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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Redefining Marriage: Straight People Beat Us To It, Ross

Posted by Dan Savage on Tue, Jul 5, 2011 at 1:57 PM

Regular readers won't be shocked by anything in Mark Oppenheimer's piece about me and non-monogamous relationships in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. To recap: I think monogamy is fine, if that's what you want, but monogamy makes some people miserable, men are bad at it and women aren't much better, and in certain cases a little latitude, a little understanding about a degree of outside sexual contact, can save a marriage. Also: people should be honest about their desires, spouses in monogamous relationships need to be GGG, and a one-off infidelity is a blow that an otherwise solid marriage should be able to withstand. Oh, and my big gay marriage isn't monogamous. It's monogamish. Here's a chunk:

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told me, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”


Oppenheimer's piece set conservative NYT columnist Ross Douthat's hands to wringing. Reflecting on marriage equality coming to New York, Douthat wonders whether marriage is going to change gay people, making us more conservative, or if gay people are going to change marriage, making it more radical or de-centered or something. Then Ross brings up another possibility...

[There’s] a third vision that’s worth pondering—neither conservative nor liberationist, but a little bit of both. This vision embraces the institution of marriage, rather than seeking to overthrow it. But it also hints that the example of same-sex unions might partially transform marriage from within, creating greater institutional flexibility—particularly sexual flexibility—for straight and gay spouses alike. This idea is most prominently associated with Dan Savage, the prolific author, activist and sex columnist who was profiled in Sunday’s Times Magazine. Savage is strongly pro-marriage, but he thinks the institution is weighed down by unrealistic cultural expectations about monogamy. Better, he suggests, to define marriage simply as a pact of mutual love and care, and leave all the other rules to be negotiated depending on the couple.

The potential new definition of marriage that you fear, Ross, has been the operational definition of marriage for decades now. A commitment to love and care for each other, other details to be hammered out—that's how straight people currently define marriage. Well, that's how straight people define marriage for themselves. Things that are optional when straight couples marry—monogamy, children, religion, "one man, one woman, for life"—suddenly become a marriage's defining characteristics when same-sex couples want to marry.

The real reason gay marriage makes so many social conservatives uncomfortable? Because it forces them to admit that marriage has already changed and that it was straight people who changed it.

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