Preston Sprinkle, in his book People to Be Loved, expresses some truly atrocious ideas. Arguably the most offensive of the lot is his suggestion that gay people should marry straight people. Today I’ll show you why he thinks that’d be a great idea, and why he’s wrong.
A Quick Recap: The Options On the Table.
Here are the basic life options that Preston Sprinkle allows to gay people in order for them to be acceptable to King Him–er, sorry, to his god, whose opinions only coincidentally happen to exactly mirror his own:
1: Be totally celibate forever and hope for the best.
2: Marry someone of the opposite sex and hope for the best.
2.5: Undergo reparative therapy, become straight (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), proceed to option 1 or 2, and hope for the best.
We’ve talked about celibacy and reparative therapy already, so now we’ll dive into his suggestion about marriage. What he’s proposing here is called a mixed-orientation marriage between a gay person and a straight person.
The term “mixed-orientation marriage” describes a marriage between partners whose sexual orientations leaves one or both of them unable to feel attracted to their partner. A compatible-orientation marriage is one in which the orientations of the partners match comfortably (like two opposite-sex heterosexual folks, or a bisexual person married to someone of either sex, or two asexual people); their orientations don’t necessarily match, but at least they’re compatible with that of the partner.
The Reasoning Behind His Suggestion.
I thought that society was well past suggesting that gay people marry straight people at all. The idea seems barbaric, cruel, and most of all guaranteed to end in heartbreak and misery for everyone involved. But here we are in This Current Year with a fundagelical seriously suggesting the idea yet again. I’m starting to see a lot more buzz around this idea, so I don’t think that he’s to blame for it. He’s just the latest in a line of Christians making similar suggestions.
Here is Preston Sprinkle’s attempt at rationalizing the idea (from p. 162-3):
It’s tough to know for sure why some MO (mixed-orientation) marriages fail. After all, many Christian heterosexual marriages fail, and some of the ones that stick it out are plagued with loneliness, depression, and porn addiction–till death do them part. Does this mean that heterosexuals shouldn’t attempt to get married? You can see the hypocritical logic here. [Um, we can? — CC] The frequent failure of marriage doesn’t mean that it is inherently destructive. Perhaps we’re going about it all wrong. . . This doesn’t mean that it isn’t still an option that could end in a beautiful, joyful, yet difficult relationship. But that’s true of all marriages, right? Beautiful. Joyful. Difficult.
Words. simply. fail. me. But let’s try to see where he’s going with this, because it’s a chain of reasoning that he thinks is completely compelling.
HAPPY PREMISE #1:
All marriages face difficulties of various sorts. And all marriages are difficult.
HAPPY PREMISE #2:
Christian and non-Christian couples alike face difficulties and fail, as do mixed- and compatible-orientation couples.
HAPPY PREMISE #3:
We have no earthly idea why some of those failed marriages failed or why it is that some couples make it through periods of great stress while others don’t.
Orientation mismatch is not an automatic sentence of marital discord or divorce, and therefore an incompatibility in orientation should not be considered a dealbreaker out of hand.
Preston Sprinkle flunked the pattern-recognition part of kindergarten.
Why Preston Sprinkle Is Wrong.
These errors are so incredibly ignorant that it’s shocking that someone as educated as he is, as so earnestly desiring to be compassionate, and as frequently-corrected as he is on his own blog by actual LGBTQ people, could make them at all.
First, he puts the difficulties faced by compatible-orientation couples on the same shelf as the difficulties faced by mixed-orientation couples.
Some differences simply can’t be resolved unless one partner totally capitulates to the desires of the other partner–but if the matter is a dealbreaker, capitulation isn’t possible. For example, if one person wants kids but the other does not ever want to be a parent, there’s no way that difference can be resolved in a way that honors both partners’ wishes. Either the partner who desperately wants children will go without parenthood, or the partner who really doesn’t want kids must allow children into his or her life. Other differences are equally serious, like what city a couple will call home, or how often a couple has sex (and how, and with whom). In these cases, the couple will probably break up–or face a whole lot of drama. All couples, regardless of orientation or gender, face these dealbreaker questions. That much is true.
