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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 8 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 45
'So, what are you guys?' Addressing the marriage-equality elephant in the room
Section One
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'So, what are you guys?' Addressing the marriage-equality elephant in the room

by Mark Segal - Philadelphia Gay News

At the dinner party for the wedding of friends who became the first same-sex couple in their New Jersey county to legally wed last week, the discussion turned to how they would refer to one another now that they're married. Would it be 'partner,' 'spouse,' or 'husband'?

At this early stage of marriage equality there is no consensus on titles, but I've noticed that younger couples seem to have an easier time using the terms 'husband' or 'wife' for one another. Those of us who are a little older, it seems, prefer 'partner.' Understanding this difference requires an understanding of the history of the Gay rights struggle back to 1969.

That was the year that marriage equality first became a real issue. The Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church started to perform commitment ceremonies and, within a few years, parishioners from his churches around the nation began to push the government by applying for marriage certificates. But the majority of the Gay rights movement at the time was very anti-religious, feeling that religion had oppressed LGBT people for hundreds of years. They argued that marriage was a religious institution and, therefore, we should not try to become 'heterosexual' by seeking to marry. This attitude made most activists somewhat condescending toward Perry and the MCC. I can personally attest to this, since I was a member of a group of Gay men and women who picketed him and his organizing meetings. That's actually how we met and became friends.

WHAT'S IN A TITLE?
But aside from the religious aspect, there's another issue that LGBT pioneers are facing when they hear those titles. Many, like myself, recall the days not so long ago when an LGBT couple would be asked, 'Which one of you is the husband, and which is the wife?' This still happens today in some places.

To many of us who have attempted to deal with that question over the years, it was disheartening. In answering, you tried not to insult the person asking the question by explaining that there was more to a relationship than simply sex and role-playing. Our relationships are about building an entire life together.

For same-sex couples, deciding how to refer to one another is a personal decision, and there is no 'correct' choice. But maybe those who call each other 'husband' and 'wife' are doing us all a favor - after seeing two husbands or two wives using those terms, perhaps that naïve person will be less likely to ask which is which.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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