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Joy Behar: Gays Unable to Fulfill Obligations of Matrimony
Gay Groups Silent

One of the main reasons I find it difficult to embrace the gay marriage, er, marriage equality movement, is that its proponents seem more interested in the abstract notion of “equality” than in the real institution of marriage. Its advocates are less interested in promoting marriage than in winning, to borrow an expression from my friend Dale Carpenter, a “trophy in the cultural wars.

We see this again this week when none of the national gay organizations took issue with those in the media who contend that gay people are incapable of meeting one of the primary obligations of matrimony:  monogamy.  Last Tuesday, January 26, on The View, Joy Behar said that gays, “don’t take monogamy and infidelity the same way that the straight community does.”  Two days later in the New York Times, Scott James reported approvingly on the number of gay couples trying “to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony.”  Many are omitting monogamy:

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.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of those couples consider themselves married.  And to be sure, while it wouldn’t be my choice to be part of an open relationship, I do believe individuals should be free to design their relationships as they see fit.  Open relationships may well be fulfilling to the individuals involved, but they’re not marriages.

Given that marriage is based on sexual exclusivity, to call a nonmonogamous union “marriage” is indeed to subvert the meaning of the institution.

By refusing to criticize those who see gay people as incapable of monogamy, gay organizations lend credence to social conservative arguments that gay marriage advocates seek to subvert the institution they’re ostensibly trying to promote.  I could find nothing denouncing Ms. Behar on the web-sites of the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights or even Freedom (sic) to Marry.  Even my various google searches turned up no commentary from the head of these organizations taking Ms. Behar to task for her prejudice against gay people.  I could find none addressing the New York Times article.

As can be expected, it was only on blogs where gay people defended the ability of their fellows to meet the same conditions of marriage expected of our straight peers. The folks at Queerty responded that conversations about gay monogamy are best left in hands other than The View gals. Over at Good As You, Jeremy Hooper was astounded that Behar “could have such an uninformed opinion about gay relationships as a whole“:

Regardless of one’s personal views on monogamy, it’s downright weird to hear gay couples put in this “other” category that is monolithically one thing. . . .  [Her] comments (which she qualified as being just her own understanding) don’t at all change that. They simply highlight our continued need to bust down old stereotypes which paint “gay” as one certain thing. She seemed more than open to the possibility that she was off, and said that she sought corrections — so this is an opportunity to inform, not chastise. To push back with a different view.

Bold (but not italics) added.  Well said, Jeremy, very well said.  If we want marriage, we need bust down those old stereotypes.

It’s too bad that our paid advocates aren’t up to that.  And their failure to do so leads me to question their understanding of the responsibilities and purposes of marriage.

UPDATE:  It should be clear from the post that I believe Ms. Behar is wrong to believe that gay people are incapable of monogamy.  I believe we are capable of monogamy.  One reader thought I was siding with the View hostess; I most definitely am not.

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24 Comments

  1. As an actual *gay marriage* supporter – in other words, a supporter of gay people understanding the concepts of commitment, monogamy and family and participating in them for real – I can’t find much fault with this post.

    The phrase “marriage equality” itself shows that ME advocates don’t understand the purpose of State marriage licensing – which is to create a certain amount of inequality, promoting and privileging one kind of relationship over others. To wit: privileging stable and exclusive relationships among unrelated adults over the relationships of the polyamorous, the incestuous, etc.

    In most States and countries today, the above licensing continues to privilege heterosexual relationships and not homosexual. But not in all States/countries. And if we gay marriage advocates would persuade the other States/countries to change, then we must make a positive case for how it would benefit society (not us). And we can’t do that if we’re idiots blathering on about equality and sexual revolution, hoping to change basic features of the institution such as the expectation/ideal of monogamy.

    Even when straights don’t live up to the ideal of monogamy – which is too often – they usually continue to acknowledge it as an ideal. To say it another way, the majority of them retain enough sanity and guts to call cheating “cheating”. Gays and lesbians should do the same. Those who can’t, should have the guts to admit that they don’t really want to be married.

    while it wouldn’t be my choice to be part of an open relationship, I do believe individuals should be free to design their relationships as they see fit. Open relationships may well be fulfilling to the individuals involved, but they’re not marriages.

