Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Proper Etiquette for Greeting a Married Same Sex Couple

A Victorian Double Breasted Waistcoat
So much has been discussed concerning the rights of same-sex couples to have their marriages legally recognized by their respective states that hardly a breath of celebration has been uttered concerning how we will formally introduce our new gay husbands into society. As gay marriage is legalized in more and more states across these United States of America it is appropriate that we pause to contemplate how to receive this new and exciting evolution of human freedom. In the 21 years since Essex Hemphill wrote “American Wedding” presaging a day in which gay marriages would be accepted, much has changed but the fundamental message of his 1992 poem was that clear and culturally relevant traditions should be established to distinguish the marriage of a man with another man.

For what it is worth, an inestimable value newly minted generations of gay couples can more eloquently express, it is clear that we are in the midst of a new-born basket of marriage traditions some which borrow from the past and others that blaze new trails of creativity. On the more practical side It is my intent to focus on the basic specificities, or to be direct, I want to focus on how this new class of gay married gentlemen should be addressed in polite society and how they might manage their new legal identities as gay married men.

When two men legally marry they should make plans to devote serious energy on determining how they will manage the updating of their new married name identities. It is my opinion that gay men should carefully examine other options than adoption of the common protocol for heterosexual marriages where one spouse, (typically the woman), drops their name adopting the name of the other spouse. I say this because I feel it is important for same sex couples to establish their own marriage traditions that are substantive drawing as much as possible from tradition but demonstrative the established traditions of gay culture. Ultimately gay and straight couples share a universality that spans sex, race, religion, language and culture in the celebration of a union of love and respect. 

A Victorian Beaver Fur Top Hat

I have taken the license to point out an important paradigm unique to the tradition of the male as groom, specifically that the surname of the male is traditionally preserved and adopted by the bride. Since in a union of two males there is no bride it stands to argue that adoption of both last names of each groom is appropriate with the ancestral name of the eldest or most accomplished groom taking preponderance. This is the ultimate affirmation that both grooms are “Males” and therefore share the ancestral burden of carrying the last name. In this way both men preserve their families’ identity in a revised interpretation of an old tradition. 

Two men who intend to marry should consider preserving both their ancestral names by placing the eldest, most distinguished or the more highly titled grooms name first and hyphenating his spouse’s ancestral name last. In this way the tradition of the male maintaining his ancestral name is preserved and celebrated. For many years women have taken the lead in the hyphenation of their names with their husbands especially if they are themselves renown or titled and also if they are the last of their ancestral line and wish to memorialize their family name for future generations.

A Victorian Man's Detachable Shirt Collar
Since two men are unable to mate or to share chromosomes across one fetus the preservation of their family name becomes that much more important. If they decide to adopt or opt for surrogate parenthood the hyphenated name will give them the ability to pass on their family name, both identities are maintained.

When two men marry one another they may choose to celebrate their union by having their names legally changed in such a way that both surnames are preserved. The symbolic ritual of sharing names carries great emotional as well as legal weight reminding the newly minted couple they are embarked upon a very serious long-term journey encompassing two lives each time their full name is written or uttered. Their new names will appear upon bills, tax statements, insurance policies, wills, deeds, passports and licenses of every kind; it is an important and legally binding process so it deserves special attention.

The proper protocol for two gay men who are in the process of being married or who have recently been legally married is to agree upon, make legal and public their new names which will presently be used when they receive invitations, when they are introduced or when they introduce themselves to strangers. An easy rule is that the surname of eldest of the two should take precedence over the younger spouses last name or in the case of professional men the spouse having the most titles or the highest ranking titles, professional degrees or other distinctions such as Doctor, Reverend. If one spouse or both are political officials the one holding the highest office at the time of marriage should take preeminence. 

Victorian Mans Frock-Coat
For example: Messrs. Washington if neither gentlemen are distinguished by a political office or other official title and wish to use only a single name presumably that of the eldest and likewise, they would be addressed as Messrs. Washington-Hardy if Mr. Washington is the eldest between he and his husband Mr. Hardy. If one man holds a political office then he should be acknowledged with his husband as: Messrs. Senator Washington-Hardy and his husband Doctor Washington-Hardy. If one spouse is a former government official of high rank such as a judge or congressman he should be greeted, for example as: The Honorable Mr. Harrington-Abel, Esquire and his husband. If one or both husbands are currently ranking officials they should be addressed as: Messrs. Governor Black and his husband Dr. Harrington. 

A retired military officer of rank may be addressed: The Honorable Captain Butts and his husband or as: The Honorable Captain Pontchartrain and his husband Lieutenant Crosby. 

When introducing a gay male couple it is polite and appropriate to identify them in plural spoken form as Misters or Messieurs. When they are being greeted or referenced in writing such as on a formal invitation always use “Messrs.” spoken as and representative of either Misters or Messieurs whichever suits your fancy. When spoken or written Messrs. Should always be followed by the singular or hyphenated surnames of each spouse typically in order of the eldest. If you are not certain which protocol a couple has adopted you should consult them discretely in a brief formal letter prior to having their names printed on name cards, programs or any publication or brochure. 

Victorian-Styled Gentleman's Walking Stick
For more informal settings when close friends and family are gathered together the more formal means of identification need not be used. It is however important for other couples, family members, friends, colleagues and especially children to understand that when two men are married their union should be given the same respect as a heterosexual marriage. It is important for children to recognize that their gay married family members are accepted socially and play an integral part in family life. They must learn to respect them as they do any elder in their family circle. It is not my implication that gay couples should be given any inappropriately special attention which might come off as patronizing. We still live in a culture in which some married heterosexual couples and single people may feel that the marriage vows between a man and a woman are more legitimate than those of their gay and lesbian family. This is a topic I will discuss at length in another article. Let me say this; tact is the rule of the day in managing the expression of new familial traditions that celebrate, respect and memorialize every dynamic of gay marriage so let us embrace our new family and watch as the tradition of marriage evolve…

Male Media Mind