A major difference in sexual desire is one of those dealbreakers. Without the entrenched bigotry of the Christian Right, there’d be little-to-no reason for a gay person to even consider marrying a straight person because both groups know right out of the gate that they’re not attracted to each other and will face an insurmountable difference in sexual desire and compatibility. Even Christians themselves tend to put an emphasis on romantic and sexual attraction to their partners, but in their religion this particular dealbreaker is often not given the respect it deserves. We’ll talk about that topic more soon, but for now I’ll just note that Christians tend to believe, thanks to their equally ludicrous obsession with self-denial and sexual “purity,” that they can somehow move past such base, animal appetites as sexual desire.
Heartbreakingly, it’s often only when such a couple gets married and moves in together that they get smacked upside their heads by the cold, hard hand of reality. Then suddenly the idealism of their dating days in the light of the Happy Christian Illusion fades before the stark reality of day-to-day living with someone who simply doesn’t–and often can’t–be the full partner that each of them needs.
Preston Sprinkle is asking such mixed-orientation couples to take an enormous risk here in embarking on a relationship with that kind of strike against them from the get-go, but it’s not like he has a damned thing to lose, now is it?
Second, we actually have a really good idea of exactly why certain difficulties are harder than others to endure, and which are the hardest to weather.
Preston Sprinkle would probably squirm rather uncomfortably to know exactly how much we do know about marriage, since most of it contradicts what his tribe has been teaching about the topic since before either he or I were born. For example, we already know that financial insecurity, having kids too early or too often or too young, being too young at the time of the wedding, and lack of education can cause unendurable stress for a couple.
In the same way, we already know that mixed-orientation marriages face stresses that most compatible-orientation marriages simply cannot imagine. There are already tons of these marriages, incidentally–mostly begun under clouds of miscommunication and ongoing suspicion. And we already know that most of these marriages end in divorce, by the estimates of the leaders of their own support groups (even the Wiki article about these marriages has 2/3 of them ending in divorce–yikes!). As Vice concludes of the gay men interviewed in mixed-orientation marriages,
The world they describe is hemmed in by fear, embarrassment, and a desire to please everyone but oneself. Perhaps in time, people will look back on [mixed-orientation marriages] with pity, just as the children of the Enlightenment scorned the God-botherers of the Middle Ages.
Sixty Percent of the Time, Communication Fixes Everything Every Time.
Thanks to Christian bigotry-for-Jesus, though, gay people are still getting together with straight people and either not being honest with them, not being honest with themselves, or being overly-hopeful about their own abilities to function in a mixed-orientation marriage. And Preston Sprinkle thinks that the big problem here is that these couples need more communication.
He piously declares (p. 163) that why gosh, all marriages require communication! So really, a mixed-orientation couple just needs to do exactly what compatible-orientation couples should be doing all the time anyway.
To his credit, he doesn’t advise gay people to lie about their orientation to opposite-sex partners (which I’m totally, totally sure would never, ever, ever happen), nor does he think there’d be a lot of sexual chemistry between the partners, but he says it’d (hopefully) just be that way at first. Why, he’s got this totally gay male friend who totally married a straight woman and at first they didn’t have much chemistry at all! But they were super-communicative and honest about their feelings, and now they’re really happy and claim that they have a “relationally and sexually fulfilling” marriage. Gosh, maybe couples like them could even “teach us all a good deal about godly matrimony” (still p. 163).
Are you convinced yet? Are you?
Even other Christians could have told Dr. Sprinkle what the likely reason is that his friend’s marriage didn’t turn out disastrously.
Last year, Salon reviewed the work of Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical psychology professor who thinks that men who enter marriages like the ones Preston Sprinkle describes fall into one of three different groups: most of these men are likely actually bisexual. The second group was “pretty exclusively gay,” he says, and initially felt no attraction to their wives but hoped to grow into that feeling in time; this group, as you can guess, generally married out of religious pressure. The third group was generally gay but felt physically attracted to their wives–but not, they said, to any other women.
