Culture / News & Politics

Married? Partnered? Girlfriended?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the language we use to describe our relationships.

Back in 2003, before the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples could marry, and before Mayor Newsom opened the San Francisco wedding floodgates, I always used the terms married and wife when I talked about Jill or our family.

At the time, I called us married and I called her my wife because I felt like using terms like “partner” or “girlfriend” accepted a second-class status. Even though legally, we had a second-class status, it felt like using that language myself was dishonoring of the relationship.

For the most part, our friends and family used the same language we used. And I will never forget the first time a total stranger used the term “married” with us, unprompted. We had driven up to Burlington, VT, to get a Civil Union. We were in Massachusetts anyway, for the wedding of some other friends, and thought we should take advantage of the situation.

The City Clerk beamed at us and asked, “So? You want to get married! That’s great!” as he handed us the paperwork.

The universe acknowledging our relationship has fundamentally altered since we tied the knot in February 2003. Now same-sex couples can legally marry in Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. They will be able to marry early next year in New Hampshire. Maine is in flux right now; California still recognizes the marriages that took place when they were legally authorized, although new ones are not presently being performed. New York & DC recognize out-of-state marriages.

My wife and I aren’t legally married. We didn’t go to California during either of the thrilling windows of time when we could have legally married there. Our state still has laws on the books that criminalize going out of state to marry to avoid following state marriage requirements. Unenforced laws, but who wants to risk being that test case?

And given that we aren’t legally married, it feels slightly misleading to call her my wife. In 2004 and 2005, people would ask if we’d gone to Canada or Massachusetts or California to get married, and we’d wind up in these awkward conversations explaining that no, our marriage was not legally recognized.

In fact, that’s now what I usually say when people ask if I’m married. “Not legally” or “My marriage isn’t legally recognized.”

How’s that for a nice social icebreaker?

What about you? What language do you use to talk about your family?

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