Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


When social science won’t cooperate

posted by Rod Dreher

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.



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hlvanburen

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm


There is an important piece in that NY Times article that I believe is also relevant to this discussion:
“Open relationships are not exclusively a gay domain, of course. Deb and Marius are heterosexual, live in the East Bay and have an open marriage. She belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and maintained her virginity until her wedding day at 34. But a few years later, when the relationship sputtered, both she and her husband, who does not belong to the church, began liaisons with others.
“Our relationship got better,” she said. “I slept better at night. My blood pressure went down.”
I believe that the issue of open relationships transcends SSM/heterosexual marriages, as this story from the Boston Globe tries to illustrate.
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2010/01/03/loves_new_frontier/
“It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston, is liberal Massachusetts ready to accept it?”
As well as this story in Newsweek:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/209164
“Terisa and Matt and Vera and Larry—along with Scott, who’s also at this dinner—are not swingers, per se; they aren’t pursuing casual sex. Nor are they polygamists of the sort portrayed on HBO’s Big Love; they aren’t religious, and they don’t have multiple wives. But they do believe in “ethical nonmonogamy,” or engaging in loving, intimate relationships with more than one person—based upon the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. They are polyamorous, to use the term of art applied to multiple-partner families like theirs, and they wouldn’t want to live any other way.”
So perhaps the angle that might work to prevent the usual “bomb throwing” surrounding GLBT issues here is to simply take this out of that context and look at it as an issue affecting all aspects of marriage, not just SSM.



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hlvanburen

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Just stumbled across this article in “The Christian Century” that addresses the issue of polyamory.
http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=2214
“Support for polyamory and polygamy is found not only on the fringes. The topic is also emerging at the cutting edge of family law. Dan Cere of McGill University cites some examples, including: a substantial legal defense of polyamory published by University of Chicago law professor Elizabeth Emens in the New York University Law Review; a major report, “Beyond Conjugality,” issued by the influential Law Commission of Canada, which queried whether legally recognized relationships should be “limited to two people”; and An Introduction to Family Law (Oxford University Press), in which a British law professor observes that “the abhorrence of bigamy appears to stem . . . from the traditional view of marriage as the exclusive locus for a sexual relationship and from a reluctance to contemplate such a relationship involving multiple partners.””



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Joshua

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm


To take it a step further, let me ask this: how does one’s behavior *in* a marriage affects one’s legal right to be married?
That is to say, if SSM proponents are saying that they have the *legal* right to get married, their advocacy for that right should be based on readings and interpretations of the law, not behavioral studies found in social science. In that vein, “X percent of same-sex marriages are non-monogamous” becomes as completely meaningless to their right to marriage as “X percent of heterosexual marriages are non-monogamous” currently is.



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Michael C

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:13 pm


Don’t we know that 41% of first marriages will not survive? don’t we know that 25% of married men admit to cheating?
We do not know if these figures in the gay community will continue if a sizable percentage of them become married. We do know that in the heterosexual community marriage is a stabilizing force, do we have any reason to believe that would not be the case in SSM?



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Peter

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm


We also need to understand the limits of social science. For instance:
- this study involved male couples in San Francisco before legal marriage.
- women make up a disproportionate number of SSMs
- infidelity rates among heterosexual married men is around 25-30%.
- is infidelity a bigger threat to the fabric of marriage than consensual nonmonogamy?



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm


All good questions. I think this study is important because it shows that same-sex couples (at least the male ones studied) build non-monogamy into their understanding of commitment. This is a relevant point to those who say that marriage would make gay couples struggling with monogamy more likely to achieve it. Is that really true … or would it, over time, make straight couples struggling with monogamy more likely to quit fighting, and to reach an understanding that marriage doesn’t mean exclusively monogamous behavior?
Anyway, as you say, one doesn’t depend on social science research to determine what basic constitutional rights are. I appreciate that point especially given how much authority we grant to science in this culture, in all things. Still, the people are ultimately sovereign in this country, and if SSM were legalized by SCOTUS, there could in theory be an amendment overturning SCOTUS’s ruling. I don’t think it would pass, but this question would be relevant to what people thought about the prospect of SSM. And it is relevant to changing people’s minds in states in which SSM is on the ballot.



