A few years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack on the Garden State Parkway. Right in the middle of discussing a particularly stressful work situation with Bob, my arms and my face went numb. I could barely move my mouth. It was as if someone had administered a giant syringe of novocain into my jaw, my torso and my arms. We were both terrified. In a mumble, hauntingly similar to that of a stroke victim, I asked Bob to pull off into the rest area, while I fumbled with my tingling fingers to dial 911 on his cell phone.
About ten minutes later, as the ambulance doors slammed shut on Bob's worried face, I had the presence of mind to tell the paramedic who was taping sensors into my chest hair, that the man we'd just left at the rest stop was my partner of 20 years and he would be following the ambulance to the hospital in our car. If anything happened to me, they should treat Bob as they would my spouse, let him stay by my side, keep him informed, and help him with any concerns. I shared the same information with the emergency room triage nurse and made certain she had Bob's name. They both, the paramedic and the nurse, got similar, very solemn looks on their faces as I spoke these words to each of them. They knew I was serious, and as concerned for Bob's well being in the midst of my own health emergency. They knew that, in a moment when I needed to let others take care of me, I'd struggled to ensure they understood something that would have been handled easily if I could have simply said, "he is my husband."
This is one of the many things in my life as a gay man that I cannot take for granted. Even if Bob and I were to marry in New York State, there is no guarantee that an emergency room in another state would honor our marriage, or respect the 23 years we've shared together, or the fact that my health effects Bob as much as it does me, or that his presence at my side could actually help me heal or keep me alive. I cannot presume that or any of the basic rights and needs that straight couples can take for granted. My legal right to property, bank accounts, employment, protection from hate-based violence, and more, are currently being voted on from state-to-state and argued by presidential candidates as if my civil rights and happiness are a mater of public opinion.
The thing is, when it comes to my rights as a gay man, I've never taken anything for granted. Growing up in the Midwest of the 1960s and '70s, I never presumed I would have any real happiness at all. I never expected that I would be able to share my life with someone I really loved, no matter how much I longed for it. That was unimaginable back then.
And as I got older, I never expected that I would be blessed to meet the love of my life and be so loved by him. I never expected my parents to be as loving, accepting and respectful of me and Bob as they both were. Same from my sisters and brother. I never presumed I would be able to speak of my partner in the workplace or hold hands with him in the public park. All of these things that straight people can take for granted from the moment they start dating, are that much more of a gift for me, because I never expected them or felt entitled to them. These basic human needs, protected as rights for others, are still a gift to me, even though my own pursuit of happiness, life and liberty depend upon them.
And so, most importantly, I still can't take this election for granted or my duty to vote for granted. I have friends–too smart for their own good–who are actually considering voting third party or not voting at all on principle, because of their differences or disappointment with both candidates on other issues. They take for granted that not voting will have no more affect on their own lives than voting would, but appear not to have considered the effect these elections could have on me and Bob.
And there are also extended family members and friends who intend to vote for former governor Romney. I can't imagine voting for any candidate who I knew intended to limit any of their the civil rights, but they will vote for a candidate and his running mate who have promised to do so to Bob and me.
As in my youth in the 1960s and '70s, I still can't take for granted that anyone–family, friends, or fellow citizens of this land of the free–will have my health, my rights, my relationship, or my life in mind on Election Day. And I, once again, feel the same pain of second-class citizenship, lowered expectations, uncertainty, and vulnerability, that I've known my whole life.
Therefore, all I can ask of these friends and family, all I can hope, is that on Election Day, just before you pull the lever on the voting machine, or walk past the polling location in your neighborhood complacently, that you will imagine Bob and my faces. That you will remember your uncle, cousin, friend, whom you have cared about, bought Christmas gifts for, shared meals with, checked up on in emergencies and invited to your weddings, and think of how your vote can affect the quality of Bob and my life, the home that we share, and the rights that you are lucky enough to take for granted, that I will never take for granted, even if they are ever fully mine.