Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend (and frequent commenter on this site) about name-changing after marriage. Yeah, I know we’ve been there, done that. But this time, the question was gay marriage.
See, my friend’s older sister recently married her girlfriend, and the sister’s girlfriend changed her name—they’re now Ms. and Ms. Older Sister’s Name. My friend felt somewhat conflicted about this. Like me, she dislikes the tradition of women taking their husbands’ names, and so she had a kneejerk moment of discomfort when her sister-in-law did it.
I definitely could understand my friend’s twinge of ick but I could also understand why a gay couple would co-opt an old-fashioned custom like name-changing to emphasize the legitimacy of their marriage. It’s one more thing that makes their marriage look the same as the vast majority of hetero marriages. Optics are important, so having same name counts for a lot, especially when a gay couple has children. Ultimately, as a feminist, while I reject that particular tradition, I might feel differently had I been flatly denied marriage my entire life. Maybe it doesn’t feel like Patriarchy when two women own it.
This week a press release went out announcing that Portia de Rossi, one half of America’s most famous lesbian couple, changed her name to Portia DeGeneres. Several news sites that enable comments (always a bad idea), had a long thread of commenters—not all of them haters—who basically said, “Well, duh, because Ellen’s totes the MAN in that relationship.” That really rankled. Even people who don’t oppose gay marriage are still trying to stuff it into the same pink and blue boxes as hetero marriage. Sorry, gay folks, it appears that if you want to partake in a deeply heteronormative institution, you’ll be subjected to the same dismal gender roles as us breeders. If I were a gay lady, that alone might discourage me from changing my name to my wife’s.
What do y’all think? Comments from our gay readers especially welcome…