Thursday, November 24, 2005

Column by Chris Cannon in the Winston-Salem Journal's 'Relish'

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Maybe that first vote jinxed the election for gay people Thursday, November 24, 2005 By Chris Cannon special to relish original source Going to the ballot box every year, I often think about the time before I was old enough to vote. It was the 1990s. Bill Clinton was in office, economic times were prosperous, and I spent the age of technology and the dot-com era in college. For the most part, life was peaceful, and I found plenty of jobs to pay my way through college. I spent many a night partying and being a happy, gay, single college student. Then something just shifted after we reached 2000 - the first year I ever voted. If you just didn't pay attention this year, or blinked, you probably missed election day, Nov. 8. That morning, the few people I saw who were wearing "I voted" stickers reminded me to stop at the polling place on my way home. It wasn't what you'd consider a "big" election. No presidential or congressional races to be decided. The ballot I completed contained only three pages. For me, the No. 1 issue that I vote on is gay rights, and that was not fully at stake this year, at least not in my district in Greensboro. I carried with me a voter guide that included local candidates' positions on gay issues, and all of the candidates in my district were considered gay-friendly. There was a little bit of excitement on my way home, when I heard over the radio that Texas and Maine were voting on gay-rights issues. Texas was voting on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. Maine was voting on whether to repeal the state's new law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. Tuning the channel that evening to my new favorite television show, Commander in Chief, I hooked up my laptop in the living room and watched the numbers come in for the Texas and the Maine votes. Fifty-five percent of Maine voters agreed that LGBT people should not be discriminated against. On the other side, Texas overwhelmingly denied same-sex couples the right to marry, making gay people in Texas second-class citizens. I was happy with Maine's results, frustrated with Texas' results, but not surprised by them. I always believed that I had jinxed the election for gay people as a hopeful first-time voter. I was 20 years old in 2000 when I first voted, and it was the big Gore vs. Bush face-off, Elizabeth Dole's Senate run, and then there was Florida. Of course we know who won each of those. It was discouraging, so I vowed to never miss a vote again. The Republican party, never in favor of gay rights, took control of both the House and the Senate in 2002. Then again in 2004, the Republicans maintained control of both the House and the Senate, John Kerry lost to Bush, and Richard Burr won John Edwards' Senate seat. Eleven states voted that year against legally allowing gay marriage. Fortunately, it was kept from being added to the North Carolina ballot. Whether or not I am jinxing the election, every year I will continue to cast my vote in favor of gay rights or for the gay-friendly candidate over all other issues. Sexual orientation is a huge part of who I am. The hope is that if I continue to vote on the issue that is most important to me, gay rights will be accepted into law and I will never have to vote on it again. Then I can focus my vote on other important issues such as the economy, education and health care.