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.