Family Politics

I submitted this piece to the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog, but it was turned down. (The editors had decided the blog should stay nonpartisan.) So, I’m posting it on my own blog.

Family Politics

“I really like Mitt Romney. So does my Dad. And my Mom, too.”

When my 11-year-old niece spoke those words over breakfast during a family get together in Denver, it was with no ill will. She wasn’t looking for a debate. She wasn’t trying to rile her feminist aunt, as her Dad likes to do. (Stirring the pot, as my nephew would say.) But could I really not respond?

It’s certainly no family secret that my partner and I, lesbian moms raising a son in San Francisco, vote democratic, whereas my partner’s brother is a staunch Republican. When our children were younger, the political jousting wasn’t something they really understood. But that’s no longer the case.

Last year, when it was our son’s turn to co-write the weekly first-grade blog, one of his posts read, in part: In Mindfulness we thought about the things we are grateful for and listed those in ourMindfulness journals.I am thankful for President Obama becausehe is the first president to say that gay people should be able to be married.

We want to protect our kids. But when the politics of the day is about your family, it’s not always possible to shield them. One tactic is to explain that it’s people who don’t know us who feel that way. But what if it’s not?

This was what was on my mind when I read a New York Times article about Frank Schubert, the former corporate PR executive who was the chief strategist behind Proposition 8 in California and is now leading campaigns against marriage equality initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington State. As the article explains:

For his part, Mr. Schubert, who has a lesbian sister raising two children in a domestic partnership, says, “It’s hurtful to know that many people think I dislike gays and lesbians and wish them harm.”

A lesbian sister raising two children in a domestic partnership? How in the world does Mr. Schubert’s sister explain him and his work to her kids? Do they just not talk about his work, or their lives, while cutting the Thanksgiving turkey? Does she return his calls? Are they friends on Facebook?

Mr. Schubert’s family is, of course, in good company. It’s practically de rigueur for republican politicians to have lesbian relatives. Newt Gingrich’s half-sister is lesbian activist Candace Gingrich-Jones. Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary Cheney is an out lesbian. It’s also wonderfully convenient, allowing them to bolster their anti-gay rhetoric in a “love the sinner but hate the sin” kind of way.

For my brother-in-law, voting for president is not the same as voting for or against gay marriage; it’s about the economy, which he thinks Mitt Romney will turn around. The issue I’m grappling with is not which is salient, as I could certainly ask the gay Log Cabin Republican group the same question. It’s about how you discuss politics with children who are at an age where they can clearly differentiate between right and wrong, and how you explain that an election is not just about a winner and loser, but a world view, with repercussions that affect people you care about.

In the end, I walked the line between my niece’s love for her dad and my feelings about his politics, explaining that while her parents support Mitt Romney I never would because he, and the party he represents, do not respect or support our family. Her response: “I can understand that.”

Will our son be as understanding about his uncle? Do I want him to be?

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