A few months ago, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to affirm gay clergy in "monogamous" relationships, tmatt noted that the word has different definitions among gay theologians. Some take the traditional definition, arguing that gay unions are forever and that those taking vows must remain sexually faithful to one another. "Twin rocking chairs forever," as tmatt put it. Others say it means serial monogamy, much like the definition used by most heterosexuals today who engage in sexual relations prior to marriage and who divorce easily. This definition requires sexual fidelity for each relationship, so long as it lasts "Twin rocking chairs for right now." And then there's the definition that says that gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians must be "emotionally" faithful to a partner but can have secondary sexual relationships that don't threaten the primary "monogamy." You can read more about these ideas here.
When the ELCA had its vote, there was very little discussion in the media of what the new requirement for gay clergy meant. What did the "monogamy" definition mean? The gay press has done a great job of covering this discussion over the years. This view of sexual monogamy is not a point of shame for the gay community and the gay press has discussed, debated and codified the feature that is present in many gay relationships.
But for some reason, the mainstream media has steadfastly avoided the topic. And they still do, by and large. But there was this rather surprising column or blog post in the New York Times last week that dealt with the issue head on. Judged as an objective news article, it would not hold up too well.
However, this was a classic Got news? piece for this here blog. While fully endorsing a view of marriage without fidelity, "Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret " broke some news that has been hidden from most readers.
The article appeared in The Bay Area Blog, which features coverage of public affairs, commerce, culture and lifestyles in the San Francisco region. It was penned by Scott James, who is described as "an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco." He publishes his award-winning books, which are sexually explicit explorations of gay themes, under the name Kemble Scott. He is an open supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage. His most recent book challenges assumptions about sexual morality by having a protagonist who disseminates health across the planet via gay sex. Anyway, here's the gist of his provocative and interesting piece:
As the trial phase of the constitutional battle to overturn the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage concludes in federal court, gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony. Quietly, outside of the news media and courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that, according to groundbreaking new research.
A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.
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.
That consent is key. "With straight people, it's called affairs or cheating," said Colleen Hoff, the study's principal investigator, "but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations."
I'm not sure if the description of the study's findings is written up as well as it could be. If 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their primary relationship with the knowledge and approval of their partners, that's an utterly fascinating, and newsworthy statistic. Still, I'm curious about the remaining half. What percentage of those surveyed have sex outside of their primary relationship but don't have the knowledge and/or the approval of their partners? It seems like a key piece of information.
The headline refers to such open relationships as "successful." And note the adjectives in the excerpt above. Later we learn that such relationships are a mark of "evolution," show "fresh perspective," "insight," and "innovation." While it's not exactly labeled as such, the article has a definite point of view. And while it does a fantastic job of interviewing actual gay people (something that is lacking in too many stories about gay issues), the article doesn't include any critical perspectives at all. That's not a strength.
Certainly there's at least one person in the world who thinks that sex with multiple partners is not the key to a successful marriage, right? And I'm not just talking about advocates of traditional marriage vows, or advocates of spousal fidelity. We don't even learn how this study will be responded to by people such as Andrew Sullivan (lately seen breaking even his own record for insanity) and others who have argued that same-sex marriage needs to be legalized as an important way of curbing promiscuity and encouraging monogamy in the gay community.
The bottom line, though, is that this study breaks news. Really interesting and important news.
It looks at one of the most fundamental institutions in society and what that institution means for various people who seek to take part in it. This affects religious institutions, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and others that require monogamy for gay clergy. This also could have far-reaching ramifications for religious freedom, as lesbian law professor Chai Feldblum argues. So why is this relegated to a regional blog posting?