Larry Auster observes that yet another word has been ruined by the sinister modern drive to dehumanize every institution by discussing it in the grayest and least personal terms available:
Partner means, or used to mean, two people engaged together in some shared enterprise, or who are friends and are doing things together as a team. But now "partner" has become the quasi official term for two unmarried people--whether homosexual or heterosexual--who live together. And for the truly politically correct, "partner" is even the obligatory term for married persons, since it would "privilege" heterosexual married couples for them to be referred to as "husband" and "wife" while homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples are deprived of those honored titles. Therefore, in the name of equality, husband and wife must be called partner and partner. And with the spread of homosexual "marriage," this change is working itself into the law as well, as I have pointed out many times.
The shift from "spouse" to "partner" is perfectly emblematic of the social-organizational transition from status to contract. Spousehood is a permanent arrangement, unfree after the initial choice of marriage and spouse. Partnership, by contrast, is a fluid arrangement -- fluid by virtue of its meaninglessness -- adopted when useful and casually flouted when it becomes inconvenient, another restrain imposed unjustly on sovereign and absolute wills. Husband" or "wife" is what you are. "Partner" is what you want to be, for as long as you want to be it, and no longer.
Here, as always, the muddling of language is instrumental.