Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Meaning of Marriage: Part 2

In ways large and small, and ways that I don't even know yet, marriage will change a lot about our relationship because of the meaning it holds both for us and for other people.  I have been a staunch advocate of marriage equality for as long as I can remember, but being on the verge of marriage myself really illuminates all the ways that marriage is different from a civil union.  All the changes I referenced in my last post, well, I'm not sure if or when they would've happened if Mr. NM and I weren't getting married.  The whole reason people have been viewing us differently is because they know what a marriage is, they know what it means, and they know how to relate to it.  It's not like we didn't have a relationship before, because we did.  But our relationship looked different and was thus treated differently.  We also bought a house together before we were engaged, but many people saw that as a strange choice for a couple that wasn't...  married.  Because as a society we tend to understand buying a house through the lens of marriage.  And we understand creating a family through the lens of marriage.  We understand so much through the lens of marriage.  Yes, these are culturally constructed understandings of marriage, but Mr. NM and I live in this culture and we can't separate ourselves from that. 

We have grappled very seriously with the potential hypocrisy of taking advantage of the institution of marriage when it would have been denied to us as recently as a month ago.  I don't think there are any easy answers to this issue, either.  In the end, we came to some important conclusions that feel okay to us but might not be a good fit for other people.  So I offer the caveat that these thoughts are ours and ours alone. 

First, we have been supportive of any couple who wants to avail themselves of marriage at any time they can.  This has included brief periods of time where it was allowed in San Francisco and/or legal in California, even if those decisions are later reversed.  In fact, we considered getting married when it was legal in California, but we decided we didn't want to rush something that was so important to us.  Second, we can't see a way that not accessing the privilege of legal marriage for ourselves would support the fight for marriage equality.  We actually think that accessing marriage will give us a platform to better speak to people about just what marriage gives us that we wouldn't have had access to otherwise.  We both strongly believe that individuals with privilege can - and should - find ways to utilize that privilege to advocate for those without privilege.  And third, we recognize that, for us, knowingly engaging in such privilege necessitates taking on the responsibility of acknowledging that privilege whenever we can and not allowing ourselves to become blind to it.

We have come to these conclusions based on what marriage means to us right now, as an unmarried but engaged couple.  I'm interested to see how getting married, being married, and staying married will change how we perceive its meaning in the future.

What experiences have you had that illustrate the meaning of marriage in your life?


  1. When my man and I got "engaged" this summer at our friends' wedding, I was pretty surprised when other wedding guests who we barely knew came up to us excitedly to express their congratulations. I remember thinking: this was all sort of on a whim, we were both drunk and dancing when we asked each other, and we honestly feel just as crazy about each other today as yesterday...but I'm glad that YOU'RE excited about this! As somebody who has generally been pretty skeptical about marriage (though I do love the parties), it is pretty impressive to witness the power that the concept has over us and others. There are amazing benefits to that, but a part of me always wonders about the costs as well. You and Mr. NM are taking your marriage on in a much more organized fashion (not that I'm setting the bar very high!). I can only imagine that your discoveries about both your relationship and the conceptions others have about it must be much more intense than what I have experienced. I'm cheering you on, and so happy for you both on this journey!

  2. Very well expressed! And really touching! It must be such a trip to suddenly have this immense heterosexual privilege dropped in your lap, especially where wedding planning is concerned!? And I'm in absolute agreement- I think allies/advocates for marriage equality are serving no one by refusing to participate in the very institution we are fighting for. Loving your thoughtful (and smart!) posts and can't wait to read more!


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