I married a Republican

My husband and I have always had political conflict. But as this election nears, things are getting ugly

Topics: Love and Sex, Parenting, Real Families, Marriage, Presidential Race, Republicans,

I married a RepublicanA wedding photo of the author and her husband.

My husband and I have been married 21 years. We have four children. We have survived two military deployments, two cross-country moves, colicky babies, health scares and money problems. And now we have to survive the 2012 presidential election.

See, as long as we’ve been together, my husband and I have canceled each other out at the polls. There are times over the years when this didn’t matter so much. Politics was a mere blip in our relationship. But lately, our political tension is like a microcosm of the country. We can’t seem to hold a rational discourse. We don’t watch convention coverage together. We don’t even watch the news at the same time.

“You can thank your buddy, Obama,” my husband mutters whenever interest rates go up or a doctor’s co-pay increases. Even a simple drive together can end in discord. Recently, we ran into an annoying highway roundabout, and it kicked off my husband’s eye rolling. “Our taxes at work,” he said.

“I’m quite sure Obama didn’t specify Wisconsin roundabouts in his economic stimulus plan,” I said. “If anything, that would fall under your buddy, the Republican governor.”

There aren’t a lot of taboos left in romance. Interracial marriages are common and gay marriage is becoming more mainstream (much to my delight and my husband’s chagrin). People wed across religions, across age ranges, across countries. But in our deeply partisan culture, I am beginning to believe that inter-political marriage is the new taboo. A 2011 political science study found that political attitudes were more important in choosing a partner than even personality or looks. Apparently, it’s one thing to marry someone boring or homely, but it’s another thing entirely to marry a Republican.

It didn’t seem like such a big deal when we started dating in the late ’80s. Back then, he was a ROTC student going through military training at college before joining the Navy. I was a college student fresh off a semester in Europe, wearing peace signs and buttons that read, “One cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”

It was exciting and daring to be with someone so different. When I visited him, I wore long brass earrings and draped scarves around myself, relishing the contrast with the other boys’ preppy girlfriends. He went with me to Grateful Dead concerts, taking in the free-dancing groupies through his aviator shades. We brought out different sides of each other.

We married and then he was a Naval Officer, and I became an Officer’s Wife. He deployed twice during the Gulf War. I spoke at Stanford University in defense of our soldiers, the images of Vietnam still fresh in everyone’s mind.

In the first years of our marriage, we playfully joked about the other’s party. But the years of child rearing were consumed with day-to-day survival. Who can argue about minimum wage and gun control when there are so many diapers to change? But as our kids grow up and the mood in the country darkens, both sides unwilling to compromise, we don’t seem to be able to rationally discuss any subject. We argue about gay rights and the economy, both of us shaped by our careers. His current work for the federal government has made him witness to welfare abuse and drugged-out gang bangers taking advantage of the system, whereas I’ve worked in two downsizing industries and have seen friends and coworkers struggle to find a job, a few eventually relying on much-needed government assistance.

Right now the stakes are particularly high because two of our four children are teenagers who will be eligible to vote in the next presidential election. Both have a growing awareness of economic and social problems. Our dinner conversations have become awkward stumbles through political correctness as we try to examine the issues of the day while offering little in the way of our own views, even as irritations simmer below the surface.

“Both candidates want to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” my husband says. “But Romney thinks it’s a big mistake to put a specific timetable on it. He thinks we need to finish what we start and make sure our military is equipped to fight for America.”

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“Whereas Obama,” I quickly add, “is concerned about how many Americans have lost their lives and destroyed their families in the past 10 years for a cause that no one can entirely define anymore.”

Our son looks at us both. “I don’t really like talking to you guys about presidential stuff,” he admits. “I’m always afraid someone is going to get mad at me or you’ll get mad at each other.”

I struggle to decide whether we’re teaching our children to listen and weigh each side or if we’re ignoring important topics and creating political passives who don’t want to speak up for fear of offending someone. Will I be supportive if my children turn out Republican? I would hate to think that that’s the worst that can happen. Will I feel smugly victorious if they end up Democrat? I would hate to think that’s how I define victory.

My oldest daughter recently got into a heated debate with my husband over gay rights. My kids have been raised in an enlightened era in which Ellen DeGeneres is married to Portia, “Will and Grace” are old news and “Modern Family” is indeed symbolic of a modern family. There is an active LGBT club at their (fairly conservative) high school. They know kids who already identify as gay; they know kids who have grown up with gay parents.

But my husband spent his years in the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and his religious views lead him to believe homosexuality is a sin. He and my daughter walked away from that conversation exhausted and upset. I sincerely hope that it’s useful to have these discussions, that it forces them to define what they believe in and that it won’t damage their relationship.

I share my daughter’s frustration, though. At times,  I’m embarrassed by my husband’s politics. What would my gay friends say if they knew he thought homosexuals were just in it for the attention? How can he still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved with the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11 when it flies in the face of all evidence? I cringe over his support of the pro-life and anti-Planned Parenthood movement, particularly since we have three daughters whose health and future could be impacted by it.

It’s a question I don’t know the answer to yet: How much should a person’s political views define them? Because politics aside, my husband is kind, and generous and supportive. He’s an amazing dad. He cooks, cleans and drives the carpools. We laugh together and enjoy many of the same activities. We see so much of the world eye-to-eye. I really do respect him. And I respect his family and many of my close friends whose political views don’t agree with my own.

And maybe, in the end, that is what we’re teaching our children: To respect the other side.

I hope we are teaching our kids civility and that one side doesn’t hold all the answers — nor should it. Our country was built on a two-party system and the belief that this kind of tension and compromise is what makes our country stronger. To only see one point of view closes that dialogue. To surround yourself with people who only think like you does a disservice to our country’s goal of diversity and tolerance.

So, our family will never pop popcorn and watch a political debate, throwing kernels at the “opposing” side. Our windows will never be adorned with homemade political posters, written in colored marker and decorated with flag stickers. Even my Facebook page is politically neutral. Sometimes I’m jealous of my friends whose ideologies line up from grandparents down to grandchildren, how free and easy they can be with their views. But this isn’t what we’ve chosen. Our family is different. And maybe my kids will vote with their heart rather than blind party allegiance.

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and editor living in the Chicago area. You can visit her at www.laura-amann.com.

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