While there are certainly civil rights issues surrounding the subject of gay marriage, these inequalities also present some pretty awkward, less-publicized logistical issues. What name, for example, do we give to our significant others? Are we partners? (Too business-like.) Husbands/Wives? (Most accurate, but not legally so.) Lovers? (This sounds pornographic and gives me the skeeves.) Boyfriends/girlfriends? (Too high school.) My friend John put it this way: “If I say that Jake is my partner, it sounds like we have started a law firm together. Still, I don’t want to call him my boyfriend. That just sounds like we should cuddle and watch Dawson’s Creek together.”
The water is muddied further once parents, siblings, and other family members get involved. Danielle’s parents can’t technically be my in-laws because by law we are of no relation to one another. Therefore, her nieces and nephew are not technically my nieces and nephew. Still, we send them Christmas presents and see them about once a year, so I consider them to be my kin. My cousin’s daughters, before they were informed of Danielle’s and my relationship, also struggled to figure out how the family was connected. They showed a friend a picture of us with them at the beach, pointed to my picture and said, “That’s our cousin.” They moved their fingers over to Danielle’s picture, paused and said, “That’s our….sort of cousin?”
All the confusion is certainly understandable. How can you give an appropriate title to a relationship that is not formally recognized, or at least not consistently so? Homosexuality has long been referred to as “the Love that dare not speak its name,” but in a time of evolving attitudes, a myriad of state laws regarding gay rights, and expansive vocabulary of terms for gay couples, it may be more accurate to say that we are wrapped up in a “Love that is searching for its name”.
I have been called Danielle’s girlfriend, roommate, wife, and partner and once, from a well-intentioned but old-fashioned friend, her companion. That’s right. Companion. As if Danielle is convalescing by the sea and I have been hired to read to her and fix her meals. As if she is the Aunt March to my Jo.
Of all the titles I have been given, my hands-down most hated name is when I am called Danielle’s friend. To say that Danielle and I are friends is certainly not untrue. In fact, she is my very best friend, the finisher of my sentences and reader of my otherwise illegible mind. We were friends for a good three years before we became a couple, and our friendship continues to anchor and nourish our relationship as a couple.
Still, the term “friend” feels like a diminishment of the depth and scope of our connection. You would never hear a married couple introduce themselves in this way:
“Hi, I’m Mrs. Jane Doe, and this is my friend Mr. John Doe.”
It sounds ridiculous. It just isn’t done.
Likewise, my parents wouldn’t introduce my brother and his wife as their son and his friend. No, she is their daughter-in-law. The terms are familiar, the relationships clear and defined.
So where does that leave Danielle and me? Are we partners? Wives? Girlfriends? Some other term we use to make others more comfortable? By grasping for terms, settling for lesser titles, and struggling to demarcate connections and relationships we are left feeling frustrated and second-class while confusing the crap out of those we meet. I can see the wheels turning in their heads as they try to figure us out. (“They said they were just friends, but they sure are touchy-feely. Hmmm. Maybe they’re just REALLY good friends.)
Please, America. Put your lexicon first for once. Stop the confusion, and make gay marriage legal nationwide. Cut out the gray areas and just let married be married. If you don’t you’ll have a lot of your citizenry looking like dumbasses as they look at us, smile, and say, “Those two sure are bosom buddies…..”