Up Front by Emma Hart


Staying Civil

Once every couple of months or so, someone tries to marry me. It seems to be expected: I'm supposed to be married, so people will marry me. They do it quite casually: "Your husband", they'll say. "You and your husband", "Emma's husband".

It's hard to know what to do. I have a partner, after all; the same one I've had for the last seventeen years. We have a mortgage, kids, mutual friends: all the things married couples are supposed to have. And nobody who refers to him as my husband is ever really trying to offend me. They just forget – some of them several times.

But we didn't not get married by accident. I deliberately chose not to have a husband, and it's rather disconcerting to keep having one foisted on me. Part of the reason it makes me uncomfortable is that I did once have a husband, and that's an entirely different person. We got married for Student Loans purposes, which is apparently a perfectly legal and legitimate motivation for marriage as long as you conform to the only important rule for a good marriage: it must contain exactly one penis - no more and no less.

My having been married before was one of the reasons my partner and I decided to get a civil union instead. I'd done the white dress. I'd done the giant family affair. I'd done being found by my mother at the reception, white dress rucked up to my thighs, completely off my face and smoking a cigar. Nobody wanted to go through all that again. So we snuck down to the registrar's office one day while the kids were at school and got civilly unified.

There was a far more important reason to get not-married, though. My current partner happens to be male, and so we had every right to a wedding. If he was the same person but female it would be different. I could feel the same way about her – need her, love her, make love to her - but I would be legally forbidden to marry her. It seems utterly ridiculous that the contents of trousers matter more than the contents of hearts. As long as my right to marry is dependent on the gender of my partner, I will not do it. I might marry in a country that has the balls to do away with its discriminatory laws. I certainly will not marry in a country that doesn't. Well, not twice, anyway.

All of which makes it slightly awkward to correct people when they verbally marry me. It's important to me that I don't have a husband, but it feels rude and petty to correct people. (I had no problem being triumphantly rude to the co-worker who repeatedly referred to my partner as my "hubby". Though mostly I was just rude to her because she was an annoying cow.)

While we're here, a note to companies that do telephone surveys. It's been five years. Put a box labelled "civil union" in your Marital Status section. Otherwise I'm just going to keep yelling at your staff. I don't think it's too much to ask. It's not like I'm expecting to be able to go into a bookshop and buy a Congratulations on Your Civil Union card, or be legally allowed to adopt a child. That would be ridiculous.

The language of relationships is something we discuss with friends over a few drinks when we're feeling particularly pretentious. How to refer to your Significant Other now so many people aren't marrying? Some people have problems with "partner" because it sounds too cold and business-like. Once you're over about twenty-five "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" start to sound absurd and more than slightly pervy. Personally, I like to use the word "lover". It makes people so gloriously uncomfortable. Say "and this is my lover," and people have to visualise you having sex. It's a reflex, like women laughing when a man gets kicked in the balls.

My partner does correct people, mostly at work, when they refer to me as his wife. He admitted to being slightly concerned that his insistence on the term "partner" makes people who've never met me think he's gay. Did that ever worry me, he wondered. And after some consideration, I had to say, "Dude, given all the things I've said about you on the internet, people thinking you're a woman is the least of your worries. Trust me."

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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