When you’re a gay couple about to get married, you inevitably encounter a few seemingly innocuous questions from straight people: Which one of you is going to walk down the aisle at your wedding? Who’s going to take the other’s last name? Have you decided who will stay home if you ever have kids? What about laundry and cooking?
They are, in essence, all variations of the same question: Who’s the wife?
Tino and I haven’t had the fortune of being asked that actual question, but we do have friends who have. The question is impossible to answer because it’s fundamentally flawed, based on wrong assumptions that attempt to force a homosexual relationship into a heterosexual mold. So rather than try to explain to someone “who’s the wife,” questions like these become good opportunities to discuss gender roles, gender complementarity, and the ways in which all marriages, gay and straight, can step away from social rules and expectations based solely on gender.
One of the major reasons many Christians object to same-sex relationship is that they say it defies gender complementarity. This is the idea that God made male and female uniquely different and also uniquely complemented by each other. While there may be some truth in that, the conclusions that have been extrapolated from that idea have caused endless abuses and oppression, probably more so for heterosexual women than for gay people. This idea of complementarity in marriage manifests itself as hierarchy, the idea that men lead as the head of a household and women follow and support. If you have thirty minutes, listen to this great session on gender complementarity by bible scholar James Brownson.
So when two men or two women decide to marry, it’s impossible for many Christians to imagine because a same-sex couple doesn’t fit into the roles they believe the Bible has clearly set out. In the minds of critics, there must be a “man” role and a “woman” role, even if actual genders don’t align. Hence the question: Who’s the wife? The prospect of deconstructing that entire tradition is, simply, too much for some people to wrap their heads around. But just because same-sex relationship may be difficult to digest doesn't mean we should automatically disregard it. Many of Jesus's parables were difficult to digest; being challenged by an idea is not an excuse to dismiss it, but rather an opportunity to re-examine our understanding of God and the nature of His love.
Part of what I love most about being in a same-sex relationship is that those gender roles don’t apply any more. Neither of us is expected to be the breadwinner, or the primary childcare provider, or the one who has the last say during a disagreement. Instead, we get to each use our God-given skills and proclivities to build out a functional, highly customized relationship that works best for us. Tino hates laundry, so I’ll take on that task. I hate doing dishes, so Tino has volunteered to take on that role. While I work on my series of fantasy novels, Tino has agreed to be the primary breadwinner. That, of course, may change with time and circumstance.
What I’d like to propose is that all couples, gay and straight, obliterate the gender roles to which they have been assigned. While tradition places men and women in clearly defined positions within the family, there is no biblical foundation for it. When we read Paul’s letters about a woman’s place in the family and the church, we must read beyond the literal commandments and ask ourselves what the context is for that culture and situation, and what the ultimate moral logic is behind Paul’s words. If you don’t buy that into that argument, then you’re endorsing a world where women must wear head coverings and aren’t allowed to speak in church. (You can study this concept in far more detail by reading Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality.) Dismantling gender roles does not in the slightest diminish the call for mutual submission and sacrifice. There is still inherent in the relationship the same giving over of oneself that characterizes a God-centered marriage.
So if someone asks me, “Who’s the wife?”, the quick answer is this: Neither of us. We both fulfill unique roles that defy gender-assigned norms. We both perform “husband” duties. We both perform “wife” duties. And there’s nothing shameful about any of it. We will accomplish the same thing all marriages do, but in different ways. It’ll be our own way, customized just for us, and in many ways that makes our marriage all the more special.
And as far as who gets the last word in an argument, that’s me. Just don’t let Tino know.