    Yes.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — January 31, 2010 @ 8:50 pm - January 31, 2010

  2. “Given that marriage is based on sexual exclusivity”? Really? Should we take a trip in our way-back machine and ask that question to societies over the centuries? Do you think people of power, money and property in arranged marriages adhered to this (to say nothing of today).

    I’m lucky enough to have many friends for years who have been in relationship sof r 10, 15, 20 years and longer. A number of them “play” (for lack of a better term), but they don’t lie about it to each other and they always know who they’re going home to at the end of the day. Seems to me that’s a bit stronger than a relationshp based on lies, cheating, etc which end up in misery for all properties.

    Using this as a reason to attack same sex marriages is ludicrous and nothing but another red herring in this issue. Let’s do a study of non-monogamous, married heterosexuals and you can get back to me on this one.

    By the way…..”the View gals”? oh my…

    Comment by Kevin — January 31, 2010 @ 11:08 pm - January 31, 2010

  3. Um, Kevin, the basic premise of marriage has always been sexual exclusivity. Ever heard of the 7th commandment? That goes pretty way back.

    oh, and, please note, I’m not attacking gay marriages, but faulting those who support “marriage equality” for failing to address monogamy. As to your unfaithful friends, please check what I said about such folk in the post above. They may well be happily partnered, but they’re not married.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — January 31, 2010 @ 11:10 pm - January 31, 2010

  4. Dan,
    You said, “open relationships may well be fullfilling to the individuals involved, but they are not marriages”.
    If I consult my Randon House dictionary, the most interesting definition is “an intimate association or union”. Which of course can occur between two people even if they decide that they are going to openly play around on the side.
    It worries me that people are defining what the rules of marriage should be for others. If a person and their partner have relations with other people, and it is agreed upon by both parties, I do not see how that undermines the validity of their commitment to each other and the state of their union.
    The important aspects of this type of relationship or any for that matter is the honesty and dignity that the parties bring to each other. Monogomy is important if that is what is agreed upon. It is not the fundamental building block of the relationship. Honestly and trust and dignity (to repeat myself) are.

    Comment by JimG — January 31, 2010 @ 11:21 pm - January 31, 2010

  5. What does God want for gay relationships? I realize that seems like such a silly question, but, for me, morality must be based on doing what God wants me to do and having sex with the person God wants me to have sex with. It seems that God has a big problem with adultery. Jesus didn’t allow for divorce. I can’t see He would be any more happy with open gay relationships.

    I believe that several mainline denominations are in the process of serious discernment of what God wants for gays, and the answers have all been that gays are called, like straights, to relationships which are lifelong, sexually exclusive, and publicly accountable.

    If gays are not willing to play by the same rules as straights, if gays are not willing to even participate in the process of discerning God’s will for gays, then I don’t see why I should support gay marriage (which I would call a “covenant” since I think marriage is for heterosexuals). I don’t want legal rights for open relationships or multiple partners. I, as a gay man, want my relationship to enhance tradition, not undermine it.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — January 31, 2010 @ 11:30 pm - January 31, 2010

  6. JimG, please read what I said in the post and my comment. Monogamy may well not be a building block for a relationship, but it is an essential aspect of marriage.

    Please appreciate the distinction.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — January 31, 2010 @ 11:37 pm - January 31, 2010

  7. Dan,
    Why do you ask me to “read what I said in my post and my comment”? What do you think I was referring to in my post?
    And this time I read about monogamy “…but it is an essential aspect of marriage.” You also say, “given that marriage is based on sexual exclusivity”…says who?
    There have been many interpretations of marriage throughout history and very different practicies in different cultures.
    We might have our ideas about the best manifestation of the concept but to say that any idea other than our own is NOT marriage is much to limited. And in my view and has a questionable place in a democratic society. Especially when one is dealing with something as intmate as a marriage relationship.
    I did read what you said, I just have other thoughts about it.

    Comment by JimG — February 1, 2010 @ 12:02 am - February 1, 2010

  8. JimG, I’ll grant you do have other thoughts on marriage, but they’re not based on the institution as it has existed in Western civilization for the past several thousand years.

    Yes, there are examples of people violating their marital vows for about as long as we have evidence of marital vows, but the fact that they’re violations indicates that they (those doing the violations) have run afoul of the ideals of the institution.

