DEAR MISS MANNERS: Not so long ago, when only heterosexual marriages were publicly recognized, society had easily understood terms for a person’s spouse. A lady’s spouse was her “husband,” while a gentleman’s spouse was his “wife.”
Thus, I could easily introduce a couple as “John Smith and his wife, Mary Jones,” or “Mary Johnson and her husband, William Johnson.”
However, with the advent of same-sex marriages, I sometimes find myself at a loss as to the correct form of introduction. Is each gentleman in a same-sex marriage the “husband” of the other, with each lady in a similar relationship the “wife” of her spouse?
Or alternately, is a gentleman’s spouse his “wife” regardless of the spouse’s gender, and a lady’s spouse likewise her “husband”?
I recognize that the equality or inequality of forms has taken on substantial symbolic importance these days. I would like to treat all couples with equal courtesy, but our traditional language creates ambiguities when applied to our new circumstances.
GENTLE READER: No, it doesn’t. A married male is a husband and a married female is a wife, just as two male parents are both fathers and two female parents both mothers.
Please don’t make trouble. Miss Manners is still weary from the emotion-laden battles over designations for couples who are not married. Perhaps “partner” is not the best solution (because it also describes a business relationship), but it is better than the explicit, overly cute or puzzling terms that were being suggested.
At any rate, it is now generally understood: “partners,” unmarried; “husband” and “wife,” married. Using any other terms for legally married same-sex couples would appear to cast doubt on their status and throw them back into the partner category.
sponsored According to two 2015 surveys, 62 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to handle an unexpected emergency, much less any long-term plans.