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Peter

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Also, Chai Feldblum doesn’t believe that SSM will have far-reaching ramifications on religious freedom. She believes gay rights–not SSM– has an impact–but not far-reaching–on religious freedom but that our tradition holds that civil rights often burdens religous freedom.



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M.B

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm


Well, to take it one step further…is consent really the key? In an equal sample, would the number of non-monogamous homosexual marriages be comparable to the number of non-monogamous heterosexual marriages?
If consent is the main difference and the numbers are similar (in other words, if heterosexual spouses are just as likely to be non-monogamous as homosexual spouses, regardless of consent), then I am not sure how this would be an issue that would affect the institution of “Marriage” as a universal in any significant way. Sure, it is a slightly different approach, but not one that necessarily affects family life in a distinctly positive or negative manner. One could very plausibly argue that the (vulgar, upsetting, media-driven) scandals of infidelity among our heterosexual politicians and public figures are more detrimental to those families than private discussion or even consent would be.
If homosexual spouses/couples *are* more likely to engage in non-monogamous activity, the obvious factor that would need to be mentioned in any discussion would be the fact that homosexual people and homosexual culture as a whole was never allowed the security or sanction of monogamous, committed, institutionalized partnerships. Seems to me this would be a much more likely cause of this phenomenon than any perceived “innate” inability to be monogamous or even cultural desire to be non-monogamous.
Finally, I wonder if this story is really being suppressed. The fact that participants in the study were not willing to go on record to attest to the details of their relationships to me does not speak of any kind of organized suppression–simply the fact that people generally do not act against their own interests. So why IS this news/study relegated to a local blog? I’d be interested to hear why Rod thinks this is the case. My own perception of this story is that it is quite “local”–I’d be willing to bet big bucks that Bay Area homosexuals (and heterosexuals for that matter) are a heckuva lot more likely to be part of non-monogamous partnerships than, say, gay folks in Bakersfield or Chico.



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Peter

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm


would it, over time, make straight couples struggling with monogamy more likely to quit fighting, and to reach an understanding that marriage doesn’t mean exclusively monogamous behavior
Or would it mean that heterosexual couples–which include women who are less inclined to consider nonmonogamous relationships–will always tame men who are more willing to stray, that lesbians may have relationships more fedelitous than heterosexuals, and that gay men may have more open relationships. So, therefore, Bob and Alice may be just as influenced by Jane and Alice (who are more common) as they are by Bob and Steve?



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm


So the proposal being put forth here is that since some homosexual couples tolerate non-monogamy in their relationships, therefore all homosexual couples should be denied the bundle of government benefits that are available to heterosexual couples through marriage?



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jimmy37

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm


What gets lost in all these arguments is why homosexuals and others want their unions to be tolerated, accepted and condoned. They want to have the same legal and financial rights of heterosexual unions. To call all this cutting edge, automatically assumes that the institution of marriage is an arbitrary invention. Sure, you can go all over the globe to find other arrangements, but a man and a woman, raising children together, is the gold standard.
Having an anything-goes attitude with respect to formalizing marriage, who’s to say what’s normal anymore?
At this point in societal development, nobody really cares what two or more consenting adults do with each other in the privacy of their home. That’s their business. Just don’t ask society to bless or support it.



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Geoff G.

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm


This struck me:
This affects religious institutions, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and others that require monogamy for gay clergy.
One of the points that I have repeatedly tried to hammer home here is the difference between religious marriage and civil marriage. In general, the former carries a significantly higher burden than the latter. Any two (oppositely sexed) doofuses (doofi?) can tie the knot in front of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas even if they only met half an hour previously.
But if they wish to marry in a Catholic Church, then the Church imposes significantly greater hurdles (e.g. neither party is divorced) and expectations (e.g. both parties will remain monogamous).
If the ELCA decides to endorse gay marriage, then it is also free to impose whatever expectations it believes go along with marriage. If that includes monogamy, then all well and good, let married, gay Lutherans remain monogamous. If they don’t let the Lutheran Church deal with them accordingly (i.e. how they handle infidelity in straight relationships)
***
Some gay commentators (and supporters of marriage) have indeed embraced the study [warning; alternative weekly, possibly some naughty language]. Heck, Mark Sanford apparently asked for—and got—the reference to monogamy dropped from his marriage vows so it would appear that many straight people think the same way. Curiously, I don’t see legislation barring them from marriage.
To quote Savage:
Marriage is only “defined” by monogamy—and procreation and kids and religion—when bigoted straight people want to deny gay people the right to wed. They reserve for themselves the right to be non-monogamous and married and childless and married and non-religious and married… all while denying the right to wed to monogamous gay couples that do have kids.