    Monogamy is and has been an essential aspect of marriage. That’s a fact, not an opinion. Says who? Just go read any serious study of marriage, consider the words of marital vows. Check the Bible and any other religious institution which has sanctioned matrimony.

    All that said, while I’m skeptical that a nonmonogamous couple can achieve any depth of intimacy in their union, it is not for me to set the standards for their relationship. Even if it is a “healthy” relationship, by the long-standing definition of the term, it’s not a marriage.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 1, 2010 @ 1:28 am - February 1, 2010

  9. Isn’t it a little premature to start promoting “open” marriage for gays who have yet to secure gay marriage?

    There is nothing so sad and at the same time ridiculous as someone promoting “open” marriage. I guess that David Letterman, John Edwards, Gov. Sanford, et. al. just can’t pull it off like Bill and Hillary. (This is not to imply that anyone else would have Hillary.)

    Comment by heliotrope — February 1, 2010 @ 2:54 am - February 1, 2010

  10. Yay, I got a positive mention on GP. :-)

    I too was a little surprised that no group, esp. GLAAD, felt the need to weigh in on this. I know for a fact that they were aware, and were even asked to say something.

    Comment by G-A-Y — February 1, 2010 @ 8:40 am - February 1, 2010

  11. Dan, I pretty much agree with your post. While there is and have been plenty of examples of married couples cheating (ranging from a one-time big mistake to continuous and literally flaunting), the ideal of marriage has always been monogamy.

    The thing is, whether we call a relationship that is nonmonogamous a marriage or not, there are plenty of married people that do not live up to that ideal. These persons are legally married, even if we don’t wish to call such relationships a marriage. And despite the many examples of infidelity, straight marriage still exists. It’s because we still want that to be the ideal for straight relationships. And while it is true that there are plenty of examples of “committed” gay couples who play around, shouldn’t we also still encourage gay couples to the same ideal of a monogamous relationship as marriage? Yes, I know a gay couple doesn’t need marriage to be monogamous. But the same would be true for straight couples.

    I agree with you that it is best if we talk about why same sex marriage would be beneficial to gay people, and everyone else, instead of just focusing on the equality angle. But keep in mind that we don’t put the same litmus test on every single straight couple that decides to marry, who may end up marrying for reasons that have nothing to do with what marriage is about (for money, position, nonromantic alliance, getting married only for the sake of getting married). Should we hold all couples to the same scrutiny that is being insisted upon for gay couples?

    As for Joy Behar, I don’t know the exact circumstances in which she made her claim, but if I take her words at face value, I obviously disagree with it. Any person, gay or straight is capable of monogamy. It’s a question of whether the person wishes to remain monogamous while in a committed relationship. One of the differences now between gay and straight relationships is that there has been a long standing expectation that married couples remain monogamous. However, up until very recently, there has never been any expectation of gay relationships, because such relationships were either prohibited, shunned, regarded as sinful, etc. So there shouldn’t too much of a surprise that there should be monogamy, or anything else that you would expect from a straight married couple. And while we are finally entering the first generation of gay children growing up with same sex marriage and civil unions in some places in the U.S., it will be a while when we have a generation of children growing up where gay children will be raised and encouraged to have the same kind of expectations of relationships that we currently have for our straight children.

    Perhaps Behar comment was tongue in cheek. Perhaps Behar was only repeating something that some of her gay friends have told her. Yes, unfortunately too many gay people believe that. It’s going to take time for this change in attitude to occur. Frankly, I believe same sex marriage is a good first step for such a change in attitude.

    Comment by Pat — February 1, 2010 @ 10:07 am - February 1, 2010

  12. 5.What does God want for gay relationships? I realize that seems like such a silly question, but, for me, morality must be based on doing what God wants me to do and having sex with the person God wants me to have sex with.

    Ashpenaz, it’s not a silly question. The only thing is that, in this country alone, there will be at least 300 million different answers to that question. For all we know, some people may believe that God wants them to have an open relationship, and can justify it using Scripture.

    We need a solution that we believe will be beneficial to gay couples, and society as a whole, while allowing for the freedom of those, including gay people, who still don’t want to marry a person of the same sex.

    There is nothing so sad and at the same time ridiculous as someone promoting “open” marriage. I guess that David Letterman, John Edwards, Gov. Sanford, et. al. just can’t pull it off like Bill and Hillary.

