Will marriage change gays – or will gays change marriage?

Will marriage change gays – or will gays change marriage? August 21, 2013


Open Marriage
photo – iStockPhoto.com

No matter how you feel about the recent court decisions regarding marriage, the institution will never be the same. Gone is the idea that the primary purpose of matrimony is procreation and child rearing. Marriage is now squarely focused on the fulfillment and love of the individuals involved.

Some conservatives have warned that new forms of marriage are right around the corner. Polygamy, trans-species marriage (animals) and child brides are the next logical steps, they say. After all, if the government has no legitimate interest in limiting marriage to one man and one woman, what interest does it have in limiting marriage to two individuals — or even to humans?

While these slippery slope arguments have gotten the spotlight, I believe gay marriage will have its greatest impact by accelerating the trend toward open marriage. These are marriages without any expectation that the spouses will remain sexually faithful.

This is clearly what many gay men are thinking when they marry. Scott James writes in the New York Times:

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.”

Steven Thrasher writes in Gawker:

Peter Zupcofska, a leading marriage and divorce attorney for same-sex couples, says he’s dealt with premarital agreements between gay men in which they’ve agreed that sex with other people “would not be a reason to penalize each other.” Before they ever said “I do,” they wrote a contract with “the intention that they’d have an open relationship once they were married.”

Zupcofska says he has never drawn up such a clause for a heterosexual couple nor, fascinatingly, for a lesbian couple.

True monogamy is rare, even among gay male couples that try to remain faithful. Tyler Curry writes in Huffington Post:

Is it possible for two gay men to be in a long-term relationship and remain monogamous? The short answer? Of course it is. But for the frustrated but hopeful “monogay,” it often seems nearly impossible to find a homo couple who have surpassed the five-year mark without opening up their relationship in one way or another.

Curry’s explanation:

Gay men didn’t seek out relationships because they were expected to but because it felt good — it felt natural. Arguably, this is the one and only construct that defines gay relationships. And it may very well be the root of why so many gay couples opt for an open relationship once the pleasure of monogamy subsides.

Of course, this raises the obvious question: will marriage change gays, or will gays change marriage?

Some gay couples will embrace monogamy, but many will not. What happens when straight men see their married gay brethren continuing to enjoy the sexual salad bar? Will straight husbands happily restrain their desires while this special class of married men continues to sow its wild oats?

A recent Gallup poll found that 91 percent of Americans believe it’s morally wrong for married women and men to have affairs. Cheating on a spouse was deemed the most immoral thing one can do.

But if spouses enter into marriage with no expectation of fidelity in the first place, is it cheating? What if Dan Savage’s “monogamish” becomes the new normal in all marriages? Society’s view of marriage has “evolved” greatly in the past decade. Who’s to say it won’t evolve again?

So what about the church? Are we prepared to defend fidelity as foundational to marriage? Or will we give ground on this issue just as we have divorce, cohabitation and same-sex marriage, in the name of being more inclusive and loving?

Up until now the liberal mainline churches have supported gay unions as long as they were “committed, lifelong and monogamous.” To my knowledge no major denomination has endorsed open marriage, but it’s probably just a matter of time. The Episcopalians are currently studying marriage and one can only imagine what they’ll find. Don’t be surprised if the church founded by Henry VIII becomes the first to bless open marriages, in Jesus’ name.

My guess is that a strong stance from the church in favor of fidelity will draw more men than it repels. Men may chafe against rules, but they respect institutions that have standards – and enforce them.

Men are naturally defensive of their marriages and wives. Husbands tend to be happier in their marriages than wives and men initiate divorce far less often than women do. Men may be intrigued by the idea of sleeping around, and some may occasionally stray, but few become serial philanderers. I think deep down most men want to be faithful.

The church should stick to its guns on marriage. As lifelong commitment becomes rarer, society’s fascination with it will become greater. It is up to us to model what fidelity looks like “once the pleasure of monogamy subsides.”

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  • Pfruit

    Why does the author believe that another couple’s marriage is any of his business?

    If you choose to belong to a particular religion, then it it reasonable to expect others in that faith to follow common rules, but it is unreasonable to expect those outside of your religion to also follow your rules. No one modern religion invented marriage, and secular marriage doesn’t belong to any religion.

