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Lesbian partners deserve better than to be 'wives'

From girlfriend, to significant other, to .... wife?


Tanya Jonker-Bryce | April 21, 2006

Melissa Etheridge and Tammy Lynn Michaels
Lesbians have long struggled with terminology.

We�ve worked our way through girlfriend, significant other, partner and, my least favorite, longtime companion, which, no matter how sweetly or endearingly you say it, just sounds like you�ve been sharing your bed with a Labrador.

But now it seems we�ve come full circle to the dreaded �wife�.

Until recently, the term has been used mainly by fringe groups for whom equal rights equate equal language.

It�s been an annoying side lane on the equality highway, but thankfully the �wife movement� appears to have been small and without much influence among mainstream, middle of the road lesbians.

Until now.

Oddly, one of the most prominent "wives" is lesbian icon Melissa Etheridge, whose candour about her life and love has been one of the brightest and most visible beacons in the gay and lesbian movement.

Etheridge came out long before it was fashionable to do so, and has shared her private joys and, more tellingly, her private heartaches with the world in a dignified, decidedly un-Oprah fashion.

At a time when role models were few and far between, her voice was one of the most positive and powerful in a disappointingly small chorus.

Her decision to get married, and to do so proudly and publicly, was unflinchingly brave at a time when the anti-gay marriage zealots were stirring and beginning to flex their (considerable) Bible belt muscles.

Routinely referring to Tammy Lynn Michaels as her �wife� pushes the envelope in a new way. But is it in the right direction?

How we refer to our loved ones, and the labels and categories we create to celebrate our unions, is, of course, a wholly personal issue, and every woman has the right to make this decision for herself.

But Etheridge's voice carries further than most other lesbians – gay women everywhere take note of what she says, and what she means.

Her usage of �wife� is more than a personal choice – it is a political statement. And a jarring one, at that.

Personally, I have not managed to extricate from wife the chains and ownership this term has historically entailed. Because we want the same rights and privileges of heterosexual marriage, should we also want the same historical baggage? Should we want to resuscitate the stigmas and hardships of women – gay and straight – at the hands of men who abused institutions like marriage to confirm their own sexual superiority?

Somewhere in the dictionaries of our lives there has to be new or a better terms to pay tribute to our unions. We may need to start searching a little harder, though. – Issued by Gay Link Content


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