On election night 2008, my wife Tracie, our two sons and I were crowded into a restaurant booth, attending our local Democratic committee's results-viewing party. Our table was littered with the usual family paraphernalia: mac and cheese, coloring books, milk in no-spill cups. Tracie and I were engaged in the usual parental multitasking: monitoring the 4-year-old's intake of Barack-Obama-shaped cookies, making sure the 2-year-old ate the mac and not the crayons, and occasionally glancing up at the many television screens flashing statistics, paying special attention to the presidential race and Proposition 8.
As the numbers piled up, my heart slowly cleaved in two. One half swelled with history-witnessing awe as I watched our country elect its first African-American president. I thought back to his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, when I had turned to Tracie and said, "I want to vote for that guy for president." I had said it in the same way that, as a child, I had wished for a rainbow unicorn for my birthday. A real one. With sparkles on the horn. And now there he was: President Rainbow Unicorn, my seemingly impossible wish come true.
However, while the one half of my heart was blasting off celebratory fireworks for the unicorn, the other half was shriveling up like a raisin as it became clear that my home state of California had passed Proposition 8, a law that wrote discrimination into the state constitution and rescinded same-sex couples' right to civil marriage.
Before Prop 8 passed, many of my friends who, like me, live in the liberal bubble of the San Francisco Bay area had said, "That could never happen here. This is California." But I knew it could.
So Tracie and I worked double-time for the No on 8 campaign, attending demonstrations, donating funds, handing out flyers, responding to calls for media interviews and having the conversations, the often uncomfortable, sometimes even painful conversations, with family, friends and strangers.
But Prop 8 still passed. Why? Because there's no rule against lying and fear mongering in order to secure votes. Because even in a democracy, you can win by cheating.
In the aftermath of Prop 8, I felt like I'd been beaten up by a schoolyard bully while the principal had stood nearby, filing her nails.
In the ensuing four years, I have shown all the signs of a sort of election-induced "PTSD." When I drive down the main drag of my hometown on the way to my sons' karate class, I see the ghosts of those venom-yellow Yes on 8 signs waving in the breeze. When I stand on the corner in front of the bank, waiting to cross the street, I flash back to the red-angry face of the man in the white Cadillac who rolled down his window and screamed at my family an epithet I can't repeat here.
But perhaps most disturbingly, as election season 2012 has ramped up, I have found myself wanting to do exactly what I shouldn't do: stick my head in the proverbial sand. I don't want to hear the rhetoric. I don't want to see the debates. I don't want to follow the polls. I don't even want to watch The Daily Show. It's that bad.
"If the big guy always wins by cheating," my election-fatigued self whines, "then why even try?"
But I know better than this. I know that Prop 8 passed, in part, because the bully cheated. But it also passed, in part, because too many people who support marriage equality didn't take any action beyond voting. Even worse, too many people who espouse a "live and let live" or "I have no problem with gay people" stance never even got themselves into voting booths.
In the past four years, while cultural acceptance of marriage equality has continued its tidal shift, the game hasn't changed on the campaign trail. Right now marriage rights are up for a vote in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. And in each state anti-gay forces are pulling the same tricks: funnel the money in, spread the lies and rile up the voters who are willing to believe that a family like mine somehow threatens a family like theirs. This needs to stop.
So no matter how much the rhetoric makes my ears want to bleed, I have no business sitting this one out. No matter how good or bad the polls look in any of these states, I have no business feeling too sure of a win or too disheartened over a presumed loss to take action. Or, on a different note, no matter how easily I believe President Rainbow Unicorn will win in my home state, I have no business standing on the sidelines, watching other states on the map turn red. Complacency loses elections.
So I'm telling the election-fatigued me to move over, and I'm summoning up that scrappy, justice-must-prevail, fight-for-the-underdog kid I once was. I'm calling out to the playground all the card-carrying members of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who Club who believe "a person's a person, no matter how small," who believe that we need every voice, even the quiet ones, shouting at top volume, to call attention to our cause.
Because ultimately, no one is going to blow the whistle on this bully but us -- all of us, LGBT folks and our straight allies, working together. Because ultimately, if my rainbow-unicorn-president wish can come true, then anything can happen. And because ultimately, what hurts more than losing is regretting that you didn't put all your muscle into the fight.