Civilities: Do I call my lesbian in-law my sister’s ‘wife’ ?

Photo: Bryan Regan
Photo: Bryan Regan

(This question was adapted from a recent online chat with The Post’s manners columnist on LGBT/straight issues.)

Q: I have always referred to my sister’s wife as my sister-in-law, even before they were able to get legally married. (They have been together for a long, long time.) However, it still feels strange to me to refer to her as a wife, especially when I am referring to them when talking to someone who is not in the family. (For family it is easy, we just use their names, just like any other members of the family.) However, what I want to convey in any conversation is not just that our family is accepting of the relationship, but that we love her dearly. Not a question, just a celebration of a great sister-in-law that everyone in the family loves and is proud of. ~Anonymous

A: Kudos to you for calling your sister’s wife, “sister-in-law “even before they legally married. I know that my sister referred to my then partner in the same way before we married. It’s amazing how much language can help define our families (a topic I wrote about recently).

That being said, I do understand the “strange” part of referring to her as a “wife” to others. Jim and I now use “husbands” but after 9 months of marriage we’re still getting used to the new moniker. If anything, it’s because it’s unfamiliar. But we’re getting more and more habituated (as are our friends and relatives) and so I encourage you to use “wife” going forward. I’m sure it will seem less “strange” with every utterance and will definitely make clear the relationship between your sister and her wife.

Do you agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments section below.

Every other week, Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his new column, Civilities. E-mail questions to Steven at stevenpetrow@earthlink.net (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can also reach Steven on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on June 3 at 1 P.M. ET.

Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities.
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