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On the language of marriage equality

This past summer I got married for the second time.  Rather than try to come up with a new way of saying the same thing I’ve already said, I hope you will forgive me if I simply quote myself:

So the Better Half and I got married this past weekend.  Again.  To each other.  Without any interruption in our relationship in the intervening years.

The first time was almost exactly eight years before the second time.  (Many guests at our recent celebration joked that they will pencil in another one eight years from now.)  It looked pretty much how one would expect a wedding to look.  We wore tuxes.  (I now regret the choice to go with tails.)  We had it in a church (the same one both times, actually) and exchanged vows in front of a big crowd of loved ones and well-wishers.  We had rings made (the same ones we wore this time).  We had a reception and cake.  Etc.

Indeed, I have considered myself married since then.  We meant the vows we spoke then and have since lived the best life together that we could build.  If not for the newly-granted legal protections, we would have seen no need for a second event at all.

 Ah, but those legal protections!  Those legal protections really seemed to merit a party all of their own.  So a second event we had.

Since then, life has continued pretty much as it had before.  We still negotiate who gets to pick the evening’s viewing material.  (I’ve gone back on my word, “Scandal,” and have been coerced into watching you despite my assertion that you had gone too far with Huck.  At this point, if both he and Quinn fell into a well I’d be best pleased.  But dammit if Bellamy Young isn’t both so charming in real life and such a good actress that I’ve found a reason to enjoy the show [mostly].  Go, #TeamMellie.)  We still forget to tell each other important details about our work schedules, leading to vexatious last-minute childcare scrambles.  He still changes the kids’ outfits when I get them dressed, and I still rearrange the dishes when he puts them into the dishwasher wrong.

Same as it ever was.

There is only one thing that I can put my finger on that has definitively changed.  I no longer refer to the Better Half as my “partner.”  Now he is always my husband.

I rarely used that latter word before we had our legal ceremony, despite considering him very much my husband already.  “Partner” seemed the safer, easier word.  It was fraught enough as it was, essentially packing “Yes, random interlocutor. I am unapologetically disclosing to you that I am homosexual, despite knowing little or nothing about your attitudes and opinions and thus risking your disapproval” into seven little letters.  In truth, the risk was relatively low.  The American virtue of niceness and increasing acceptance of LGBT people, particularly where I live and work, resulted in no real negative responses to my using that term beyond an occasional thin rime of frostiness that would settle onto subsequent conversation.  Plus, my innate scrappiness was willing to push the point if it had ever been necessary.

But there was the inescapable reality that, as far as the rest of society was concerned, he was my husband only isofar as I said so.  Since the terms and conditions entailed by my granting him the title were set by us, the qualification to use it self-granted, it just didn’t feel comfortable to use that word with most people.  The lexical ground beneath me felt too unstable.  I didn’t chance it (though I suspect I really wouldn’t have gotten much flack for it if I had).

Now, of course, he’s my husband.  There is no reason to use the blander, less specific term.  I don’t just say he’s my husband, the state (by majority vote!) says so, too.  Now the soi-disant right to set the terms is borne by those who would choose to negate my marriage, not those who see it as equally valid.  The tide has turned, leaving my family riding a happier wave.

And yet I still feel a little frisson of apprehension when I say “my husband.”  I’m not sure what I’m bracing myself for, but brace myself just a bit I do.  Insofar as I can read myself, there are no tics to betray this subtle misgiving, no quaver in my voice.  When I told the woman at the Mexican place that my husband had called in our order and thus I wasn’t entirely sure what was in it, I felt just a tiny bit vulnerable even as my timbre held steady.

Thus far, nobody has bat an eye.  (That said, I have yet to give it a try in a state without marriage equality.)  And each time I matter-of-factly call my relationship what it is, I feel slightly less exposed.  Which is as it should be.  I’ve had almost ten years to get used to having a husband.  It’s high time everyone else got used to it, too.

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83 thoughts on “On the language of marriage equality

  1. A very good essay.

    I have nothing more to add.

    For now. Mulling thoughts of my own about when I entered changed situations yet felt the same. I’m sort of going through one right now because of being in a very new but very long distance relationship with no clear sign of when it will not be a long distance relationship. I think we both feel like this is it in terms of romantic searching for a variety of reasons and I will go visit her in January.

    The whole thing is rather wonderful and exciting but eventually one of us will need to move and that will be a very big change for both of us. Right now there is no indication of who will move or when it will happen considering the newness of the relationship. We are both taking it day by day so this leads to sometimes feeling like everything is the same when it really is not.