    The Aztecs had marriage before their civilization was destroyed by European christian explorers. The ancient Greeks had marriage before judaism coalesced as a coherent faith. It seems rather egotistical to annex a concept from a preexisting culture and then claim it to be your own.

    • Delgore

      Maybe because 22 of the 50 states still have adultery laws on the books. While rarely used by officers they still exist and are brought up during divorce proceedings often.

      As far as the right to write on this or any other subject it is theirs as it is your to do so. You can write an article of your choice even if someone else doesn’t think you should.

      • Pfruit

        Your only defense for meddling in the private affairs of private citizens are ancient and unused public morality laws that only still exist in 40% of states? Alabama still has anti-miscegenation laws on the books even though they aren’t enforceable. What other outdated ideas do you suggest we reintroduce?

        I never suggested that the author had no right to express his opinion, I simply suggested that the author mind his own business and not try to dictate his religious moral code onto those who don’t follow his religion.

        • Please read the blog again. I don’t think I’m “dictating my religious moral code” onto non-believers. I’m simply bringing up the strong possibility that fidelity will no longer be one of the tenets of marriage within a generation or two.

          • Pfruit

            12th Paragraph
            “So what about the church? Are we prepared to defend fidelity as foundational to marriage? Or will we give ground on this issue just as we have divorce, cohabitation and same-sex marriage, in the name of being more inclusive and loving?”

            You are absolutely projecting your religious (church based) values onto secular marriage. There are heterosexual couples who chose to engage in extramarital sex all across the country. This is not illegal. There are even clubs you can join to facilitate the process of meeting extramarital partners. These clubs are not illegal.

            These secular, heterosexual marriages that engage in consensual extramarital sex are no more or less valid that the monogamous marriages you endorse. The fact that homosexual marriages might also fall somewhere into or between these two categories is none of your business.

            If you want to have a monogamous heterosexual marriage, then have it. I greatly enjoy mine and have no desire to engage in any form of homosexual contact or heterosexual contact with anyone other than my wife. These are our personal, private choices.

            Sincerely sir, I say again. If it is not harming you, mind your own business and let others mind theirs.

          • Married couples pledge fidelity at the altar. The fact that some stray from those vows does not change the definition of marriage. And I believe by saying, “So what about the church?” I am clearly addressing my comments to the church. I could not be any clearer.

          • Pfruit

            Not all married couples pledge fidelity at the altar. Not all couples even get married at an altar. My marriage was performed by JAG officer on a beach at Camp Pendleton. My marriage is still just as valid as yours.

            All married couples simply sign a document legally joining themselves to each other. These legal benefits and protections are all that marriage equality advocates seek. You are free to attach additional conditions and standards to your marriage as you see fit.

            You advocate to the other members of your church that you, as a religious body, not give ground on marriage equality in the same manner that you gave ground on divorce and cohabitation. You speak as if the ground belonged to you in the first place. Only your marriage belongs to you sir. You have no more authority to dictate how my wife and I conduct ourselves in our marriage than we have to dictate yours.

          • Again, I don’t see how I’m “dictating how you and your wife conduct yourselves in your marriage.” I’m not dictating anything to anyone. I’m not saying your marriage is invalid because it did not take place inside a church. Please stop jumping to conclusions and take my words at face value.
            I would be curious to know this: do you believe most people enter marriage with an expectation of fidelity? If so, why?

          • Pfruit

            Your second paragraph is a regurgitation of popular anti-marriage equality warnings about projected social disorder, complete with the fallacy that marriage can occur without the consent of both parties (animals / child brides). These are likely not your original ideas, but these are words you have chosen to include in your blog.

            Your last paragraph urges your church to stick to its guns on marriage. Your paragraph eludes to extracontextual arguments present elsewhere in the arena of public discourse regarding religion and marriage equality. You failed to define exactly what your metaphor means, which led me to believe that you were opposed to marriage equality. Being opposed to marriage equality is the very definition of dictating what is and is not a marriage.

            Am I mistaken that the your church feels it has the right, even perhaps the obligation to dictate what is and is not legally considered marriage?

            Do you support the right of all Americans, regardless of race, gender or religion to enter into a marriage contract with any other human being of their choice that is able to grant consent?

