I, Mark, Take You, Mark …
Sure, marriage equality sounds great. But what about the coming flood of same-named couples?
Photograph courtesy New Line Cinema.
If you believe in living and letting live, it’s not always easy to listen to social conservatives go on about the social chaos that gay marriage will likely kindle across the land. But it’s time for all Americans—even those who are gay and married, like me—to admit it: The gloom and doom pouring forth from the anti-equality right does, in fact, contain a kernel of truth.
Of course, the social disorder I’m talking about isn’t a function of marriage equality itself. No, the problem is that an increase in gay marriage inevitably means more couples of a previously rare sort: two spouses, one first name. The vintage chant of anti-equality protesters—“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”—sounds merely old-fashioned today. But “Adam and Steve, not Steve and Steve!”—well, that might have some currency, especially for those who’ve welcomed a same-name couple into their circle of family and friends.
Like all the most subtly pernicious threats, the phenomenon of same-name couples is itself nameless. Instead of “the love that dares not speak its name,” how about “the love that speaks it twice?” Or we could call it an extremely equal form of marriage equality—“marriage equality equality,” perhaps, appropriately abbreviated ME2. Until a better suggestion appears in the comments, I’ll dub it “homonymous marriage.”
Perhaps you’re not immediately convinced homonymous marriage will bring the republic to its knees. Well, remember in Steel Magnolias, when Olympia Dukakis remarked that all gay men are named "Mark, Rick, or Steve?" Demographically, that theory is bunk. (First problem: no mention of Brian.) But it foreshadowed a level of social chaos that I could never have imagined when Mark and I first met.
The simplest type of homonymic confusion occurs at large gatherings: parties, dinners, or barbecues. Someone calls out “Mark!” Invariably we both turn. Sure, America can cope with dinner-party disorder—but imagine that moment of confusion in a national security-critical context, like in a submarine or on a battlefield. The effects on military cohesion could be tragic.
Our friends and family plumb even greater depths of bewilderment when Mark or I come up in conversation. At first everyone referred to us as “Mark 1” and “Mark 2,” based on whom they’d met first. But as our friends mixed, and we met new friends, it became unclear and unimportant which Mark they’d known first. (Also, “Mark 2” makes “Mark 1” sound technologically obsolete, as with cameras or torpedoes). As for initials—aloud, “Mark V” and “Mark J” sound too alike, and oddly formal besides. Some distinguish us by day job—“mathematician Mark” and “pilot Mark”—but that seems sad, especially when we’re on vacation.
Mark Vanhoenacker is a writer in New York. Follow him on Twitter.