    Perhaps I am not making sense above.

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  2. “When I told the woman at the Mexican place that my husband had called in our order and thus I wasn’t entirely sure what was in it, I felt just a tiny bit vulnerable even as my timbre held steady.”

    “…even as my timbre held steady.” This is beautiful. Mazel tov to both of you!

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  3. Congratulations to you and your husband, and to him and his husband. I’m glad to live in a world where stories like this are becoming possible. Your happiness makes me happy.

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  4. When I told the woman at the Mexican place that my husband had called in our order and thus I wasn’t entirely sure what was in it, I felt just a tiny bit vulnerable even as my timbre held steady.

    I confess that when someone tells me about his husband or her wife, I sometimes adopt a certain, “well, that’s really nice” attitude that’s different from when I hear it from a straight couple. I don’t mean any harm, but I imagine it can be condescending, similar to Russell’s observation about “being the cute gay couple with kids at the Whole Foods.” It’s mostly benign, but I imagine it’s not completely so.

    By the way, congratulations, Russell!

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  5. 9 years after we took our vows I still enjoy hearing my wife introduce my as her husband. As I have noted recently, some labels DO matter. Congrats on embracing yours Russell.

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  6. Cool beans for you Russell.

    Some people seem to associate certain words with more importance than others. I’ve never given a damn if my wife (no ex) referred to me as husband or whatever. My landlords are a gay male couple and they don’t seem to refer to themselves as “husband”. Typically they use each other’s first names. The are not legally married in our state although they could be if they wanted to, so maybe it’s becomming “no big deal”. Maybe we can then move on the important stuff like how do you introduce the person you’re not married to and not living with but are dating (sex or no sex): partner, BF/GF, by name, the dude who I’m banging, etc? :)

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    • Far be it from me to presume to tell anyone else what they should use to describe their own relationships. That said, it would seem a little odd to me if your landlords opted not to get married (and I know lots of such couples who have decided that they were together for long enough without state recognition, so why should they bother now that the state has finally deigned to acknowledge them) but chose to use the language of marriage anyhow.

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      • True that. Of course, it’s not for you or I to say whether or why some other couple should get married. Gay or straight, marriage is a personal decision and there is no universal right path. I know I like being married but that’s me (and fortunately, my spouse too). For lots of mixed-sex couples, there is love and commitment but marriage is not an appealing choice for a whole bunch of reasons. For ‘s landlords, who knows? And it’s their business anyway. They have the option now, which is what matters.

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      • Russell / Burt,

        We were all together workin in the yard shortly after our state passed a ref on gay marriage, so I naturally asked them if they planned to wed. They were somewhat vague and didn’t really provide anything specifc to my query, but I got the overall impression that they didn’t consider it “a big deal”.

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  7. It’s wonderful hearing how about how you are benefiting from marriage equality. It seems to me that the term “husband” has been perfectly valid for you and yours for quite some time, and it was quite sad that for so long you weren’t totally comfortable using it. It’s wonderful that this has changed.

    I kind of disagree with a bit of this passage:

    “But there was the inescapable reality that, as far as the rest of society was concerned, he was my husband only isofar as I said so. Since the terms and conditions entailed by my granting him the title were set by us, the qualification to use it self-granted, it just didn’t feel comfortable to use that word with most people.”

    You mention that you had a religious ceremony 8-odd years ago, so the qualification to use the term wasn’t entirely self-granted. Though this seems like I’m nit-picking, I just think that it was great that even before you had legal recognition of your marriage, you had a community that recognized it.

    Of course, it’s best that you now have both. Congrats (again)!

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  8. One thing comes to mind on reflection. That is the experience that may be unique to same-sex couples: that moment of hesitation, that leap of faith. I can recall a time when my wife and I were traveling, not so very long ago, and while waiting for our flight we struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to us at the airport bar. As so often happens in such short term friendships, conversation turned to occupation. After a moment, the man we were speaking with stopped halfway through his sentence for just long enough that I noticed. And then he said what it was that his husband did for a living. I suppose he had to take stock of my wife and I and decide if we were going to be cool with the fact that he was married to another man. That moment of hesitation, that having to make a snap judgment about whether these people he had just met we’re going to accept or not accept, is not something that my wife and I have ever had to deal with. (Witness our discussion on these pages last week about the term “privilege. “) Of course, in our case, we continued our conversation having a perfectly pleasant discussion about the man’s husband, but there may not have been as pleasant a discussion had he struck up a short-term airport bar friendship with people of a different mentality and my wife and I.

