We wondered why someone who did not even live on our street or in our block would go out of her way to make that harassing call to us.

When I saw her name on the "marriage protection" petition, I understood.

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