    Heliotrope, except for possibly the Clintons, the other three married couples did not have open relationships. In those cases, the husband cheated, most likely, without seeking permission from their wives. My guess is that, at some point, Bill had a tacit approval from Hillary to have extramarital affairs, but wanted him to be discreet about it. Anyway, that’s only a guess.

    Comment by Pat — February 1, 2010 @ 10:16 am - February 1, 2010

  13. Pat, one partner had an “open” relationship and the other partner was left in the dark. I take your point. But the larger point is that marriage is a “two as one” concept and it is full of enough pitfalls without trying to turn it into a “two as one, except for extra marital dalliances, which do not count.”

    I have often wondered if little Mormon children who grow up in one of those multi-wives homes aspire to be a collector of wives (for the boys) or one of a man’s many wives (for the girls.) I am not sure that custom can overwhelm human nature.

    John Edwards got caught in a wild oats infidelity. Gays are exempt from creating bastard children, so perhaps some gays take extra comfort in sexual license.

    I have no compulsion to defend Joy Behar on anything. I fail to understand her practical utility. Her intellectual power could not ring a doorbell and her wit is elitist snark when she is being on her best behavior. Perhaps she can out perform Bette Midler and I have missed it. What little I have bothered to watch of her convinces me that she is nothing more than a prized cookie jar in a world that operates pretty much without cookie jars.

    Comment by heliotrope — February 1, 2010 @ 11:13 am - February 1, 2010

  14. I am openly gay, and I am an ardent supporter of marriage equality. It is grossly presumptuous for Ms. Behar to conclude that gay persons, as a group, are incapable of being monogamous, or are unwilling to be monogamous, based on a study of 556 gay male couples living in San Francisco. It is also grossly presumptuous for the columnist to conclude that organizations as the Human Rights Campaign (“HRC”), the Gay and Lesbian Task Force (“GLTF”), etc. represent the attitudes and values of the entire gay community, throughout the US.

    Did Ms. Behar not consider the possibility that those gay couples to whom marriage equality is very important may also be those gay couples who most strongly embrace such core marital concepts as monogamy? In other words, did Ms. Behar not take into consideration the strong likelihood that those gay persons to whom the issue of marriage equality is extremely important may also be those gay persons who attach greater value to monogamy than that entertained by other gay persons? It is entirely possible that those gay men and lesbians who are pushing for marriage equality may also be those gay men and lesbians to whom concepts such as monogamy and fidelity are very important. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that those gay couples who do not attach great significance to marriage equality may also be more likely to accept open relationships.

    Ms. Behar has fallen into a pitfall against which all researchers in social attitudes have to be constantly on guard. Did she try to establish whether those gay couples in the sample of 556 gay couples were all activists for gay marriage? Did she conduct any form of research to determine their attitudes of those gay male couples before arriving at her conclusions?

    Also, Ms. Behar is commenting about a study that expressly excludes half of the gay population, by focusing only on gay males. Why did this study not include lesbian couples?

    The problem here is that the sample in question was not selected to determine whether or not the gay couples in question were interested in this issue. In other words, the study accepted the premise that all gay couples are strongly supportive of gay marriage – and this may well be not true at all.

    In short, the fact that there was little outcry from these organizations may reflect the fact that they do not represent the attitudes of those gay persons who most strongly believe in marriage equality.

    PHILIP CHANDLER

    Comment by Philip Chandler — February 1, 2010 @ 1:29 pm - February 1, 2010

  15. There is another issue to consider here. The fact that some couples – both gay and straight – are not monogamous does not mean that such persons should not be permitted to marry. Marriage represents an aspiration, just as much as it reflects a contractual and emotional bond between two persons. The fact that some persons are not faithful to their vows does not mean that the entire community – gay or straight – should discount the importance of marriage. Such failures of fidelity represent precisely that – failures. We do not discard, or abandon, an institution such as marriage based on the fact that some persons don’t take their vows seriously.

