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I Wish I Wasn't Married: In Defense of Domestic Partnerships for Straight Couples Domestic Partnerships Should Be an Alternative to Marriage for All Couples I Wish I Wasn't Married: In Defense of Domestic Partnerships for Straight Couples Domestic Partnerships Should Be an Alternative to Marriage for All Couples

I Wish I Wasn't Married: In Defense of Domestic Partnerships for Straight Couples Domestic Partnerships Should Be an Alternative to Marriage for All Couples

by Nona Willis Aronowitz

July 15, 2011


I’ve been married for a little while now—two years this past weekend. I love my husband, live with him, and plan to stay with him indefinitely. Also, I wish we had never gotten married.

Yes, he knows I’m writing this. In fact, he feels the same way. The only reason Aaron and I got married was to get him on my health insurance, a scenario that a lot of gay New Yorkers will soon have to start worrying about. Now that same-sex marriage has become a reality in New York, several companies have already dropped the domestic partner option from their health insurance. Gay couples may soon think of marriage not as a choice, but as a necessity that clashes with their nuanced approach to relationships.

That’s certainly the case for me. Here’s how it went down: I got a job at a company in Chicago that offered great health insurance. On my first day, human resources told me that I could cover my domestic partner, too. I didn’t even need to show them an official affidavit, she said—all I had to do was sign some internal papers. I was relieved. My live-in boyfriend, Aaron, hadn’t been covered for years; he didn’t seem to care, but I lived in constant fear that he’d get in a car accident or require an urgent kidney transplant.

As it turned out, he had to go to the emergency room a few months later for bizarre chest pains. He was fine, and his $7,000 hospital bill was covered by my plan. But the bill must have raised a red flag to my employer, because all of a sudden, corporate sent off a letter asking for an affidavit to prove our partnership. You know, the one we didn’t need.

The idea of committing to a domestic partnership didn’t bother me at all. In New York City, where I grew up, straight and gay couples alike had long been getting them not necessarily as a substitute for marriage, but as a favorable alternative to it. The arrangement gives you many of the benefits of matrimony without all of the accompanying cultural expectations. My parents were one of those New York couples. They had both married other people before they turned 20, before the 1960s cultural revolutions, for all the wrong reasons. By the time they got together, they had an aversion to the whole institution.

When I was 15, my parents grudgingly did get married, only because they were worried that their partnership wouldn’t adequately protect their property and assets. They took just one out-of-focus Polaroid to document the event. They invited me to come along, but I declined—I had an important biology test, and it would have been a pain in the ass to miss it.

Aaron and I put off going to City Hall to get our domestic partnerships until two days before the deadline, and when we got there, the clerk dropped a bomb: In Illinois, we could only get a domestic partnership if we were gay. “If straight people could get them, no one would get married!” the City Hall employee smugly informed us. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought. But once my self-righteousness wore off, I realized we had an infuriating choice to make: we could get married the next day, or Aaron could lose his health insurance and face seven grand in medical bills. Over a slice of pizza, we decided to get hitched.

It was all a big joke at first. I wore a black Guess dress and flip flops; Aaron wore an all-white linen ensemble worthy of John Lennon’s ashram days. We invited his huge family, who snapped photos—fancy ones, a far cry from my parents’ Polaroid—and bought us champagne at a rooftop restaurant (my family couldn’t make it with only a day’s notice). We tied Pepsi cans and a “Just Married” sign to Aaron’s bike and rode around the block in downtown Chicago. We mass-texted all of our friends an invite to the “reception” at the dive bar where Aaron worked. Despite the logistical inspiration, it was an impromptu celebration of love, and it was the best party I’d ever been to.

For the first few days, we kept the news within our tight circle. They were the ones who “got” it, who understood why we’d done it. No rings, no promises of forever, no registering for hot pink Kitchen Aid mixers—just a gesture of support from one insured person to an uninsured one. During those first days, I walked around Chicago an undercover bride. I was like any other ironic, adventurous, unattached twentysomething, only now I was technically married.

Then I posted some pictures on Facebook.

Suddenly, I had become a blank slate for others’ fantasies and judgments, an unwitting recipient of advice, wedding proposal stories and even a source of visible jealousy. Now that my relationship was public and state-sactioned, people felt they could freely weigh in on it.  My world was divided by two reactions: “Amazing, you’re married!” and, “Are you serious?” My New York friends and family were just perplexed, remembering my years-long, non-tragic bouts of singlehood. Other friends were surprised I made the move after my outrage only weeks before at California’s upholding of Prop 8.

Those comments were countered by delighted, almost relieved reactions. My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic “congratulations!” were little epiphanies—they’d finally found a way to relate to me. Meanwhile, Aaron’s family started treating me, well, like family. His parents’ friends sent cards and checks. I began to realize why people get so into weddings. Instantly, miraculously, everybody loves you.

Nowadays, the excitement has died down, but there’s still a pressure on our relationship that there wasn’t before, and sometimes I wish the whole wedding thing hadn’t happened. Sure, there are little benefits to being married that we couldn’t get with a domestic partnership. We got a nice tax break when we filed together for the first time, and in bureaucratic situations, invoking “husband” rather than “boyfriend” or “domestic partner” is highly effective. But there’s now a whole other set of red tape to deal with. My debt, my credit score, my entire financial future are all affected by my husband’s, and vice versa. Being married can affect student loans negatively, since a partner’s income is taken into account. If we ever get divorced, we’ll have to hire a lawyer and hop a plane to Illinois.

It’s been two years since Aaron and I tied the knot, and I have no idea if we’ll make it forever. That was never the point. We love each other, but we both know in five years or 50, we can and will change. And maybe that means we'll split. According to the black-and-white, "til-death-do-us-part" rules of marriage, that’s just not acceptable.

Same-sex marriage is a great coup for equality, but, as Katherine Franke noted a few weeks ago in the New York Times, it doesn’t do much for validating the many gray zones between “married” and “single” that exist regardless of your sexual orientation. True, my wedding is a funny story to tell at parties, particularly at ones full of single people (the marrieds get a little nervous). Most of the time, though, I wish I could make these personal decisions about my love life more under the radar. In theory, I can; Aaron is constantly reminding me to stop stressing about the outside world and to remember that this is what marriage means to us. He’s right, of course. Still, I wish we were all advocating for a more fluid definition of partnership, rather than fighting for the right to an antiquated, narrow definition of what it means to love someone else.

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