I am all about the straight people.
That's what I had to keep repeating to myself at Thanksgiving dinner last week, as I was contemplating the exact repercussions of tossing a slice of the whip cream-topped pumpkin pie sitting in front of me at my mother.
Don't get me wrong--I love pie, so the thought of not enjoying it was a major consideration. I also love my mother, and did not relish the idea of wanting to attack her with fragrant baked goods.
But there she was, once again, in a crowd of friends and family, along with my neighbors, who had invited us over for dessert, telling everyone with a confidence that was awe-inspiring that she was proud she had voted for Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. This is a diatribe I had heard before during the mid-term election, when she revealed to me that she had voted for him via absentee ballot.
When she told me this, of course, I pitched a fit, because of the many anti-gay political figures popping up over the past few years, I could not pick another I abhorred so very much. It was easy to see why. This handsome and appealing man--so young looking and vibrant and obviously smart--had spent way too much of his time in the Senate taking direct aim at the world I was living in.
What of the many transgressions had bugged me the most? It was hard to decide, given the cornucopia of hate he fomented. In his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family" (a mean-spirited and not very clever pun on Democratic Senator Hilary Clinton's book, "It Takes a Village") , Santorum had blamed liberals and their lax social policies for the ruination of the family, and urged a strong government hand in setting the situation right, so to speak. He had been a huge power behind the attempt to pass the loathsome Federal Marriage Amendment to change the Constitution to declare that marriage was only between a man and a woman.
This behavior was no big surprise, given an appalling interview he gave to Associated Press in the spring of 2003, in which he put homosexual acts in the same sorted company as adultery, incest, bigamy and polygamy. He also managed to sprinkle in pedophilia and, impossible but true, bestiality.
"Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships," he said in the AP interview, just getting going. "In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality."
While I heartily agree that man-on-dog path is not the way to go for any stable society (plus, um, ew), it was a moment of clarity for me about the true thinking of the religious right. And while Santorum later gave a mealy-mouthed explanation that he was commenting on a specific right to privacy case in front of the Supreme Court related to the regulation of consensual acts among adults, he never backed off from his amazing statements.
Statements that my mother had zero idea he made, even though she pulled lever for him in 2006. Of course, she was aware of his religious right conservatism, even though she has not seem the inside of a Catholic church on a regular basis for quite some time. But she had little awareness of much else he said and did, to the point that I believe she and Santorum's Democratic rival Bob Casey had much more in common on the issues. But like a lot of voters polarized in this country, all she saw was that he was a Republican and that his opponent Democrat and that there was no way she was going to let that liberal San Francisco's Representative Nancy Pelosi run this country. When I tried to be calm and point out that Santorum's seat was in the Senate and Pelosi ran the House, it made little difference.
Now my mother is not dumb, but the fact that she voted for someone without knowing the horrible things he had said about my life and, by extension, my family, was beyond the pale. So on Thanksgiving when she started in again about her vote for Santorum--who had lost by now and badly--I could not contain myself and I went for the jugular. I told her in much more detail about what he had said, and how he had impugned by life. I told her about his hate speech and what impact it had on a civil society. I told her she was irresponsible for voting for someone without knowing this.
But none of this seemed to move her as she was hardly listening due to the indignity of it. "You can't tell me who to vote for," she said stubbornly. "I can vote for whoever I want." But, she could not I said, finally pulling out the nuclear option. "When you voted for Rick Santorum, you voted against Louie and you hurt him more than you helped the Republicans," I said, knowing it was a rabbit punch from the minute I did it. And it was completely unfair as my son had been the apple of her eye since he was born. For the record, my mother is an astonishing and loving grandmother. I didn't care about any of this and it worked perfectly.
At first, she raged, over dessert and later in the kitchen as we were cleaning up. How could I say that about her hurting Louie when she would do anything for Louie? And how could I imagine she would let anyone harm him, even with words? And so what if she wanted to vote for a Republican in the state she lived in? It went on like that for a while, but over time she started to actually pay attention to the words Santorum had used and started on what I imagine was a painful process of education after the fact of her vote. By the time the last wine glass was in the dishwasher, she did admit that the man-on-dog comment was pretty bad. "I really didn't know," she said.
She should have. And I knew I had not really converted her, as she was still going to vote Republican as much a she could. But I did make her pay attention to an issue she never would have as a straight person, since no one gets any political gain from insulting that group. That's why I am all about the straight people, as I always say, who don't spend nearly enough time listening to the dreck that spews out of the mouths of too many supposed leaders about gay people and, more recently, about gay families.
But if I could get my mother to listen for even a minute--and also get to eat my pumpkin pie, though perhaps not in peace--I was ahead for now. And I do love pie.