Monday, December 05, 2011

An Individual's Definition of Marriage and Equality

My sister just got married. This only proves that the way life shakes out is often nothing like we imagine. What makes this unusual is that she long believed she would never tie the knot. I, for one, believed her. It was instead thought that the oldest child, that being me, would end up the first to betrothal. Instead, the rebellious middle child found herself in the middle of a whirlwind courtship. Four months after meeting him, she was engaged. First comes love, then comes marriage, as they say. But, true to form, she did it her way and no one else’s.

Never one for anyone’s ritual, she and her now-husband headed directly to the courthouse. Believing the no-frills approach was best, the two said their vows in the most minimalist possible way. This is how she always said it would be, if it ever happened. That much was expected. What really surprised me, however, was my sister’s decision to take her husband’s name. It seemed a little odd coming from the woman who personally founded and single-handedly led a feminist group on campus. And yet as it turns out she had a traditional streak, one that none of us who knew her best could have ever foreseen.

When I asked about it, she put the decision rather simply. She and her husband, possessing the same last name, were now on the same team. The symbolism involved in having a surname in common reinforced the level of emotional commitment between the two of them. Far be it for me to object. How she chooses to structure her marriage or her married name is none of my business.

It’s not how I would do it, though. Not at all. Should marriage be in my future, I know I’ll expect my wife to retain her maiden name. The likelihood I will partner with a woman for the long term is considerably high. I’ve never known for same-sex couples, regardless of gender, to exchange one name for another. What has appealed to me, I must admit, is just being one more typically liberal couple. You could call it fitting in, if you wish. Nothing appeals to me more than puttering around with a partner at Trader Joe’s on Sunday afternoons. When I’ve never felt ordinary in most aspects of my life, a little conformity isn’t so bad.

In the end, it comes down to how we define equality in relationships. I’ve known some feminists whose immediate discomfort with the very idea of marriage, and all the baggage retained therein have led them to decide it will never be for them. Regardless of our primary views, it may be useful to think about the whole of the thoughts and reflections we hold about this tradition. What are our motivations in marriage? Do we find that the fantasy conforms to the reality? If my sister’s example is pertinent, when it does happen, I’m sure it will be nothing like anyone’s bridal magazine or reality television show.

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