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Upholding an oath while you vote on the Defense of Marriage Act

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I'm a nonpartisan Durham County election judge and a gay man. Next May I get to fulfill my duties as a judge while watching my neighbors vote on whether it should remain merely illegal for me to get married or if that prohibition should be explicitly woven into the N.C. Constitution—the document that defines the state.

I will make sure that those votes are cast in safety and privacy and that the outcome of the election is secure and fair, because I've taken an oath of office to do so and because, unlike thepeople who authored the amendment or who will vote for it in May, I genuinely believe that the law exists to protect all of us equally no matter what we think, how we live or why we vote.

I will not let my respect for my fellow citizens or the democratic process be drowned in the irony that some eventual percentage of voters in my precinct will choose to trust me to certify their poll results but not to sign a marriage license or that, on that day, those persons' ballots will have more legal protections than half my personal life.

It is possible that I will have to repeat that to myself many times between now and May of next year.

I will remain objective in the performance of my duties as an election judge because it's a part of the job. It comes with the territory. The outcome of the May ballot measure will be very important to me (and to my partner of nine years), but every election is important to me. Judges and precinct assistants are generally people who are passionate about democracy or we would never have wound up in our roles in the first place. In every election, I vote early because I believe the outcomes of elections truly matter and I want my vote to be counted among them.

This election will be no different from any other in that I will perform my duties fairly and I will respect the outcome no matter what it may be. The question isn't whether the election I administer in my precinct will be fair; the question is how it will make me think of my neighbors once I know how—or if—my neighbors in turn think of me at the ballot box.

Speaking personally, anyone who knows me, and who votes for the amendment, will be stating pretty clearly that he or she does not think of me as fully a person. That voter will be choosing, right then, explicitly, to inflict a measure of harm on my life. Doing so will be an act of aggression and injury, even if it's one done in private and without the knowledge of anyone else. It will be an overt request that the state turn its instruments against me. It is really that simple. There's no way to dress it up otherwise. The amendment itself cannot be compared to institutionalized gay-bashing because it IS institutionalized gay-bashing.

I want voters to think on that fact when they cast their ballot, no matter what they mark. Whether they vote for or against amending the state constitution is up to them, and the secrecy of their ballot is many times more important to me than its contents, or I would have become a campaign worker instead of an election judge.

The content of that ballot will genuinely matter, though. I want voters to know that there may be someone in the room, just a few feet away, who will be affected by their choice. We are not some faceless, nameless, alien Other. We are the voter's friends and family and neighbors, and some of us are even the ones who will work 16 or more hours that day maintaining a safe, welcoming space in which they can, with full confidence, engage their right to equality under the law.

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