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Miss Manners: Good manners don’t require catering to prejudices of others

Dear Miss Manners: My spouse and I married out of state in 2010, after several happy years together, because our home state does not recognize same-sex marriage.

He works in the arts; I am a lawyer. We attend many social and artistic events and have a wide circle of accepting friends.

However (ironically, I think, given our respective careers), I am much more apt to introduce him as my spouse with new acquaintances. He either haltingly introduces me as his “partner,” or worse yet, ignores me altogether, even when I am standing right next to him.

He has attempted to excuse this by explaining that it is “not personal” and that he does not wish to render uncomfortable people whose views he does not yet know.

I have responded that it is indeed personal, since it is happening to me, and that the potential prejudices of strangers are not to be catered to; if they are offended, they can excuse themselves and find other people with whom to chat.

Gentle Reader: Struggles for civil rights focus their energy first on achieving equality before the law. But as you have discovered, that does not mean the etiquette will automatically follow.

Good manners do not always require that you make those around you comfortable by catering to their possible prejudices. Of course spouses should be introduced as such. Miss Manners hopes that the worst thing your spouse is seeking to avoid by his behavior is a polite but cold response.

Declining invitation

Dear Miss Manners: I am a woman who has never married and there is no likelihood of my doing so in the future. I’ve begun declining wedding invitations, sending a gift, and enjoying not being there.

The weddings I attended in the past were not enjoyable and made me feel inferior to the couples surrounding me. They have all been focused on the married couples present and their children, and made me want to hide.

I put on a happy face and participated, but in almost all cases, it was clear that my attendance did not add to the couples’ joy in the day, and my other relatives did not seem to even realize I was present.

My nieces will be marrying in the next few years. I would much prefer to send a gift and good wishes rather than end up going home feeling like a failure. Would this be a breach of manners?

Gentle Reader: Certainly you may decline these invitations politely. But Miss Manners hardly knows which is sadder: your relatives’ wedding behavior, or your inability to forget yourself and be happy for others.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s son, Nicholas Ivor Martin.