            What I believe about marital expectations is irrelevant sir. What you believe is equally irrelevant. My wife and I agreed that we were most comfortable entering into a monogamous marriage because those were the conditions that best suited our social perspective. I assume that the same could be roughly said for you.

            Private expectations are simply reflections of social norms. Many people do expect to enter marriage with fidelity as a condition. Many people also expect to enter into marriage with someone of the same ethnicity and religious background. Failing to enter into a marriage with someone from the same ethnicity or religious background used to be cause for social ostracization.

          • You are engaging in a dangerous game – you say, “Being opposed to marriage equality is the very definition of dictating what is and is not a marriage.”
            One can hold an opinion and express it publicly without “dictating” how another person should live. That’s the essence of free speech. Even the President of the United States does not have the power to dictate how people should live (and less than a year ago he opposed same-sex marriage).
            By your logic Michelle Obama should not express opposition to people eating fatty foods because she’s dictating what is and isn’t healthy eating. I believe you’re trying to drive Christians into the closet.

          • Pfruit

            I wholeheartedly agree with you sir.

            You have every right to express your negative opinion about people engaging in homosexual marriage. You have every right to express your negative opinion about any married couple not choosing to incorporate fidelity and monogamy into their marriage. The President of the United States has the right to express disapproval for any action or belief. Mrs. Obama has the right to express her opposition to people eating fatty foods. We have the right to engage in this civil public discourse via the internet.

            You however are choosing to be obtuse with regards to my use of the word ‘opposed’. Hopefully you understand that your public opposition to legal marriage equality for all Americans is equivalent to you trying to dictate how other Americans are allowed to live their lives. If you simply hold a private opposition to marriage equality, you have a strange way of writing about it.

            If you choose to publicly oppose marriage equality, while simultaneously supporting the legal right of your fellow Americans to live their lives as they see fit, regardless of how much you approve or disapprove of their choices, then I applaud you. I support your right to live as you see fit and to counsel others who share your faith as to how you feel they should live their lives. You always have the right to voice your opinion, be it bigoted or inclusive. You do not have the right to force others to live by your personal opinions or beliefs.

            If Mrs. Obama were to attempt to enact legislation forcing people to adhere to her personal belief system regarding caloric intake, I would stand at your side and voice my loud objection. If no one is forcing you to personally live in a way you find intolerable to your personal beliefs, I say again sir, mind your own business.

          • Ellzee Mason

            Excuse me? Did not Mayor Bloomberg just try to legislate the size of soft drinks? Wouldn’t you say that he is dictating his beliefs on others?

          • Pfruit

            The soft drink ban that former Mayor Bloomberg signed was blocked over two months ago by a state court and the Mayer-elect has no plans to try and impose the law in the future.

            Had the law actually gone into effect, I would have joined you ma’am in fighting against any law that prevents free adult citizens from living their lives however they see fit so long as their actions do not harm their neighbors. Bloomberg was dictating his beliefs on others, and if I lived in NYC, I would have opposed the ridiculous idea.

  • Liane

    It doesn’t appear that you did much research before you wrote this post. Three articles do not offer the definitive word on gay marriage, and I believe you’ve taken the third excerpt out of context by disregarding Curry’s final thought on monogamy and gay couples.

    Your argument would have been more convincing if you’d delved deeper: How do gay open marriages compare to heterosexual couples who willingly accept open marriages? Are there parallels in the attitudes of spouses in gay and hetero open unions? What about monogamous gay couples? There are many gay men who’ve been together for years. What would they say about, for example, Curry’s assertion that gay unions are formed outside of the strictures of religion and thus gay couples are more willing to stray? Just because gays can’t get married in a church and procreate like a man and a woman doesn’t mean they don’t bring other attributes to their union: a desire to honor their partner, to nurture a healthy union, to stick together through thick and thin, to build a family…

    You should have explored alternative viewpoints. Without that balance, unfortunately, this post reads as just another “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” argument against gay marriage.