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M.B

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm


John E., I don’t think that is the argument that Rod is putting forth. I think he is just saying that SSM could herald a trend toward non-monogamy in the institution as a whole (both OSM and SSM), and that may be a major sociological change that should be considered in the discussion.
I really am curious about why he, and those who oppose SSM, think that such issues are getting short shrift. I mean, they’re certainly interesting, and in our drive-thru relationship culture, you’d think they’d be the topic for much pop-psychology discussion (like that whole “educated women over 35 are more likely to get struck by lightening than get married” trope of a generation ago). I wonder why the pro-prop 8 lawyers didn’t bring up this issue in the recent hearing in San Francisco. I am very much pro-SSM, so I’m probably biased, but my guess is that because these studies are not very thorough or scientifically reliable at this point, and because there are equally damning arguments on the other side about how heterosexual marriages operate in this country, bringing up such discussions would likely hint at bigotry. But, like I said, I realize I am biased here and perhaps there is another perfectly rational explanation.



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Lord Karth

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:49 pm


“Free love” rears its ugly head once again. Rosa Luxemburg, please call your office.
The notion of “open marriage” has been around in Christian societies for centuries. “Having women in common” was tried in all sorts of “revolutionary” situations; in the Plague Years of the 1340s, during the religious wars in the Holy Roman Empire in the 17th century. The various utopian communities in America of the 19th/20th centuries (Brook Farm, the “Shakers”, present-day “fundamentalist Mormon” communities) also sought to liberate ordinary Humans from the “shackles” of monogamous sexuality. The idea is not new, by any means.
What is new is the active encouragement (as opposed to simple tolerance or non-harassment) of new, non-dominant-cultural practices. Homosexual liaisons’ being considered “marriage”, for one. “Open marriage”, for another. What this encouragement represents is an attempt to assert dominance by a new would-be dominant culture, with modern technology as its moral and philosophical base. These “new Stochastics” (James Blish, please call your office….) want to use their increased understanding of applied modern physics as the basis of this new culture, from aesthetics to ethics, from taboos to morals. In either case, the command is “Do as thou wilt, for the Machine will lift you up on its mighty wings and serve you in all things.”
I say this because, traditionally, sexual behavior like this has had unpleasant consequences. Open marriage leads to illegitimate births. Or venereal disease. Or deprivation of resources that might otherwise go to the legitimate child of the marriage. Or even emotional pain as the affair is discovered. (Elizabeth Edwards, please call your office.) What we are seeing is new technology being put to the service of these old temptations. Gay sex ? Leads to AIDS/syphilis/gonorrhea ? We’ve got an injection that will cure you. Want to sleep with the hottie in the next cubicle, but don’t want 21 years of real-downer child support obligations ? Pop a pill, or scrape it out into the sink; we’ve got tech that will fix it up. Has your hubby been “walking the Appalachian Trail ?” It’s all right, really it is—-those movie stars do it all the time, and the TV and magazine says it never hurt THEM. And The TV Is Always Right.
But what happens when the technology fails ? Because it will. That’s when the trouble really starts.
They used to say that every idol has feet of clay.
The idol known as High Tech does, too. Who the hell’d a-thunk it ?
Old wine in new bottles, my friends.
Your servant,
Lord Karth



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm


I think he is just saying that SSM could herald a trend toward non-monogamy in the institution as a whole (both OSM and SSM), and that may be a major sociological change that should be considered in the discussion.
Well, maybe. My guess is that those couples that are inclined to be consensually non-monogamous will be do regardless of whether or not SSM is enacted.
‘Swinging’ isn’t all that new a phenomena.
And that opens up the question of what exactly is wrong with an occasional friendly threesome?



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Peter

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Ultimately, there is no doubt that sometimes social science research–with all its caveats–helps our cause sometimes and hurts our cause other times. If we based marriage laws on social science research, mixed races would be banned (higher divorce rates), remarriage would be banned (higher divorce and sexual abuse of children rates), people wouldn’t be allowed to marry until they are at least 25 (higher divorce rates the younger the couple marries).



