Brian Arsenault: What should I call him?
When I followed my heart and formed an intimate bond with a guy in college in the late ’70s, I was treading an uncharted path. It was a beautiful discovery and it fulfilled a need I had previously denied myself.
I now had a boyfriend. Did it matter that I’m a guy, too? It did to my parents when I was denied the request to bring him home for Sunday dinner.
As a tiny infant I came to recognize and feel the emotion of love. Both to receive it and to give it back. Now, something so basic to me was being rejected.
Regardless of that deep hurt, I pointed out to my parents that the boyfriends and girlfriends of my siblings were always welcome. It wasn’t just that I wanted to have equal status. I wanted this relationship to be included, somehow, in our family bond. I cared enough about my family to fight for inclusivity. My parents eventually relented, but never referred to him as my boyfriend.
As I moved into adulthood and found my place among the gay community, a lot of people referred to their relationship as “lovers.” I was uncomfortable with that word. It seemed to focus too much on sexuality. To me, being together was so much more than that. It also felt like an in your face expression that we were different.
As the word lover passed out of common use, a new, much more sanitized and almost corporate sounding label came into fashion: partner. Yes, the connection I’d formed with this person was a partnership. But when I would use the word in reference to the man I was living with, people often thought we were in business together.
The word didn’t ring true for me because it didn’t reflect the level of commitment I felt. Using the word partner was more socially acceptable but didn’t define any deep sense of love.
Society continued to evolve and commitment ceremonies became an acceptable way, in some circles, for gay people to claim their love for each other. If our unions couldn’t be legal, at least we could declare our love in a way that was spiritually satisfying.
But it wasn’t enough — there were discussions in gay rights circles that our relationships needed the legal protections and benefits that married people enjoyed. Maybe legal civil unions would work? Who thought we’d actually be allowed to legally marry? Obviously, some people did, and marriage equality came to be.
My spouse and I were legally married in California when the Supreme Court made that possible in 2013. It was the most joyful and emotional day of my life.
We exchanged our binding vows with all of our immediate family witnessing what felt to us like a miracle. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The flood gates were open, and a deluge of happiness once denied us was finally ours to float in. The intensity of a lifetime of struggling to have what so many others already enjoyed made it even more sweet.
Two years later, on July 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that two people in a same sex relationship were granted the right to be legally married in every state in our nation. I cherish that right. For me it’s not so much about marriage equality, but more about marriage inclusivity.
By giving us the right to be legally married, we’re now joined with every American who shares in that right. Our amazing love is now acknowledged.
So, I finally get to use the word for the man I married, the word that everyone understands on a deeper level because it’s a shared experience.
I get to call him my husband. And I smile inside every time I do. It says everything about who he is to me and who we are to each other. I celebrate that revelation with deep gratitude.
Brian Arsenault lives in Grass Valley.
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