    PHILIP CHANDLER

    Comment by Philip Chandler — February 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm - February 1, 2010

  16. [...] Joy Behar: Gays Unable to Fulfill Obligations of MatrimonyGay Groups Silent [...]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Gay People are Capable of Monogamy — February 1, 2010 @ 5:58 pm - February 1, 2010

  17. [...] Joy Behar: Gays Unable to Fulfill Obligations of MatrimonyGay Groups Silent [...]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » On monogamy & marriage — February 1, 2010 @ 7:36 pm - February 1, 2010

  18. A typical marriage is still a private contract to ‘love, honor, and cherish’ each other through ‘sickness and health’ until ‘death do [you] part’, yes?

    As such, it should be celebrated and encouraged – as it lifts the burden for care from the state. And becomes an argument FOR gay marriage. . .

    Comment by Jax Dancer — February 1, 2010 @ 8:38 pm - February 1, 2010

  19. as it lifts the burden for care from the state.

    It does? There’s no married couples receiving welfare? food stamps? medicaid? There’s no widows or widowers on welfare? No per-child tax credits? No social security survivorship rights?

    If thats a purpose of marriage, then I demand a law! No more government aid to married people! After all, we certainly cant be subsidizing marriage if it exists so that we wont have to subsidize people!

    And we are currently subsidizing the hell out of it!

    Comment by American Elephant — February 2, 2010 @ 12:46 am - February 2, 2010

  20. One of the main reasons I find it difficult to embrace the gay marriage, er, marriage equality movement, is that its proponents seem more interested in the abstract notion of “equality” than in the real institution of marriage. Its advocates are less interested in promoting marriage than in winning, to borrow an expression from my friend Dale Carpenter, a “trophy in the cultural wars.“

    But the issue is equality. It doesn’t have to be marriage, it could be getting a driver’s license, or using public drinking fountains. If a government doesn’t allow you to do something based purely on a particular group of religions’ beliefs – that is wrong, duh.

    And who cares about promoting the institution of marriage? That’s not why people get married.

    Given that marriage is based on sexual exclusivity, to call a nonmonogamous union “marriage” is indeed to subvert the meaning of the institution.

    Lots of straight married people have sex with people outside their relationship, and again, whose meaning you trying to force everyone to go by here? People don’t get married because they want to continue a tradition, generally it’s more local than that – they just want to promise to commit to each other.

    And all this talk about the ‘institution of marriage’ is ridiculous in this day and age. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. You can get married at the Circus Circus to a stripper you’ve known for less than half a day. Maybe for some people marriage is a big deal, but the rest of us aren’t obligated to let them set the rules for how it works and who can take part.

    Comment by Levi — February 2, 2010 @ 7:13 am - February 2, 2010

  21. Yes Levi, and people don’t believe that 13 year olds should drive, or that blind people should either. So they pass laws to have minimum qualifications. In most states, those laws include marriage being limited to two people, one of each gender.

    Still, you should be happy with the status quo. After all, the supreme court has ruled that laws limiting marriage do not violate the constitution. since you hold that the Supreme court gets to decide which parts of the constitution are more important than others you shouldn’t disagree with that.

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 2, 2010 @ 7:36 am - February 2, 2010

  22. Levi,

    You really should visit fly over country sometime and meet the millions and millions of people who are married who do not fit your description.

    It is not surprising to me that someone with your take on society would know a bunch of straight losers who have crippled their marriage. Just because your crowd may be into wife swapping or aiming to be the Manson Family Part II, it does not mean that you have an insight into America.

    Comment by heliotrope — February 2, 2010 @ 8:24 am - February 2, 2010

  23. Joy Behar makes the obnoxious idiots on the Jersey Shore MTV program look sane and reasonable. That any state in the nation should have to endure so many stereotypical idiot representations in the media is a fair question for the Columbia J-School experts.

    Meanwhile, Nielsen shows that Behar’s HLN show does no better than the show she replaced “Issues w/ Jane Velez-Mitchell”. It’s gotta hurt to be equal to the show your employer axed… maybe that’s why Joy Behar is doing the Bill Maher “Outrage a Day” schtick? Ratings?

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — February 2, 2010 @ 11:41 am - February 2, 2010

  24. Just maybe Joy Behar could hit it big if she were to follow in the footsteps of the late, great Billy Mays. She comes off as a natural born hustler who is able to do the whole room. I will bet she can do amazing tricks with a Sham-Wow.

    Comment by heliotrope — February 2, 2010 @ 3:35 pm - February 2, 2010

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