Baltimore Provides Free Planning Assistance For Same-Sex Weddings After Historic Maryland Vote

On Tuesday, when Maryland residents voted to uphold a law legalizing same-sex marriages, the city of Baltimore was ready. Just hours after the election results were in, Visit Baltimore unveiled a dedicated LGBT Wedding microsite, which provides resources for gay and lesbian couples looking to plan a wedding in the city.

“We encourage the LGBT community to visit Baltimore to celebrate their commitments to one another,” said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, in a press release. “As a city, we have long been proud to support the rights and equality of our visitors, and the legalization of same-sex marriage is another important step forward.”

Not only is Visit Baltimore extending a warm welcome to same-sex couples planning weddings, receptions and honeymoons, it’s also offering free assistance on tasks like securing marriage licenses, finding caterers and booking rooms at TAG-approved hotels, which are recognized for their non-discriminatory policies toward gay couples. The site also offers up suggestions for unique wedding venues, like the National Aquarium, the Maryland Zoo and the American Visionary Art Museum, with its selection of eccentric “outsider” artwork.

LGBT couples are welcome to apply for a Maryland marriage license starting on January 1, 2013. The Baltimore City license fee is $85, and the fee to be married by a court clerk is $25.[Photo Credit: Visit Baltimore]

Photo Of The Day: I Voted

It’s Election Day in America. If you haven’t yet voted, we suggest you shut down your computer and head to the nearest polling site. Not only will you be exercising your civic duty, you’ll even get a free “I Voted” sticker! This one, from Memphis, Tennessee, can score you sweet deals across the city, like free iced tea and Urban Outfitters discounts, not to mention legitimate street cred. Check out more “I Voted” stickers from across the country on DCist.Do you have any great photos from Election Day? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user ilovememphis]

To Understand America, Check Out the Nation’s Reddest And Bluest Places

We are a deeply divided country with red states, blue states and a handful of battleground states that will decide who is elected President on Tuesday. As a frequent traveler who also follows politics, I often feel the need to hit the road just to understand the country I live in.

The country wasn’t always so geographically polarized. According to the New York Times, John F. Kennedy campaigned in 49 states in the 1960 presidential election and Richard Nixon visited all 50. This year the candidates have campaigned in just 10 states since the conventions. Many of us now live in communities that are overwhelmingly blue or red and we inhabit parallel universes with little knowledge about the people on the other side of the electoral landscape.

I’ve spent my whole life living in very blue places: Buffalo, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. I’m an independent and I have friends and relatives who support both parties, but living where I’ve lived has, in some ways, kept me isolated from red state culture.

I don’t know a single person who owns a gun (at least that I’m aware of). I don’t know any evangelical Christians, at least not well. None of my friends have pickup trucks. I’m used to walking out my door and having my choice of Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian or any number of other ethnic restaurants, and I go out for chicken vindaloo more often than chicken fried steak.

And most of the people in my social circle listen to NPR or sports talk radio, not Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck or Shawn Hannity. I live in a very blue world.

And so, I love to get out and see what the rest of the country is like. It’s amazing how you don’t have to drive very far to be in a completely different world – a country where even the people working in fast food restaurants are white; a country where people would sooner eat rats for lunch than buy a Subaru; a country where people say “yes, sir” and “no, mam,” and mean it. It sounds silly but traveling from blue state to red state or vice versa can be real culture shock.

But of course, it can also be fun to travel within shades of blue or red. A couple years ago, I visited Boulder and, even coming from a blue state, couldn’t help but notice how seemingly almost everyone there drove a Subaru Outback, most with Thule ski carriers on top. President Obama carried 72% of Boulder County in 2008 and 70% in 2012, probably closer to 90% in the city itself. Obama supporters like Subarus. But you could drive across the entire state of Oklahoma, carried by Senator McCain with just a hair under 66% of the vote in ’08, and not see a single one, at least not with Oklahoma plates.

If you take the time to meet some locals when you travel, your politics probably won’t change but your perspective and understanding might. And you might not even have to leave your state to enter a whole different country. In my adopted home state of Illinois, for example, President Obama took 76% in urban Cook County in ’08. (74% in 2012)

And much more in some places. According to NPR, the residents of Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side where President Obama worked as a community organizer, supported the President in 2008 by the tune of 1900 to 12. But drive an hour to the south, to rural Iroquois County, which straddles the Indiana border, and you enter another world, one in which Senator McCain took 64% of the vote and Governor Romney took 71% of the vote.

A couple years ago, I attended a fair in the town of Sandwich, Illinois, just about 60 miles west of Chicago and while my son was entranced by a pig exhibition, I fell into conversation with a pig farmer named Brice who was absolutely certain that President Obama was: A) born in Africa, B) a Muslim, and C) the antichrist. If he had espoused any of these viewpoints in River Forest, where I lived, he would have been laughed out of the room.

