Today I stepped into the break room to grab a soda and one of my colleagues from another team sighed in frustration at the spouse she was trying to reach on his cell. “Are you married?” she asked.

“Effectively,” I replied.

“What does that mean?” And to be fair, I was being slightly evasive. I am not at all concerned about being out of the closet at work – the first thing I told my boss and his boss at my interview was that I had to know they did same-sex partner benefits in order to bother with the interview at all – but I do tend to place a high premium on personal privacy. That said, the bluntness of her question earned a blunt response.

“It means we’re gay so we can’t get married.”

“Oh!” She looked mildly confused for a moment. “I didn’t know that!” I took this to mean she didn’t know that I am gay, not that we are second-class citizens when it comes to any number of legal rights, but then she went on: “I thought they’d legalized that.”

(When I told that to The Boyf his response was, “Oh, that’s sweet… in a way.”)

“Well,” I said, “Let me be more specific. We don’t live in Massachusetts, so we can’t get married.”

“But I thought you could get married in San Francisco or something.”

“The mayor of San Francisco started issuing marriage licenses for a few weeks, a few years ago, but the state government and state supreme court halted it and revoked the licenses. Regardless, it’s not legal in North Carolina and if we got married somewhere else and came back here state law specifically forbids the recognition of those rights.”

“Well,” she said after a long pause, “You’re living together and that’s the important thing.”

(Again, we agreed: sweet, in a way.)

I said, “It’d be nice to have the legal protections, though.”

“Oh, what do you mean?”

“Well, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and my family decided to be dicks about it…” and on I went into the usual spiel. She countered with a familiar horror story she knew from a female friend whose unmarried male partner died and the family got everything, etc. It’s a story we all know because it happens more than you’d think. If you don’t know someone whose family swooped in like vultures the moment they died, well, you’re in the minority. It’s not something that happens to gay people or straight people, it’s something that happens to people because some families are simply, as I say, dicks.

I kind of wanted to hug the colleague, after, and I kind of wanted to scream in anguish. Didn’t they legalize that? Girlfriend, I wish. That there are people who just assume that’s all been dealt with is a positive sign of the way society overall has changed but it’s also the reason why it hasn’t been dealt with; people are easily distracted away from problems that affect them directly. We, as a society, are shitty at follow-through.