There are tangible differences, of course, as with our health insurance coverage and taxation. The differences most often have been subtler, but they clearly exist. Marriage matters.
Even in silly little ways we notice it. We delight in referring to each other as “husband,” and it feels more truly descriptive and honest to do so now. And, though we’d been living together a decade before our marriage, and had a registered domestic partnership for nearly half that time, we recently began only half-jokingly commemorating “our firsts,” though they were firsts only in a qualified sense: our first Thanksgiving “as a married couple,” our first Christmas “as husbands,” our first New Year “as legal spouses.”
What I don’t think we fully expected, though, was just how much our marriage meant to other people, and how it would change the way even our friends and families relate to and about us. Those changes run the gamut from trivial to significant. A great many of our friends, for example, have congratulated us on our first Christmas as a married couple.
More subtly, friends and family members who treated us with respect before we were married, who saw us as a committed couple even without a license, nevertheless seem to see and speak of us differently now. Our mothers provide perhaps the most poignant examples. Early in December, Jeff introduced me at a party to an old friend of his mother’s as his husband. Jeff’s mom jumped right in and said, “Yes, I now have TWO sons.” Our Christmas card from her reflected the same sentiment, as she had used a pen to change the card’s pre-printed “My Son” to read “My SonS.” Similarly, my mother addressed Jeff’s Christmas card this year to “My Son-in-Law.”
Friends and family who rarely, if ever, intruded into the particulars of our relationship now ask when or if we’re planning to have kids; yep, just like opposite-sex couples, that’s now the expectation for what follows marriage. My mother told my nephew’s new fiancées that they have Jeff as an example of how to survive marrying into my loud, overwhelming, overly protective family, and how to deal with one’s in-laws.
Marriages matter, not just for spouses, but for their families and indeed for the larger society in which they live and move. When we marry, our families, friends, and neighbors more clearly understand – and, what’s most troubling to our opponents, increasingly respect and embrace – that families, communities, and societies benefit, and are strengthened, when marriage makes possible the time-honored and express relationship not just with your daughter and son-in-law, but with your son and son-in-law, too.
Mothers-in-law may be fodder for comedians, but understanding that Jeff’s mom is my honest-to-goodness mother-in-law – and that she believes it, too – is about as serious as it gets.
Thom Watson, a leader in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA, lives in Daly City with his newly wed husband, Jeff Tabaco.