But standing outside the pig corral in Sandwich, 60 miles to the west, his diatribe resonated with two other farmers in earshot, who told me they agreed with him. After listening to the man for a bit, and only challenging him very diplomatically, I ran off to find my wife, like a child who’d just discovered a rare species normally found only in Madagascar.

“I want you to meet this pig farmer who thinks Obama’s a Muslim!” I said excitedly to my wife, but alas, she wasn’t interested.

Brice’s viewpoints didn’t influence mine whatsoever, but now when I see something like this Pew poll from this summer, showing that 17% of the country thinks that Obama is a Muslim, I don’t have to wonder who those people are, because I know Brice and his friends in Sandwich.

In many cases, you don’t have to go very far to travel from one political extreme to the other. Check out Macon County in Alabama, for example, where 87% of voters, mostly African-Americans, went for President Obama in ’08, then drift over to Elmore County, which borders Macon on the northwest side, where 75% of the electorate, mostly whites, voted for Senator McCain. The same applies to the neighboring counties of Glascock (84% Obama) and Hancock (81% McCain) in Georgia.

In January, I had an eye-opening venture into red-state country on a visit to the Richmond, Virginia vicinity. I got a whole heaping dose of Southern gun culture after stumbling upon a “Guns Save Lives” rally in front of the capitol building. I sat and listened to a host of speakers, some of them ordinary citizens, others low-level elected officials, but they all had one thing in common: an all consuming fear that President Obama’s “radical socialist agenda” included taking away their guns.

I was fascinated, and later that day when we passed a busy looking gun store called Green Top Hunting and Fishing in nearby Glen Allen, I pulled over and brought my family inside for a look. I have zero interest in hunting and guns but the scene inside captivated me. It was a little after noon on a Sunday, right after church time, and the place was swarming with men, mostly fathers and sons who were checking out all kinds of very intimidating looking firearms.

There were row upon row of rifles you could pick up and handle on your own and then behind the counter, there were much more dangerous looking weapons you had to ask a salesperson to see. There were three salespeople at the counter and yet there was a scrum that must have been 20 deep waiting to get their hands on these weapons. I was less than a 100 miles away from my home at the time in Falls Church, but it was a world away from where I lived in and I’m glad I went.

When this election is over, hopefully on Tuesday and not weeks from now after a myriad of court proceedings, half the country is going to be furious. How could they elect that guy! My advice to everyone, no matter what the result is, is to get out and see the part of the country you’ve been missing. Most of us live in red or blue places but don’t get out enough into that other world.

I’d like to take a dozen people from Ochiltree County, Texas, where Senator McCain captured 92% of the vote, and lock them in a room with voters from Washington, D.C., which supported President Obama to the tune of 93%, for a few hours just to let them have at one another. I guaranty you that both sides would learn something form the other.

Get out and see how the other half lives. Your politics probably won’t change but if you take the time to talk to people, you might at least understand where they’re coming from.

Where to go to get a taste of red- 2008 & 2012 election margins for 10 of the country’s reddest counties

· Uintah County, Utah (NE Utah- 83% McCain, 90% Romney)
· Madison County, Idaho (NE Idaho- 85% McCain, 93% Romney)
· Garfield County, Montana (E. Montana- 82% McCain, 89% Romney)
· Crook County, Wyoming (NE Wyoming- 81 McCain%, 85% Romney)
· Ochiltree and Roberts Counties, Texas (North Texas- 92% each, McCain, 91% Romney, 93% Romney)
· Beaver County, Oklahoma (NW Oklahoma- 89% McCain, 89% Romney)
· Blount County, Alabama (North-Central Alabama- 84% McCain, 87% Romney)
· Holmes County, Florida (NW Florida- 82% McCain, 84% Romney)
· Glascock County, Georgia (East Georgia- 84% McCain, 85% Romney)

Where to go to get a taste of blue- 2008 & 2012 election results for 10 of the country’s bluest counties

· Multnomah County, Oregon (Portland area- 77% Obama in ’08, 76% in ’12)
· Alameda County, California (S.F. area- 79% Obama in ’08, 78% in ’12)
· Sioux County, North Dakota (Standing Rock Indian Reservation, South-Central ND- 83% Obama in ’08, 79% in ’12)
· St. Louis County, Missouri (St. Louis- 84% Obama in ’08, 83% in ’12)
· Orleans Parish, Louisiana (New Orleans- 79% Obama in ’08 and ’12)
· Claiborne County, Mississippi (SW MS- 85% Obama in ’08, 88% in ’12)
· Macon County, Alabama (SE Alabama- 87% Obama in ’08 and ’12)
· Hancock County, Georgia (East Georgia- 81% Obama in ’08 and ’12)
· District of Columbia (D.C. – 93% Obama in ’08, 91% in ’12)
· Bronx, New York (The Bronx- 88% Obama in ’08, 91% in ’12)

