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Adios a mí concubina?

13 August 2010

I hadn’t considered this, but legal recognition of same-gender relationships could cause a few arguments the next time the Spanish Academy meets.  The legal terms for spouses in a marriage can be of either gender (esposo or esposa) — but what about same-gender partners in a free union — who have specific legal rights in Mexico (and most Spanish-speaking nations), or in jurisdictions not quite as advanced as Mexico City, Argentina or Spain, where some sort of half-way “civil union” arrangement for same-gender couples is permitted?

When the laws were written (in Mexico in the 1850s) to cover the rights and obligations of persons in a free union, the assumption was that the male partner had the money and power, and the female partner needed special protection.  It’s terribly sexist to assume that today (although it’s usually the case) and at the time it was the reality was that 999.9 times out of 1000.   Since the Roman Catholic Church (no slouch when it comes to sexist assumptions) used “concubine” for unofficial wives, the word “concubina” made it into Mexican (and other Spanish-speaking country’s) legal code in spelling out the inheritance and property rights of women living in concubinato.

Outside of inheritance and property law, it seldom makes any difference in a society where women keep their family name even after marriage, except maybe for society women who substitute “de Husband”  for the apellido maternal to show they are legally married in the eyes of God and man (and gossip columnists).      My neighbors who call themselves esposo y esposa may or may not have a marriage license (not that it’s any of my business) and “concubina” sometimes sounds a little racy to non-Spanish speakers — but is only used by the Church and in very formal settings.   As when, for the first year of his Presidency, we often saw on the news, “Vicente Fox Quisada y su concubina, Marta Sahagún Jiménez” — or better yet — when  Bertie Ahern, the then Prime Minister of Ireland made a state visit.  Ahern was legally separated from his wife, but had a live-in female partner, who accompanied him.  The upshot being Mexican protocol officers were left to talk about las primeras concubinas .  What Vicente called Marta at home I have no idea (probably “jefa”, but let’s not go there).  I’m sure the protocol officers were relieved when Marta lied to the Pope, Vicente called in a judge, and Marta Sahagún de Fox was simply primera dama.

The unimaginative minds who draft legal codes seem to be opting for the dreary and predictable “socio/socia”  (partner) for the people in recognized free relationships, and concubina will become obsolete… though maybe there is a place in the DRAE for a neologism like  concubino.

Well.. there is another possible word, but we’ll deal with that this afternoon.

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