David Frum

05.30.13

Gay People Can Be as Traditional and Boring as Straight People

This is neat, and certainly adds to the idea that gay marriage is a stabilizing, conservatizing force upon society:

Cummings-Thomas said many couples who travel to the D.C. area to marry are from states that ban same-sex marriage. Returning home, they find that "being able to change their name is a way to have their home state recognize their marriage," in spirit if not in fact. For their own part, the two women had shown up at the courthouse early, the first same-sex couple to get a license in Howard County, Maryland. They were planning to share a name: They just had to figure out which one. Probably Reid, they were thinking.

The decision to take the same surname is one way same-sex couples are rehabilitating—repurposing, you might say—some of the most ancient marital traditions. Name-change dates back to the common-law doctrine of "coverture," when a bride assumed her husband's name and legal identity and, in what is called "civil death," ceased to exist as a separate legal person. Feminism inspired some women to reject this tradition—about 10 percent of women, according to studies, decline to take their husband's surname—taking a stand for autonomy but contributing to a world in which teachers are sometimes unsure which children belong to which parents, and the generation who grew up with hyphenated names must decide whether to exponentially burden their own offspring. In embracing the standard option, same-sex couples are lending it a new, radicalized flavor. Not only lesbian brides but some gay grooms change their names; whether this will pave the way for straight men remains to be seen. Name-changing may turn out to be something men do when partnering with men, but not when partnering with women. The number of straight men who change their name upon marriage, remains so tiny as to be imperceptible.