Note: Election results were updated on 11/7.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Flickr users James Jordan, aesedepece]

Presidential Road Trips You Can Take This Weekend

Road trips taken over the weekend can get us away from our normal routine and surroundings without a lot of planning or cost involved. Some people would like to get away from election season ads on television, websites, newspapers and magazines. Others are really into the process of selecting the next president of the United States and look for ways to feed their addiction. Here are some easy fixes for travelers who just can’t get enough of the election year hoopla.

Stop by any 7-11 store and cast your vote by simply buying a drink to participate in their 7-Election. A blue or red cup choice counts as your vote for either candidate and can contribute to a historically precise way of predicting the election outcome.

2004, the 7-Election predicted Bush would defeat Kerry 51 to 49 percent.
Actual vote: Bush 50.7 percent, Kerry 48.3 percent.

2008, the 7-Election Obama would defeat McCain 52 to 46

2012 election running totals are posted on the 7-11 website.

The Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, features exhibits, special events, and educational programs. Like other presidential libraries and museums, replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room are a highlight of a day-trip visit.

Permanent exhibits utilize documents, photographs, videos and interactive stations. The National Archives has information on all the presidential libraries, mostly located east of the Rocky Mountains.

The Sixth Floor Museum At Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository has a permanent exhibit featuring films, photographs and artifacts that chronicle President John F. Kennedy’s life, death and legacy.

Another exhibit in Dealey Plaza, has been designated as a national landmark. The grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza is a small, sloping hill inside the plaza that became infamous following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The birthplace of President Grover Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey, has historical significance dating back to 1881 when Cleveland was running for governor of New York. Like other presidential birthplaces, the Grover Cleveland site preserves artifacts from Cleveland’s early years including his cradle and original family portraits.

Even those with no plans to travel (except out of the United States if their candidate does not win) have some help. JetBlue’s Election Protection will fly about 1,000 disappointed voters out of the country (and back) the day after the election.

“We decided to give people a chance to follow through on their claim to skip town if their candidate comes up short,” Marty St. George, senior VP of Marketing for JetBlue said in a Time report.

Still, if a road trip this weekend is in your plans, here are some tips for making it a great one.

[Photo Credit: 7-eleven]

Thoughts on Myanmar, travel and change

On Sunday, citizens of the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar voted for the first time in 20 years. This week also marks the one-year anniversary of my own visit to Myanmar in 2009. At the surface level, these two events have nothing to do with one another. But as I struggle to make sense of what I saw and learned during my visit inside this cloistered country, I find that today’s historic vote is more meaningful than I expected.

I don’t claim to be an expert in the politics and history of Myanmar. I’m a traveler first and foremost, and the three weeks of my visit was barely enough time to give me a fleeting glimpse of the country’s fascinating history, warm people and awe-inspiring sights, let alone understand its complex political situation. But often travel has a way of forcing you to confront the issues you don’t want to see, and you find yourself drawn into them in ways you wouldn’t expect. In Myanmar, my window was through its people – their stories have stayed with me and touched me in ways I never expected.I remember the two enthusiastic young monks who accompanied me up the thousands of stairs that flank Mandalay Hill. They had left their families behind to take up a life of devotion and study. Then there was “Mikey,” the Burmese man I sat smashed next to in the front seat of a pickup for 10 agonizing hours as we bobbed and weaved along the treacherous dirt roads towards Kalaw. His broken-English banter and jokes sustained me through that exhausting ride. And Nain, who followed me all day across the sweltering, chaotic streets of Yangon, helping me buy train tickets and showing me around. He refused to take any money from me for his help.

There is much that could be said about the state of affairs in Myanmar. The lack of political freedoms and poverty echo the problems seen in developing countries around the world. But what has stuck with me the most from my experience in Myanmar is the stories of these ordinary individuals. These interactions brought the hard realities of life into focus in a place few travelers visit. As I think now about the election, I find myself seeing this event through their eyes and hoping, on their behalf, that some good will come of it.

Will the election create any meaningful change for the people I met in Myanmar? I’m not sure, but it looks doubtful. What about my visit? Did it have any affect on their plight? No, I don’t think so either. But what I believe has changed is my awareness. Myanmar is no longer just another news story for me on the BBC website. It’s a land inhabited by real people I met, affected by real issues. Change is possible. But often that change doesn’t occur in obvious ways like elections. It’s the accumulation of seemingly insignificant interactions, day-by-day and year-by-year that, over time, ultimately add up to something much larger.