So all in all, a pairing of opposite-sex people wherein one person is heterosexual and their partner is bisexual to at least some extent wouldn’t be a bad idea. Many self-affirming and openly bisexual people are in marriages exactly like this, and they are doing great from what I can see.
But that’s not what is being advised here.
Flat-out telling people to take such a dreadful risk sounds hideously irresponsible to me. It’s hard enough for most people to stay married when they’re wildly in love with each other at the time of their weddings. Not even TRUE CHRISTIANS™ manage to stay together under those ideal conditions–as Dr. Sprinkle himself has conceded.
But he thinks he’s got this one covered.
How to Have a Mismatch Made in Heaven.
Here are Preston Sprinkle’s guidelines for how to ensure success for a mixed-orientation couple:
1. The partners must be totally honest and transparent with each other from the start.
(Obviously, if the people involved don’t actually have much experience with relationships at all, they won’t know what they’re being honest about or what they need from a partner, much less what their boundaries are or how much they can handle in terms of stress, but this is still a requirement.)
2. They must be “grounded in a rich, radically authentic, relational bond.”
(Don’t ask what that actually means in lived reality or how to tell when such a bond is present or absent. If you don’t already have a good idea of what this Christianese word-salad means, he’s certainly not going to define it for you. After making this startling requirement, he whisks straight to the next one. Suck it up, Strawberry Shortcake. Context is for people who don’t have a sufficient Jesus-auras.)
3. There should be no “outside pressure [on the gay person] to pursue such a marriage.”
(When I read this sentence, I just about laughed out loud. There would, literally, not be any reason for any gay person to pursue this kind of marriage except for the outside pressure exerted by Preston Sprinkle’s tribe.)
That last point is something I want to drill down on. Just as Preston Sprinkle mistakenly thinks that he can condemn and ostracize a gay person while being loving, he equally-mistakenly thinks that his tribe can avoid putting undue pressure on gay people to cause them to consider what for straight fundagelicals would be totally, utterly unthinkable. And the fact that he presents this sort of relationship as one of the only acceptable options for a gay person–with the only other alternatives being humiliating and abusive alt-med quackery or else cold celibacy–is, itself, quite a lot of pressure.
A Recipe for Divorce.
You’d think someone subscribing to what he proudly refers to as a “traditional sexual ethic” might hesitate to advise a course of action that seems all but totally guaranteed to end in painful divorce for almost every person foolish enough to try it, all on the basis of anecdotes about a couple of friends of his–anecdotes that might or might not be accurate, and even in the best of cases are no more than a snapshot taken at the time of writing. (Remember, two of the success-story couples featured in one of Joshua Harris’ courtship books have broken up since he wrote it.)
Every time I read this particular part of the book, I am astonished anew (and progressively more and more pissed off) at the fundagelical capacity for inflicting distress and anguish on the people they marginalize–all while believing that they’re being loving and gracious. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time a Christian leader gave his flocks advice that seemed similarly guaranteed to result in failed marriages, but it’s one of the most devastating examples of the breed.
It’s hard not to think that this advice is actually meant to be a response to accusations made against fundagelicals regarding their separate-but-equal doctrines. Michele Bachmann once famously chirped that gay people have all the same rights that straight people have–to marry someone of the opposite sex. Maybe this is Preston Sprinkle’s attempt to lavish gay people with the same rights he has–to marry someone of the opposite sex. He can’t possibly be discriminating against gay folks if he “allows” them to marry, now can he?
So he’s carved out this very little chunk of marriage and offered it to gay people as a sop. They can have this chunk as a reward for following his rules, and if they accept that sop then they’ll be slightly more acceptable to him then. They’ll fit into his paradigm at that point; they won’t be challenging any of his ideas or getting uppity. The couples thus created will look familiar to him and give him no startling new societal developments to absorb and adjust to. And best of all, they will be doing what he has demanded of them.
Little wonder that more and more people are finding creative ways to tell fundagelicals to sit and swivel on their cruel demands.
We’re going to be talking next time about entitlement, bridge-building to nowhere, and just what fundagelicals don’t want to understand about where they stand in the culture war. See you next time!
If you want to see all of the posts I’ve done about this book, here’s the tagged list!