January 29, 2010
Opening the door to non-monogamy?
Posted by: Chris
Many gay marriage advocates will no doubt feel on the defensive when they hear about a new study showing many long-term same-sex couples that enter into marriage do so with notions about monogamy and fidelity that differ significantly from the mainstream:
A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.
New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.
That consent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, “but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.”
The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.
Many who are hostile for religious reasons to any legal recognition for gay couples will of course point to this sort of research to argue that gay couples are unique from heterosexual couples and not entitled to the same government support and protections.
Not so, at least so far. Gay couples who marry in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa or (soon) the District of Columbia will have to accept the same legal restrictions on monogamy as heterosexual couples do. Criminal prohibitions on adultery aren't really at issue; they are almost certainly unconstitutional after the Supreme Court's Lawrence vs. Texas sodomy ruling, which outlawed the criminalization of private, consensual sex between adults. But come divorce time, adultery can be used to leverage better monetary settlements and in some cases achieve a better verdict from the court.
Still, politics and legal impact be damned, let's address the issue head on: Does the monogamy standard to which the vast majority of heterosexual married couples aspire make sense for gay couples as well? I've tried for years to spark a discussion within the community about monogamy and open relationships, based on the differences within our relationships not because we are gay, but because we are men.
We are part of the first generation ever to try en masse to make male-male romantic/sexual relationships into long-term commitments. We do ourselves no favors by allowing the politics of the gay marriage fight to censor that conversation.
How many relationships do you know that have failed over this issue, whether because of cheating or disagreements over whether monogamy should be our standard? Do you really believe that gay men could tackle this whole monogamy
thing if we could legally marry? There are thousands of gay male
couples in Canada, Massachusetts, the Netherlands, Spain and South
Africa who would beg to differ.
I think we could use all the guidance we can get from studies like this one, preferably not limited to San Francisco, and the advice of professionals and those who have successfully navigated these waters in their own lives. It's high time we acknowledge there are meaningful differences between how two men (or two women) interact in a relationship and how a man and a woman interact. Are those differences of legal significance? Absolutely not. But in terms of interrelationships? Absolutely.
There's a reason why sitcoms, dramas and watercooler conversations about relationships usually devolve into the differences between men and women. They matter. Remember "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus"? Well, Gay Men Aren't From Uranus but a Mars-Mars relationship is different in ways it is worth our time (and the political heat) to explore.
And yet the problem most of us have is an information-deficit, without many role models and limited to our own personal experiences and the anecdotal evidence of friends in making these incredibly important decisions. Especially given our trailblazing status as a generation of gay men, I think we can use all the help we can get, especially from broader studies of relationship experiences, the advice of professionals and the sharing that comes from conversations just like this one.
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