I have avoided blogging about gay marriage since starting this new blog, because without fail, gay marriage threads on Crunchy Con were examples of 99 percent heat/1 percent light. This new blog is not meant to be polemical, especially not on the usual culture war issues. Today, though, I came across a story that is about same-sex marriage, yes, but also about the uses to which we put social science research. I will say right up front that I am going to ride herd on the comments, and anybody, no matter what your POV, who ramps up the discussion with the usual bomb-throwing and flame-warring around this topic, is going to find his comment taken down.
Scott James, a gay New York Times blogger whose blog covers the San Francisco Bay Area, writes that, “Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret.” What is it? From James’s report:
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.”
The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.
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.
Emphasis in that last line was my own. Why? Because it speaks to how partisans on one side of the same-sex marriage issue wish to conceal scientific research that doesn’t serve their purposes. If it’s true that half of same-sex couples live in an open marriage/relationship, then concerns from SSM opponents that extending marriage to gay couples would redefine our culture’s understanding of marriage can’t be dismissed as unfounded. Note that James, an advocate of same-sex marriage, doesn’t dispute that SSM will force our cultural understanding of marriage to evolve, but even cites unnamed experts saying that the gay model could change straight attitudes toward marriage for the better.
Whichever side of this issue you come down on, this is pretty important stuff. It should be noted that opponents of SSM are also silent on the subject of social-science research that undermines their arguments in the debate. For example, a recent survey of the social science research finds that kids raised in stable gay families do as well as kids raised in stable straight families. That seems intuitively wrong to me, for reasons Heather Mac Donald (who is, you should know, an atheist) speaks to in this piece, in which she makes a non-theological, Burkean argument against same-sex marriage. Still, the social science research says what it says, and it won’t do for SSM opponents to cite the new San Francisco research because it suits their cause, while ignoring or downplaying the research that boosts the case for SSM. Likewise, SSM proponents can’t in good conscience cite the research that helps their cause, while trying to remain quiet about the research that doesn’t, in hopes that nobody will notice.
On that point, here’s Mollie at Get Religion:
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?
Let’s talk about this — but anybody who wants to flame others, or write combatively, should hold his or her fire, or be prepared to have his or her post unpublished.