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  9. Regarding partner and the clumsy attempt at humor/enlightenment I made above, I will share this story…

    I was fortunate enough during my time in DC to meet and work with two fantastic men in the field of education and diversity. Both were gay and they worked together in the same office. For the purposes of confidentially, I will call them John and Jim. As luck would have it, John was in a long-term relationship (kids and all) with a different man named Jim. (I confess that I do not know Jim’s relationship status; I knew far more about John because in addition to our professional relationship, I also taught one of his daughters). One time, while given a presentation to a group of people one could reasonably assume to be LGBTQ-friendly, Jim referred to his partner John. He then paused and added, “My professional partner.” No one batted an eye as most understood what he meant anyway and no one much cared about their sexual orientation. But it demonstrated that “partner” is a largely inadequate term because it can mean so many different things. There was John and Jim, professional partners, and then John and the other Jim, romantic partners. To use the same term to refer to drastically different things seems wrong. Don’t get me wrong… I understand how and why it was used and do not fault gays and lesbians for using the term. Rather, it angers me that society did and continues to insist on a term that needlessly obfuscates reality in service of… well, I’ll say it… bigotry and bias. Husband… wife… these are terms you would not use for anything other than exactly what they are.

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  10. When Minnesota finally legalized our marriage I went to my husband and pointed out that since we’d already been married in Canada we could just fill out some paperwork and be married in Minnesota. He got that steely manic look in his eye that I had (during the previous marriage) come to dread and warned me I wasn’t getting off that easily.

    Now whenever the subject comes up he and my accursed Mother and our despicable friends start talking about venue, catering and tuxedos while I sit silently and pray to God(ess?) that some vile elder God emerges from Lake Superior and eats the whole state before I am forced to go through a second wedding ceremony. I thought one of the perks of being a loyal spouse is not having to go through the hassle of getting remarried?!

    The gay rights movement has pretty much routed the social cons entirely on this subject but it seems that on a personal level the social cons get the last laugh and one parting shot. Curse you Maggie Gallagher!

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    • There was a joke among some folks I know in the family law bar here in my conservative inland community: “I’m all for gay marriage. Why should the gays get off any easier than the rest of us?”

      For us breeders, we can always run off to Vegas. For now, y’all don’t have that option, but … Hawai’i doesn’t seem like a bad substitute at all.

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      • Hah! Oh you sweet naive attorney if only you were correct. Alas, in order to elope to a no muss, no fuss wedding one requires the consent of both of the people to be wed. If I were to suggest a Hawaii elopement my husband would latch onto the Hawaii part, throw away the elope part and we’d end up dressed up in color coordinated tuxes at some massive wedding luau with a hundred guests and not so much as a single Liza song on the dance track.
        Also when I objected to costs when we (he and my Mother) were planning our last wedding they gave me a look that almost set my eyebrows on fire.

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      • I enjoyed our BIG, HUGE, RIDICULOUS wedding however we didn’t need 11 months to plan it. It could have easily been done in 4-6. The stress of a long planning period just about broke us up a few times. It was just wedding, wedding, wedding every weekend. If I had it to do again shortening the engagement is the one thing I would change.

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      • I’m too much of a neoliberal to spend thousands and thousands of dollars throwing a big party where I’m trussed up like a turkey in horrifically uncomfortable clothes and then be able to look at the presents afterwards and say “oh we got those for free”.

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    • North,

      Do as I did. Just go where you’re told when you’re told, stand where you’re told to stand, say what you’re told to say, and pretend you’re in a movie. Life goes pretty smoothly that way.

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  11. It’s funny how similar things are. For me, the word is “woman” and I end up replacing it with “transsexual,” because I cannot bear the skeptical responses I get from cis people when I say I am a woman.

    (In my case I am in fact legally recognized as a women, at least in the state where I live. For me, however, that does little to ease the social stuff.)

    (That said, being legal does make me feel safer in public bathrooms. Like, if someone calls the cops.)

    On the other hand, the weird responses I get when I mention my wife are often hilarious. Since I am quite visibly trans, lots of folks read me as a gay man in drag. So gay men hit on me. (Which is fine with me, they’re so adorable.) And when I eventually mention my wife, the double take and obvious reevaluation is priceless.

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