Gay Marriage: The Meaning of Wife
By Abby Soto
In 47 days friends and family in my home state of Washington will be casting their votes to decide whether or not my wife, Christie, and I may legally marry. This is kind of ironic, because to me, we are already married. In fact, we are coming up on our two-year wedding anniversary. When she proposed to me on July 12, 2009, I didn’t think twice about whether or not our marriage would be “real.” Neither did our friends and family question our union’s validity. One recent example of this is the remark by our good friend Leah when I set up a new Facebook page and listed Christie as my Domestic Partner. She commented on the updated status “Hey! I’d say you two are married- I went to your wedding!” I had listed Christie as my domestic partner to make a point. I wanted to experience the fanfare of officially changing my relationship status when we gain the legal right to marry in November. Leah’s comment stopped me in my tracks, though. It made me wonder- who really gets to say whether or not Christie and I are married?
Some of you may have seen the recent video post by one of Seattle’s Catholic Bishops where he urges voters not to “redefine marriage” for fear of irreversible catastrophic results. You better sit down for this one; I actually agree with him. We shouldn’t redefine marriage. Marriage is now and always has been separate from simply dating. It has been an institution revered for its extra level of commitment and in recent years (read: the last century) love. Marriage is a union between two people who have this crazy awesome notion of spending the rest of their lives together and who want to make that promise in front of the ones they hold most dear.
As queer people, unfortunately, we often categorize our loved ones into this amorphous identity called “partner.” Everyone knows what a partner is…except my cousin who used to describe her boyfriend as her partner. When I refer to Christie as my partner, it’s code for “my same-sex romantic companion.” What “partner” does not clarify, however, is whether or not Christie and I have made the leap from dating to the ultimate commitment- marriage. We not only do ourselves a disservice, but we completely invalidate the importance of that distinction when we refer to our wives as our partners even though we’ve stood before friends and family and promised our undying love for one another. The same holds true for those who call their girlfriend their wife.
I’d like to say it should be clear- a wife is only a wife after a wedding. A girlfriend is what you have before you’ve proposed marriage. The thing is, without laws that clarify our definition of marriage, it can never be that clear. Today the general consensus (outside of our community of friends and family) is that Christie and I are not married. Once we pass Referendum 74, however, Christie will be understood as my wife. The public definition of our relationship status will change on a much larger scale. And because we don’t live in a bubble, this will have a significant impact on the two of us.
Until then, I’ll keep on working for the health of our marriage just as every other married couple does day in and day out. To be sure, I’ll phone bank and canvass and talk to everyone I know about why Washington voters need to approve Referendum 74. I’ll also continue to make her peppermint tea and vacuum under her legs as she relaxes with feet propped up in front of the television and ask her how her day was over dinner. These are the little (big) things you do when you are married. This is an extra level of love I didn’t simply hand out to previous romantic partners without a commitment. No ring? No cleaning for you!
All jokes aside, in our house no one gets to tell me whether or not I’m “really” married except my conscience. When I look at it like this, no political talking head can ever take my marriage away from me. Thing is, we like to leave the house from time to time. We have a life and it would be grand if outside of our community, we could be sure that any person we happen to have contact with for any reason big or small, would know exactly what we mean when we call each other “wife.” They would know that for the rest of our days, there will never be another woman for Christie who makes peppermint tea taste quite as good as I do.
Abby Soto is an Anti-Poverty Family Advocate by day and a Post Baccalaureate Student at Portland State University working toward her MA in Women’s Studies by night. She reflects most frequently on the intersections of faith and queer identity over at TheSeattleLesbian.com.