As I said last year:
Civil unions provided a way to have some of [what heterosexual married couples got], so I was glad to embrace it. I was happy and proud as I’d always imagined any person getting married must feel—and yet, I was still forbidden to marry.
Two years ago, all that changed in New Zealand, and two years ago today, Nigel and I were married. We’d already had our big ceremony at the time of our civil union, so the marriage wasn’t about that. Instead, it was about finally being welcomed into the family of citizens because we were, surprisingly, unexpectedly, allowed to be married, too, and that changed everything.I noticed I’d had a shift in my thinking and perception after we were married: It seemed somehow more permanent than a civil union, even though civil unions have laws managing them, too. I think it’s because I grew up around married people in real life and on TV and in the movies. People got married all the time, and sometimes I was even at the weddings, more often I got older, of course. So, I knew what marriage meant. As I said last year, “I’ve always valued marriage, but I think I’ve valued it even more when I finally gained the right to be married.”
In the years since, I’ve often referred to Nigel as my husband—because he is. But sometimes I still refer to him as my partner, probably the most common term in New Zealand, and used to refer to people who are coupled, both married and unmarried. It kind of suits the egalitarian nature of New Zealand.
However, after avoiding the use of the word husband for my first 54 years of life, it wasn't easy to make the change.
When I was younger and newly out, it was very common for gay couples to refer to each other as “husbands”, even though back then there was absolutely no formal recognition of those relationships under law or even by private entities. It was better than the alternatives also used at the time—including boyfriend and lover, which I also didn't like or use—but husband always struck me as empty because it didn’t mean anything in a legal sense.
When I arrived in New Zealand and found they used the term partner nearly all the time, I felt I finally had a term that worked for me. It was specific, implied a strong commitment that boyfriend didn’t, and was meaningful for me in a way that husband hadn’t been.
When the law changed and I could get married and use the term husband accurately, that became a real option for the first time in my life. But in addition to it feeling odd after all that time, and the fact that partner is still the main term used, there was one more thing: Outing myself.
Because of my age, I’ve spent a lot of my life being cautious about how open I want to be about my life. Nearly every single day I have to make a quick assessment about whether I think the person I’m talking to might be hostile, what the risk/benefits are of being open, and whether I even want to be open, given all the unknowns. Sometimes, then, partner is the safer and easier option.
But as times have changed, so have I. Using the word husband outs me, yes, but it also places myself on exactly the same level as the person I’m speaking to and makes clear I expect to be treated the same as everyone else. I’ve never had any problems from using the word husband, but I also never had any problems in the old days when I used the word partner and corrected someone who assumed it was a female—and I did correct them. The good thing about using the word husband, then, is that it’s unambiguous.
We still have two more anniversaries to go in this Season of Anniversaries, but this one is still important. Happy Anniversary to us—again!
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)
To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more
The photo up top is of our wedding rings, which I took the morning of October 31, 2013. Unlike my other photos on this blog, this one is copyright, all rights reserved. Of course.