The Huffington Post notes: “Brad Pitt was on hand at Saturday night’s Producer’s Guild Awards, in part to support his partner Angelina Jolie…” That partner caught my eye–specifically as a way to denote someone’s opposite-sex, longterm and, all things being equal, permanent love interest. My observation is that this has long been common in the UK–among both unmarried and married couples. The former makes sense because of the lack of suitably dignified terms. (Girlfriend? Lover? Main squeeze?) The latter case is more interesting. I hear it as an implicit disapproval of the traditional husband, wife and spouse, which presumably bring with them whiffs of an oppressive heteronormative (thanks, Elizabeth Yagoda) patriarchy.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s note about partner supports this political interpretation:
Now increasingly used in legal and contractual contexts to refer to a member of a couple in a long-standing relationship of any kind, so as to give equal recognition to marriage, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc.
Anyway, opposite-sex amorous partner is on the rise in the U.S. Just in the last few days, there has been:
Denver Post, January 24: “[Jim Jesperson] is preceded in death by his partner, Erin O’Niell…”