On the language of marriage equality

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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83 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    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.Report

  2. David Ryan says:

    “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!Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    I have a question about gay marriages:

    Is there such a thing as husband points?Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    Mazel Tov.

    Note to others: I just tried calling my partner “husband”. It did not go over well.Report

  5. Darwy says:

    Congratulations (again!).Report

  6. J@m3z Aitch says:

    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.Report

  7. 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!Report

  8. Mike Dwyer says:

    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.Report

  9. Damon says:

    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? 🙂Report

    • Russell Saunders in reply to Damon says:

      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.Report

      • 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 @damon ‘s landlords, who knows? And it’s their business anyway. They have the option now, which is what matters.Report

      • Damon in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        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”.Report

  10. 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)!Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

      I similarly disagree with that passage, albeit for different reasons. As far as I’m concerned, everyone assumes the title of “husband” (or “wife”) because the individuals involved in the relationship say so. If someone mentions his or her husband or wife, I do not ask them for any confirmation of such. If they say it is so, then it is so.Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

        But nobody would question your fundamental right to use the term at all. That’s the difference. You may not demand that people proffer their licenses when they refer to their spouses, but generally speaking it is understood that men and women can marry each other and call each other “husband” and “wife.” With gays and lesbians, even the privilege of using those terms under any circumstances was/is a very controversial question.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


        “If someone mentions his or her husband or wife, I do not ask them for any confirmation of such. If they say it is so, then it is so.”

        You have clearly not been around enough rednecks.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Ah… I understand now. And withdraw my (very soft) objection. I was viewing it through the ears of the person receiving your statement… my ears in particular. I wish it were such that gays and lesbians were afforded this same privilege. Hopefully, we will one day reach that point… and soon.Report

    • There was most certainly a sizable community of friends and family who did consider us married. With friends and family (well, some family) I would use the term “husband” much more freely. Even here at the blog, in the bio that used to append my profile at Blinded Trials, I referred to him as my husband. (Since I figured my blog is my turf, I can use the terms that suit me.)

      But in dealing with people less familiar to me, I usually opted for the more generic term.Report

  11. Burt Likko says:

    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.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

      (Pressed “post comment” too soon.)

      I should expect, as same-sex marriage propagates across the country, that this change in the law will catalyze a change in the culture such that this moment of hesitation and they need to make a judgment about whether or not to trust strangers with one’s social status, shall diminish over time. For this, we should all celebrate.Report

    • Yes. This is precisely what I’m talking about. That little hesitation of “do I say it or try to elide this detail about myself somehow?”

      I’ve decided on no more elisions.Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    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.Report

    • Rod in reply to Kazzy says:

      Well… there’s animal husbandry, but that’s something else entirely. Hopefully.Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to Kazzy says:

      I started referring to Jason as my husband consistently as our daughter’s birth approached. I felt a need to claim him that way so it would be clear to anyone who might wonder that he is an equal parent with me.

      I’ll tell ya, though…there are still times, when I’m facing an uncomfortable phone conversation about a wrong bill or some such, when I call Jason my partner just to make sure I don’t add any wrinkles to the situation. And I always feel kinda bad about it, so it happens less and less as times rolls along. By the time I’m a grumpy old man, I’ll probably always refer to grumpy old Jason as “my G– d—– husband.”Report

    • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      significant other is a longwinded way to say “person I am in a form of relationship with”Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:

      There is a funny scene in American Beauty vis-a-vis the use of the word “partner”.Report

  13. Tod Kelly says:

    I have nothing to add to this, except that it is excellent. And, I suppose, continued congratulations to the both of you.Report

  14. North says:

    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!Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to North says:

      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.Report

      • North in reply to Burt Likko says:

        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.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

      You might be able to beat the social cons but nobody about to get wed can stand up to the Wedding-Industrial Complex.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to North says:

      @north Don’t look at it as a stressful descent into party planning, look at it is a way to get free dish ware.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        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.Report

      • North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        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”.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to North says:


      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.Report

      • North in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Prof, Mike, the cosmic injustice of it is that I already did just that and now I have to face the spectacle of going through it again. I made a joke to the effect that if I had to go through another wedding ordeal I should at least get a new husband out of the deal. That went over like a lead pigeon.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Oh, you’re looking for justice? Can’t help you with that one, but I am pretty sure that not following orders will result in even greater cosmic injustices being heaped upon your head like hot coals.Report

      • trumwill in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        That was my strategy, more or less.Report

  15. veronica dire says:

    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.Report

  16. Miss Mary says:

    “my innate scrappiness”
    Yeah, you seem like the type. 😉Report

  17. Kolohe says:

    ¡Congrats & Felicidades!

    Thus far, nobody has bat an eye. (That said, I have yet to give it a try in a state without marriage equality.)

    Relevant interesting albeit unscientific sociological experiment.Report