Saturday I was back in Pennsylvania talking to voters, this time in a more conservative suburban part of Plymouth Meeting. My most interesting encounter was with a 76 year-old Democrat who declined at first to mention any particular issue she concerned about but volunteered that she and her husband would vote for Kerry. Then as I was leaving, she asked if she could get my opinion on something “as a young person.” I watched her visibly struggle to describe the incident that had struck her – Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney in the debate – and finally explain it as his reference to her being “I forget the word…um, a girl who has a girlfriend, if you know what I mean.” She was clearly troubled by the concept, and I braced myself for a difficult debate about it.

Figuring it was best to answer the question she’d explicitly asked – what I thought when Kerry mentioned her, I responded with something like, “Well, I don’t think it’s particularly necessary or gracious to bring up an opponent’s family member if they haven’t already. And I don’t think it was necessary to make his point, which itself was a good one. But I think the Cheneys complaints about it seem incredibly shallow given that they didn’t seem to have a problem when the Presidential candidate on their ticket tried to write an ammendment directed against their daughter into the constitution.”

She nodded as if carefully considering what I was saying, and it was clear that she agreed with one part and disagreed with another. And then she said something that blindsided me: “It seemed to me like he really cared about her. It seemed like he really was concerned about what she’s going through and he was trying to understand. And that really impressed me.”

Coming from a woman who couldn’t bring herself the use the word lesbian, they were very moving words to hear. I don’t know what they mean for the struggle for the White House. But in the struggle for legal equality in this country, it’s hard to see them as anything but a good sign which speaks to the desire even among many of the Americans who can’t yet reconcile themselves to other lifestyles to see leaders who respect and understand those who practice them. That is, if we’re swaying the 76 year-old white Pennsylvanian women, we’re on the right track.

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