The Census form arrived in the mail last week. The first 10 questions – the ones about me – were easy. When I got to Person 2, I got stuck on one question. Person 2 was my partner of 16 years, the woman I call my wife, Jeanne. Therein lay the problem. Sometimes I refer to her as my partner; sometimes I call her my wife. Even though we are not married in the traditional sense – we have not had a ceremony, there is no license, and in the eyes of the government, we cannot be married – we consider ourselves just as married, just as committed, as my brother and his wife or Jeanne’s sister and her husband.
The question on the second part of the census that gave me pause asked us to define Person 2’s relationship to Person 1. There were 14 options:
Husband or wife
Biological son or daughter
Adopted son or daughter
Stepson or stepdaughter
Brother or sister
Father or mother
Son-in-law or daughter-in-law
Roomer or boarder
Housemate or roommate
Some were obvious non-choices. But I struggled with what I should answer about our relationship. Although I consider Jeanne my wife, I didn’t know if that would be the right choice, since we aren’t legally married. But the “unmarried partner” choice seems to indicate that we are choosing to be unmarried – like straight couples who choose to co-habitate.
I remember an old acronym – coined by the census back in the 1970s – POSSLQ. People of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. It was dropped later because it didn’t accurately reflect the make-up of households. These days, people of the opposite sex often share living quarters, sometimes without being in a romantic relationship with each other. And people of the same sex share living quarters, including those who are in a relationship.
I applaud the writers of the Census questions for including options that seem to cover all possible descriptions of why people live together. But it still puts some of us in a dilemma. I wish there was a category for “committed partner who you would marry if that option was available to you”.
Of course, that brings up another debate. I just don’t understand why some people are so threatened by the idea of allowing me to marry the woman I love. Allowing gays and lesbians to marry is not going to change anything. We are a relatively small percentage of the population (the largest estimate I have ever seen is 10%) and of those, not all are in a committed relationship and wanting to get married. In any event, we are not looking to replace straight marriage. We aren’t suggesting that everyone should marry someone of the same gender. We just want to be able to marry the person we fall in love with. Something that 90+% of the population is allowed to do.
45 years ago, though, that wasn’t entirely true. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that interracial marriage was legal. Before that, if a black man fell in love with a white woman (or the other way around), they were not allowed to marry in many locations. I certainly hope it doesn’t take another 45 years for this country to come to the same conclusion about gay marriage. That it doesn’t matter who you marry — if you are in love and want to commit your life to another consenting adult, you should be allowed to do so. The good news is that a small number of states have, in fact, come to that conclusion. Unfortunately, the state where I reside is not one of them.
I know many gay couples that have been together as long, or longer, than straight couples. As I mentioned, Jeanne and I have been together 16 years. We have moved 1/2 way across the country together. We have purchased 2 homes together. In our eyes, the eyes of our friends, and even the eyes of our families, we are a couple. Even without a ceremony (civil or religious), if a straight couple had been together as long as we have, in many locations it would be considered a common law marriage and would be granted certain rights. We don’t even have that.
I understand that some people feel that this is a religious issue. The problem I have with that argument is that there are many different religions, and not all of them are against gay marriage. There are also many people who get married outside of a Christian church – those who get married in a Synagogue, at a courthouse or by a justice of the peace – and yet they are considered just as married as the ones who walk down the aisle of a church. If the term “married” implies a Christian concept, then it should not apply to anyone who isn’t wed in a Christian church.
I supposed I am just confused. I would really like someone to explain to me how my loving my partner and making a legal commitment to her, guaranteeing us the rights and privileges of straight partners such as the right to medical decisions, the right to survivor benefits, the right to inherit property, etc is a threat to the INSTITUTION of marriage. How is my getting married going to affect your marriage?
Maybe in the next ten years, society will change. Marriage will come to mean a commitment between loving partners whose purpose is to publicly declare their decision to spend the rest of their lives together. I hope that when the 2020 census arrives in my mailbox, I won’t have to struggle with which choice to mark. It will be easier than it was this year to mark “wife”.