Some of our friends got married a couple of days ago. Daniel first met Richard when they were doing the same programming course. It was before Abigail was born. They have two daughters who are both about a year older than our daughters so they like to play together sometimes. Richard is one of those disgustingly friendly people who talks to anyone and he has also become quite good friends with Lisa and Allan so he and Lydia and their girls often visit there too which the kids love.
They went to Fiji to get married. We were invited but unfortunately it was not a practical possibility for us. We always drive past their house on the way to taking the girls to school and the other day Kristian observed that their cars were still at their house. The unspoken ‘accusation’ was that if their cars are still there how can they have gone somewhere? I explained that you have to go on a plane to get to Fiji so that is why they left their cars at home. And then since it was the day that they were getting married I mentioned to him that they were getting married that day. I think this caused some confusion. “But will they still be married to the same person?” he wanted to know. Meaning would they still be married to each other even though they were getting married today. I don’t think he has any concept in his head of people being together but not being married.. not because we have told him that people must be married but because he recognises their relationship as being of the same nature as mine and Daniel’s, or Nanny and Grandad, or Nanna and Grumps even; and all of those people are married. Therefore, the way to describe Richard and Lydia is “married”, even though they technically weren’t.
But it’s hard to explain that to a child, and Daniel and I may have even been guilty of describing Lydia as Richard’s wife sometimes, simply because we know that is a word that they understand and expresses the appropriate degree of intensity of relationship, as opposed to saying “girlfriend,” which seems temporary, or.. “his.. person that he is.. with,” that sounds, well, vague. There just isn’t a good word to describe the relationship between people who are not legally married even though for all other intents and purposes they have the same type of relationship.
I’ve noticed a lot of people nowdays using the word “partner”. I don’t like this. For me it has a different meaning. It’s either something trivial like someone you have to do an activity with at school, or.. it’s the person you want to be your wife or husband, and consider as your wife or husband.. but you don’t get the piece of paper and the legal and social benefits of marriage because you’re both the same sex. I understand that probably most people don’t get this and it’s because of my upbringing around same-sex couples that have given the word ‘partner’ those added layers of meaning. Yet it still makes me uncomfortable when people use the word, for two reasons. First, because if I am randomly talking to a person I don’t know very well, (which admittedly does not happen very often), say it is a woman. And she says something about her ‘partner’. My likely response is to be “oh, what’s her name?” And then she will look at me strangely and say something like “Jason,” which is pretty much unmistakably a man’s name and then I feel like and idiot and she thinks I’m an idiot.
The second reason is because of the part about how it means that your partner is someone who should be your husband or your wife but legally can’t be. People who aren’t gay calling their non-married spouse their partner is insensitive. It’s the word that people who can’t get married are forced to use because it’s not technically correct to call that person your husband or wife. When you use that word and you don’t have to it makes me feel like you have no appreciation for the difficulty a person feels when their relationship or their family is not given the same rights and recognition that everyone else’s is. But I’m pretty sure that most of these people actually have no idea how it feels as a child to be made to feel by the rest of the children that you are inferior to them because your parents aren’t married and they’re not getting married, because the laws of a country that claims to value diversity does not respect and value them enough as people to allow that. If the person you care about is more than simply a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, then why not make them your husband or wife? Seize the opportunity that you have for your relationship to be recorded on paper, recognised as significant not just by yourselves and your friends and family but by the very social and legal system that provides order and security in our society. Seize it, appreciate it, don’t waste it, because there are so many people who would love to have that chance and don’t.
Some people feel, I think, like they should voluntarily give up their right to marriage until it is a universal right. I don’t know the exact quote but I have read several times that when asked when he and Angelina might get married, Brad Pitt responds that they will get married when everyone can. I understand his reasons for that but I disagree.. One of the reasons that anti-same-sex marriage supporters give against it is that allowing gay people to get married will violate and dilute the sanctity of god-given ‘straight’ marriages. This is about as ludicrous as anything I’ve ever heard. How can two other people’s choice to be married to each other have any effect on the inner workings of anyone else’s marriage? Shouldn’t we instead be talking about how much we value and appreciate our marriages and express our desire that everyone could dream of that and know it could come true? Show that our relationships are strong because we make them strong.. and if they are not, maybe you should think about whether or not that person should really be called your husband or your wife. And maybe if they worried about their own relationships instead of other people’s, they would realise that the genders of the people involved in a marriage has as much bearing on the likelyhood of it being a successful relationship as the weather on Mars does.
Maybe we just need to change the definition of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’.. so that when we use them we are talking about a permanent relationship that both parties intend to last for the forseeable future. I know plenty of people who are not (legally) married that I essentially consider as being so, but just because it works that way in my head doesn’t necessarily mean it works that way outside of my head. I know that there are lots of people who would look at me strangely or question my wording if I were to make a comment about my friend and “his husband”. “But how is that possible?”
Changing the practical definition of the words doesn’t totally fix the problem, though, because as long as the legal definition remains separate there sort of remains a need to be able to differentiate between two people who have made a personal commitment to share their lives and two people who have signed a legal document to that effect. Otherwise you have the same problem that I described way back at the beginning of the entry in trying to explain how Richard and Lydia can be getting married when as far as the simple and uncomplicated understanding of a four year old child goes, they already are.