The Washington Post ran a really interesting article last Sunday about one of three women whose marriages fell apart because of the same-sex infidelity of their spouses. I have friends who were married prior to identifying as gay or lesbian and friends who married despite their same-sex attraction (it's complicated). And I also have friends who found out about their spouses' different sexual identity during marriage. It's a great idea for a story.
The problem is that the sad personal stories of the three women are hijacked in pursuit of a political agenda. From the get-go, the Post bills the phenomenon as a reason for same-sex marriage:
A quiet voice for gay marriage Legalization could avert doomed relationships, straight ex-spouses say
Now, I am sure that such a story as advertised by the headline could be written. The problem is that reporter Theresa Vargas doesn't write it. It's almost like two completely different pieces of journalism melded together. On the one hand, you have women telling of their heartache upon learning of their spouse's infidelity or identity issues. And on the other, you have Vargas writing an essay for same-sex marriage. Notice, in this beginning section, how the quotes don't support the narrative Vargas is advocating:
As the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage in the District grows louder and more polarized, there are people whose support for the proposal is personal but not often talked about. They are federal workers and professionals, men and women who share little except that their former spouses tried to live as heterosexuals but at some point realized they could not.
Many of these former spouses -- from those who still feel raw resentment toward their exes to those who have reached a mutual understanding -- see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a step toward protecting not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. If homosexuality was more accepted, they say, they might have been spared doomed marriages followed by years of self-doubt.
"It's like you hit a brick wall when they come out," [Kimberly] Brooks said. "You think everything is fine and then, boom!"
Now, certainly some ex-spouses of gays must support same-sex marriage. But most of the quotes in the story read simply like sad personal stories about betrayal rather than an argument for or against same-sex marriage.
The story does tell us of Carolyn Sega Lowengart, who found out about her husband's homosexuality after 31 years of marriage. We learn she was "raised Catholic" and believed marriage was forever. She does indicate her support for same-sex marriage, saying:
"We want people to have the right to be who they are," she said. "If that were the case, people like me wouldn't exist."
Then we learn about Joy Parker, a woman who wrote a book about being married to men on the down-low. We get this religion-infused bit that seems to raise more questions than answers:
Parker, who was raised in a church where she was taught that homosexuality was wrong, said she goes back and forth on the issue of same-sex marriage. Even if it is allowed, she said, there will always be men and women who deny they are gay and who marry heterosexuals. It'll take much more than changing the law to alter perceptions about homosexuality.
"Socially, we'll just have to see it as normal," she said. "That's the only way."
Okay, so we have one woman who is for same-sex marriage and one woman who goes back and forth on same-sex marriage.
What about Brooks?
Brooks, who is starting a therapy group for straight spouses, said that for a long time, she neither favored nor opposed same-sex marriage. But as the D.C. Council prepares to vote on the matter next month, she thinks about her former husband.
"It would be heartbreaking if in Rob's final days his partner was not allowed to be in the hospital with him, was not allowed to make decisions for him," she said. "And he's the one person Rob would want there."
I'll just notice that despite Vargas' heroic efforts to set up the quote in a manner that indicates she's in support of changing marriage laws, her actual quote doesn't indicate whether she's in support of changing laws on marriage, in support of changing laws governing civil unions or in support of any law change at all.
Again, maybe all of these women are activists for same-sex marriage. But the reading of the actual quotes provided indicates one woman is in favor of changing the laws governing marriage and two are uncertain.
So revisiting the headline above, that's some "quiet voice" indeed. If these women are, in fact, arguing that legalizing same-sex marriage would avert doomed relationships, this story did a horrendous job of showing that. Instead, it feels like the Post took the betrayal and heartache of three women and used it to fit a predetermined political agenda. At some point, an editor should have taken the reporter aside and asked her to substantiate her thesis better. (I won't even get into the fact that the story paints gay men in a horrible light since all of the stories tell of highly unethical behavior on the part of their exes.)
In this big and diverse country, there have to be three ex-spouses of gays (and three's a trend!) in this world who would have supported the Post's political agenda on this story. I'm not saying I agree that newspapers should be taking sides in the battle over how society defines marriage, but if they're going to (and they are), they should at least do a better job of it.