    • My point was not to do an exhaustive profile of gay marriage. I’m simply exploring one question: will the admission of gay men to the institution change the institution, or will it change the men? I’m guessing it will be the former, judging by the trends in society today.
      Three generations ago premarital chastity was the norm. Although some unmarrieds slept together, such arrangements were kept quiet – and it was considered scandalous (just watch Downton Abbey). Then American GIs went over to Europe to fight World War II. They observed the relaxed morals there and brought those back to the U.S. Today there’s almost no expectation that couples save themselves for marriage. It’s considered quaint – or odd.
      I’m theorizing that the same thing will happen to the expectation of fidelity in marriage. Most husbands cannot even imagine what an open marriage would be like because they’ve never seen one in action. That’s sure to change as more gay men enter into marriages and begin discussing their arrangements publicly. NPR and the New York Times will dutifully report these stories, and straight men will begin to say to themselves, “That sounds great!” In a generation or two the social stigma will pass, and a majority of marriages will be “open” by 2050. I could be wrong – but this seems to be the way things are going.
      So the church will face a choice: it can stick with the Bible’s teachings on adultery, which will cause the loss of younger, more open-minded members. Or it can choose to redefine fidelity to include extramarital dalliances, as long as there’s mutual consent.
      So what do you think? Should the church accept and bless “open” marriages? If so, why?

  • Teresa Jerry Nelson

    Let me begin by saying I am opposed to same-sex marriages. My reasons

    are faith-based and are not open to negotiation (so I am not interested
    in carrying on a debate in this forum concerning my personal
    convictions with those who believe me to be archaic or intolerant.)
    Also, I do believe redefining marriage will impact societal structure,
    so I have no argument with you on these points.

    I do wish, however, that you hadn’t used a fictional TV series to make a
    point concerning past attitudes concerning what was considered
    scandalous or immoral behavior. You will remember at the end of last
    season, Lord Grantham learned of Thomas’s sexuality and responded with a
    shocking display of acceptance — something that probably wouldn’t have
    happened in that cultural climate. Even though the show originally
    showcased society’s attitudes toward homosexual behavior, it very
    rapidly progressed to 21st century thought. I have a very hard time
    believing that (during that time period) a straight man would continue
    to allow a homosexual man to dress and undress him, and be involved in
    the most intimate details of his day. I’m just not buying in. What
    probably would have transpired is a call to the police and Thomas’s
    removal and possible imprisonment. If a series is going to label itself
    as “period”, then it should do just that, without weaving in current
    political or cultural statements. If you use Downtown Abbey as in
    indicator, you have a poor (or, at the least, shifting) standard.

    I also don’t agree this portion of your post:

    “Men are naturally defensive of their marriages and wives. Husbands tend
    to be happier in their marriages than wives and men initiate divorce far
    less often than women do. Men may be intrigued by the idea of sleeping
    around, and some may occasionally stray, but few become serial
    philanderers. I think deep down most men want to be faithful.”

    I’d like to know how you arrived at that conclusion. My husband and I are
    both involved in ministry, and have a lengthy history of counseling
    families. I could agree that this might occasionally be the case. More
    often, though, it’s the exception, not the rule. If you could back up
    these statements with some statistical support, I would appreciate it. I
    am just not sure that I can accept the veracity of the above statement
    at face value.

    Thanks for asking some intriguing questions. I honestly am not interested in engaging in an online debate – just would like to know how you arrived at some of your conclusions.

    • Hi Teresa. I am only using Downton as an illustration of how extramarital sex was considered scandalous a century ago. I’m not passing judgment on the show or its morals.
      As far as women seeking divorce more often, simply google “Women seek divorce more than men.” I also mention a couple of studies in my latest book, “What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You.”

      • Teresa Jerry Nelson

        Thanks, David. I appreciate the prompt response.

        I will check out those sources, although Google can sometimes be a minefield. It helps to know which sources are reputable and have acquired and interpreted data properly. Not sure I will buy the book just to source a couple of studies, though. 😉 I am homeschooling five children, so my book budget is a little stressed, to put it mildly.

        And just for clarification – I didn’t think you were passing judgment on the show (personally, I have ceased to watch it.) I just wish you had used actual historical support for your statement instead of a fictional TV series. I believe that it weakens your argument.


        • I chose Downton because it’s all the rage and lots of people are familiar with it – even the young. That world seems alien to the upcoming generation.

          • Teresa Jerry Nelson

            Ok – I won’t quibble with you about Downton.

