By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 11/21/2019
Posted: 11/30/2006
Topics/Keywords: #ReligiousPolitics #MarriageEquality Page Views: 3002
In which I try to figure out what I should call the man I live with.

I might be at work, where someone asks how I spent the weekend or what I plan to do for the holidays. I might be at a party, where I am expected to introduce the person I arrived with by name and association. It’s an ongoing problem. How do I refer to Michael, the man with whom I live?

Michael and I were married in our Unitarian Universalist Church; but because our marriage isn’t recognized either by our state or by an admittedly shrinking portion of the United Nations, it seems awkward to call him my "spouse." The word "husband" seems to imply that I am a "wife," which I certainly am not, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which explains that the word "wife" is old English for "woman." Besides, "husband" is old English for "male head of household," a position we share equally.

Of course, we could give up arguing with those who, for political or religious reasons, are so fascinated in gay relationships that they spend their days trying to negate mine, and simply go with "partner." However, the last time I did that, the person on the receiving end innocently (and somewhat naively) wondered why the person I was in business with had bothered to accompany me to a family gathering. Oddly, the term "umfriend" (as in, "This is Michael, my…um…friend") actually causes less confusion. I resist it, though, as it promotes an air of un-respectability to our entirely respectable relationship.

Given my concern over what to call my um…spouse, I can partially understand the concern over whether to use the words "marriage" or "civil union." To me, these terms are not at all synonymous. Far too many marriages of my acquaintance aren’t "civil" at all. However, the argument that "marriage" has always meant "a man and a woman" is false. In pre-Communist China’s Fujian province, up to the second century in Europe, in ancient Rome and Greece, among Native North Americans, and in several African tribes, male-male marriages were common enough to be ritualized and documented.

The undeniable advantage to using the term "marriage" for our relationship is that the word has a magic cachet that "civil union" lacks. If, God forbid, I should have to rush Michael to an emergency room after an overdose of low-carb butter pecan ice cream, yelling "He’s my husband!" to the nurse will get him into Intensive Care with me at his side a lot faster than "He’s my partner in a civil union!" And, unless the nay-sayers will volunteer to stand up for him in such extreme situations, it seems to me to be to all our best interests to just allow us the obvious.