The Times had an article today on same-sex couples who have open marriages (i.e. are married, civil-unioned, or otherwise committed partners, but have an agreement about dating and/or having sex with people other than the spouse/partner). Completely blowing my mind about what the NYT will cover sanely, I think this article brings to light a point I’ve been trying to negotiate for several months now: namely, the short-term need of same-sex couples to secure partner benefits in what often wind up being life-and-death situations, but with the long-term (and admittedly more radical) question of whether our society needs to be built on monogamous two-person unions hovering in the background. Nut graf:
None of this is news in the gay community, but few will speak publicly about it. Of the dozen people in open relationships contacted for this column, no one would agree to use his or her full name, citing privacy concerns. They also worried that discussing the subject could undermine the legal fight for same-sex marriage.
Right, right, right. Those of us who take a historical approach are aware there was a time when same-sex marriage was a laughable political goal—that just wasn’t the cultural standard by which the gay community (yes, particularly the gay male community) negotiated its sexual and romantic relationships. Of course, there have been groups calling for same-sex marriage since the 1950s, but the movement didn’t become mainstream until the Clinton era and the DOMA fracas and the tidal wave that Goodridge v. Department of Public Health in Massachusetts unleashed. And now, look at how quickly things have changed: I’m as skeptical about marriage as the next professional gay, and yet when it comes down to it, I’ll report on marriage for my job and attend (and plan!) marriage-equality rallies and work on marriage-equality political campaigns. I’ll get into marriage tug-of-wars just like anyone else does. And I’ll admit that I felt a frisson of nervousness reading this headline and then the article, wondering whether it will be used as ammunition to prove that LGBT people are less capable of family values than our straight allies—similar to the so-called evidence of poor “lifestyle choices” used to damn queer people at the onset of the AIDS crisis.
But thank you, NYT, for reminding us that marriage doesn’t just mean replacing “one man, one woman” with “two people,” and that there are so many more ways to have stable committed relationships. I would have liked this article to acknowledge that straight people, too, can have open relationships, and that there isn’t this dichotomy between traditional relationship choices on the part of straight people and exotic ones on the part of queer people. But hey: the more matter-of-fact dealings we can have with non-monogamous relationship patterns, the better off I think we’ll all be.