            I still, though, can’t find support for this statement:
            “Men are naturally defensive of their marriages and wives. Husbands tend to be happier in their marriages than wives.”

            There are occasions when this is absolutely true. My brother’s marriage was like this. He loved his wife. He was happy. Until she started pulling away. He did everything he could to hold things together, but all of her friends insisted that hers was a starter marriage and that she needed to move on and marry someone of higher financial status, etc. She was the one having numerous affairs. He was faithful until the very end, even taking her back every time she wandered away. I am not sure, though, that his behavior was necessarily generated from anything other than unhealthy co-dependence, even though he’s a great guy and a believer to boot. 🙂

            I’ve seen this in other marriages though, so I am aware that this scenario does play out in real life. And I do believe that men start out in marriage absolutely wanting the first statement to be true – they want to love their wives and stay married.

            I am also not disagreeing with the statistics that women initiate divorce more often than men. This, too, is true. But “Why are women initiating divorce?” is the important question. “Why are women not as happy?” If your statement were absolutely true (men tended to be happier and were naturally defensive of their marriages), then I don’t think women would be seeking divorces in such numbers.

            Is it possible that the men who say in a survey, “My marriage is good. I am happy,” might possibly be blissfully unaware that they are facilitating a marital environment in which the wife is dismally unhappy?

            Here’s an excerpt from an article that popped up first in a Google search I initiated upon your suggestion:

            “Each day I am confronted by women who are extremely frustrated with their marriages. They usually express no hope that their husbands will ever understand
            what it is that frustrates them, let alone change enough to solve the problem. From their perspective, marital problems are created by their husbands who do little or
            nothing to solve them. Wives tend to see themselves as the major force for resolving conflicts, and when they give up their effort, the marriage is usually over.”

            This article is predicated on the assumption that gay marital behavior could influence the behavior of their straight male counterparts, which you apparently see in a rather positive light, or at least have interpreted it to be such from data you have researched. But is that positive spin really truthful? (I am not suggesting here that it’s your spin – it could be derived from one of the studies you mentioned.) If straight men have the same struggles as gay men, then the entire argument is unsubstantiated.

            When I Googled “women seek divorce more than men”, I didn’t find that men were happier and more protective/defensive of their unions and wives. What I did find is that the largest percentage of women who are leaving their marriages are claiming spousal neglect and mental cruelty. Their husbands are spending more time on their jobs, hobbies, obsessions, or addictions than on communicating in their marriages. That doesn’t sound like the description of a happy, attentive, invested, protective/defensive husband.

            Instead, here’s the statement I found:

            “Women tend to be more concerned about their marriages than men. They buy most of the books on marriage to try to improve them and initiate most marriage
            counseling. They often complain about their marriages to their closest friends and sometimes to anyone who will listen. And they also file for divorce twice as often as men.”

            Sorry to still be quibbling with you on this one, but I still don’t agree with your statement, based on my twenty years of experience. The statement I referenced is the one that I find most true most of the time, although certainly (as in the case of my brother) not all the

            I highly doubt that if straight men “wanted deep down to remain faithful”, the knowledge that some gay marriages embrace openness would cause them to abandon these “high ideals”. Straight men, even if not participating in adultery, still have ample opportunity to sample the “sexual salad bar” through pornography, which is every bit as damaging as physical affairs. And those who do take the plunge and stray from their spouses often don’t report any unhappiness at home. Here’s a stat for you: “Men in long-term marriages, who had affairs, had very high marital satisfaction. On the other hand, women in long-term marriages who had an affair had very low marital satisfaction.” Men are still the leaders in infidelity in marriage, but women are quickly catching up. Is the gay community really corrupting what is already corrupt?

            It could just be that I don’t understand your statement, or that I am misreading it. If possible, could you please post the specific studies or sources to which you refer when you asserted that men are tend to be happier in marriage than their wives, etc.? And that this happiness keeps them from participating in an open marriage arrangement?

            I do agree, though, with the main point of this article: the Church should be the model of fidelity and our marriages a picture of Christ and His Bride, undefiled by the lack of faithfulness and steadfastness that we see around us in the marriages of those who seek out relationships only for personal physical pleasure, casting them aside when the fascination ceases.

  • FoodPolice

    The problem is… unlike the concept of marriage… the homosexual life style is not base on being monogamist.