No matter how you feel about the recent court decisions regarding marriage, the institution will never be the same. Gone is the idea that the primary purpose of matrimony is procreation and child rearing. Marriage is now squarely focused on the fulfillment and love of the individuals involved.
Some conservatives have warned that new forms of marriage are right around the corner. Polygamy, trans-species marriage (animals) and child brides are the next logical steps, they say. After all, if the government has no legitimate interest in limiting marriage to one man and one woman, what interest does it have in limiting marriage to two individuals — or even to humans?
While these slippery slope arguments have gotten the spotlight, I believe gay marriage will have its greatest impact by accelerating the trend toward open marriage. These are marriages without any expectation that the spouses will remain sexually faithful.
This is clearly what many gay men are thinking when they marry. Scott James writes in the New York Times:
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.”
Peter Zupcofska, a leading marriage and divorce attorney for same-sex couples, says he’s dealt with premarital agreements between gay men in which they’ve agreed that sex with other people “would not be a reason to penalize each other.” Before they ever said “I do,” they wrote a contract with “the intention that they’d have an open relationship once they were married.”
Zupcofska says he has never drawn up such a clause for a heterosexual couple nor, fascinatingly, for a lesbian couple.
True monogamy is rare, even among gay male couples that try to remain faithful. Tyler Curry writes in Huffington Post:
Is it possible for two gay men to be in a long-term relationship and remain monogamous? The short answer? Of course it is. But for the frustrated but hopeful “monogay,” it often seems nearly impossible to find a homo couple who have surpassed the five-year mark without opening up their relationship in one way or another.
Gay men didn’t seek out relationships because they were expected to but because it felt good — it felt natural. Arguably, this is the one and only construct that defines gay relationships. And it may very well be the root of why so many gay couples opt for an open relationship once the pleasure of monogamy subsides.
Of course, this raises the obvious question: will marriage change gays, or will gays change marriage?
Some gay couples will embrace monogamy, but many will not. What happens when straight men see their married gay brethren enjoying the sexual salad bar? Will straight husbands happily restrain their desires while this special class of married men continues to sow its wild oats?
A recent Gallup poll found that 91 percent of Americans believe it’s morally wrong for married women and men to have affairs. Cheating on a spouse was deemed the most immoral thing one can do.
But if spouses enter into marriage with no expectation of fidelity in the first place, is it cheating? What if Dan Savage’s “monogamish” becomes the new normal in all marriages? Society’s view of marriage has “evolved” greatly in the past decade. Who’s to say it won’t evolve again?
So what about the church? Are we prepared to defend fidelity as foundational to marriage? Or will we give ground on this issue just as we have divorce, cohabitation and same-sex marriage, in the name of being more inclusive and loving?
Up until now the liberal mainline churches have supported gay unions as long as they were “committed, lifelong and monogamous.” To my knowledge no major denomination has endorsed open marriage, but it’s probably just a matter of time. The Episcopalians are currently studying marriage and one can only imagine what they’ll find. Don’t be surprised if the church founded by Henry VIII becomes the first to bless non-exclusive weddings, in Jesus’ name.
My guess is that a strong stance from the church in favor of fidelity will draw more men than it repels. Men may chafe against rules, but they respect institutions that have standards – and enforce them.
Men are naturally defensive of their marriages and wives. Husbands tend to be happier in their marriages than wives and men initiate divorce far less often than women do. Men may be intrigued by the idea of sleeping around, and some may occasionally stray, but very few become serial philanderers. I think deep down most men want to be faithful.
The church should stick to its guns on marriage. As lifelong commitment becomes rarer, society’s fascination with it will become greater. It is up to us to model what fidelity looks like “once the pleasure of monogamy subsides.”