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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Some Thoughts While Waiting For A Certain Lady To Sing

My beautiful wife feels honored by all the attention she's getting these days.

A self-acknowledged, increasingly self-confident "woman of size and substance," she is somewhat amused by all the interest that politicians, editorial writers, pundits, comedians and cartoonists are showing in her singing voice.

"They keep saying this election isn't over until the fat lady sings," she said. "I wonder what tune they want to hear? My version of "Hit the Road, Jack?" "How about 'He's a real Nowhere Man,'" I suggested, giving her cuddly frame a hug. "Or 'I Hear You Knockin' But You Can't Come In,' Or what's that song by Genesis? 'No Reply at All?'"

Actually, the point that individuals can make a difference is being underscored again and again in the 2000 presidential election, especially when it's several individuals joining together for common causes. The small margin of victory Al Gore received in the popular vote can be claimed as a victory for those gay and gay-friendly voters who cast ballots for the Democrat in this year's presidential election. Remember way back to last spring, when Newsweek reported that 4.2 percent of registered voters identified themselves as gay? Remember when I wrote in this column that if all 4.2 percent voted the same way, the election could be swayed one way or the other? Looks like it took less than that this time.

Of course, the fact that Gore has won the popular vote but Bush could win the electoral vote brings up the question of whether it's really such a good thing to have the electoral college at all. This year's election has been proof that the true will of the people --- the popular vote --- has a natural predator, the archaic electoral college system. From this writer's point of view, it's time to dump this old, unfair and elitist machine that was started, for whatever good and idealistic reasons, by our Founding Fathers.

Some other personal observations on the election and how individuals make a difference:

* My immediate family voted for Gore with three exceptions. One of them was a nephew's domestic partner, a wonderful, idealistic, radical eco-feminist, firebrand vegeterrorist who refused to hear all arguments attempting to persuade her from voting for Ralph Nader. As much as I deplored the Naderites for feeling they had to act out their ideals and make their statements in such a close election and risk throwing the race to Bush, I still admired their commitment and for reinforcement my belief that individuals, no matter how few, can make a difference under the right circumstances. I am angry for Nader for being a spoiler this year --- and please don't try to persuade me otherwise --- but I also admire him for sticking to what he believed in and for giving the two complacent major parties a wake-up call and the scare of their lives.

* The two other exceptions to our family's voting trend were my wife's mother and another nephew. My mother-in-law's brain was affected by Clairol poisoning many years ago. She can't help herself --- she told us she was voting for Bush because he had the prettiest wife and was voting against Gore because Clinton cheated on Hillary. The nephew, a sergeant at a U.S. Army base in Germany is a beloved and decent family member who has rarely rocked the boat. However, this year, he found himself under attack by his twin brother, uncle, mother and no doubt assorted other relatives when he announced he was voting for Bush because he felt his employer had suffered under the Clinton-Gore administration. The nephew showed a hitherto unsuspected stubbornness despite the intensity of his family's lobbying and finally had to be read the riot act: "Change your vote or we'll tell Grandma."

* "Grandma" was my mother, Minnie Harder Spires, who died Oct.9. A lifelong Democrat, one of her last acts in this life was sending in an absentee vote for Al Gore. Mother's use of psychological intimidation and guilt in persuading family members to do things her way was legendary and the threat of calling her in to change her grandson's vote was not an idle one. Sadly, she died before we could get her to make the overseas call to Germany, but we told her prodigal Republican grandson that Grandma's last words were, "I hope all my grandchildren --- especially James in Germany --- vote for Gore." James' vote did not change, but at least he undoubtedly will suffer four years of Grandma's Gore-y Guilt from the Grave if Bush somehow wins the electoral vote in Florida.

* There were a lot of young voters this year. My 18-year-old son Jonathan may have been Ohio's proudest first-time voter as he cast his ballot in the only election in which he and his beloved grandmother both ever will participate. Jonny's comment as we left our polling place --- a municipal recreation center --- was, "I pay taxes now. I vote. I can bitch about anything I want and everyone has to listen! I am a god!"

* Part of Jonathan's interest in voting has to do with MTV's and the World Wrestling Federation's appeals to get young people to register as voters. The WWF managed to register several hundred thousand voters, which adds calcium to the backbone of my theory that part of the the cause of voter apathy is location, location, location. For a couple of decades, I've been pushing, without much success, the idea that the reason many people don't vote is because of where the polling takes place. Think about it: We set the polling booths up in places which often produce bad memories: basements of churches, where Sister Mary Bonecruncher used to smack fingers with a ruler or where Rev. Prissey told us we all were going to burn in hell; libraries, where we were forced to research term papers on George Eliot or the historical significance of Marbury vs. Madison; or public schools, where ... well, the memories just cause me to shudder. Why not set up the polls where people actually go? Malls, for instance. Fast food restaurants --- "I have your order as a McShake, Biggie Fries and a vote for Gore to go, sir." Or what's wrong with setting up a voting machine in one of those corner taverns where they always show folks watching the election returns. Yeah, a few drunks might have trouble punching in their ballots, but could it be any worse than what's happened with those West Palm Beach butterflies?

My final thought on this year's presidential election: If we can't get a decisive count in Florida or Iowa or Wisconsin or New Mexico or any place else, let's just join That Special Lady Who Sings in a chorus of "Bush says tomato/Gore says tomahto/One says potato/The other, potahto/Tomato, tomahto/Potato, potahto/Let's Call the Whole Thing Off!"

After we do that, we'll just lock up our daughters and invite Bill Clinton to stick around for another four years. He may not be perfect and he may have dropped the ball on gay rights a couple of times, but at least we know what to expect. And we can always serenade him with The Police's "Every Breath You Take."

Published 15th November 2000


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