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me

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm


A good part of the reason for all the hang-ups and restrictions which have traditionally surrounded sex in all cultures is the reality of procreation and the terrible problems that having children outside of a committed marriage creates for children, the community, etc. And as much as we’d like to think that sex and procreation can be handled separately, for heterosexual couples this is simply a fantasy (with 40% of children born outside of marriage and almost all of those unplanned, arguing otherwise is absolutely absurd). So, if for no other reason than the problems caused by children created outside of the husband-wife relationship, monogamy has always been an important part of marriage and should probably remain so. Of course homosexual couples do not have this concern, and so monogamy may well seem much more disposable in these relationships. But this simply highlights that marriage never was an institution created to deal with the needs/realities of homosexual relationships. It has its own particular problems it is meant to address and needs it is meant to meet. It has pretty well always included being the exclusive domain of sexual activity for those in it because that is a real need when it comes to heterosexual relationships. Changing that because it is not necessarily a need in gay relationships shouldn’t be an option. It is still a need for the rest of us. At the end of the day, I think that there are real needs that those in homosexual relationships have and there ought to be a way in law and custom to meet them. However, marriage was set up to meet the needs of heterosexual relations and probably isn’t the proper institution for dealing with the needs of gay couples.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm


The point is not that heterosexuals are doing such a bang-up job of building stable monogamous marriages. On evidence, we’re not. The point is that this research indicates that for an enormous number of same-sex couples, strict monogamy is not expected within marriage. In other words, they mean something meaningfully different from “marriage” than heteros do. The concern from the conservative side is that heteros who struggle to be faithful to their spouse will cease and desist, and simply work out an “open marriage” arrangement — and won’t face social sanction because of it. It’ll just be another kind of marriage.



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M.B

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:15 pm


me, I don’t think your science holds up…
Members of same sex couples are actually *more* likely (biologically speaking) to parent children as a result of sexual activity outside of their partnership than within…so according to your rationalization it would seem such families would be in even more need of the protections that marriage offers to families and children.



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M.B

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm


So here is the big question: Is the fear that hetero marriage may someday lose the “social sanctions” that keep (publicly, at least) monogamy as its gold standard, an adequate justification for the social sanction and civil discrimination that homosexuals who are in long-term monogamous relationships currently face?



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Fake Fan Base

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm


This seems to be the kind of approach to a subject, if it is a ‘subject’ given all the reservations mentioned made, which might incite a flame throwing/bombing’ style of response. Not necessarily in replying to a blog but also in attitudes and behaviours that effects peoples lives.
Would that be too politically correct of me?
There are some interesting debates about ‘fundamentalist atheist’ perspectives right now and skirmishes with secularists in Europe and America. A few days ago the Pope criticised the UK governments Equalities legislation plans. Secularists then drew attention to paedophile priests. I wonder if the topic of open gay marriage is in someway related to the building of position.
Am I thinking too laterally here?



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William Armstrong

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:50 pm


Ultimately, none of the above makes any difference. Either the Bible means what ti says, or it doesn’t. Whether gays can make their relationship work has no bearing on the ultimate question, is it sin?
If it is sin, then it is wrong.
If it is not sin, then who cares?
The Bible claims that homosexuality is wrong, and that marriage is for a man and a woman.



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Lindsey Abelard

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm


The bottom line in the debate over SSM if its acceptance will lead to more single women with kids on public assistance. After all, this is the MEASURABLE yardstick of the breakdown of traditional family structure (the kids growing up without fathers that Heather’s article discusses). If this occurs, then I would say that SSM is a problem. If this expected effect does not occur, then I am perfectly content with SSM.
I do wish those who oppose SSM would come out and express their arguments directly in such economic terms. No one likes paying taxes to support other peoples’ kids. If the opponents of SSM presented a credible argument that SSM will causally cause this effect to happen, I think many more people would be receptive to this message. I do not understand why the opponents of SSM do not discuss this more often.



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Geoff G.

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm


Rod Dreher:
The point is that this research indicates that for an enormous number of same-sex couples, strict monogamy is not expected within marriage.
The same is true of a significant minority of heterosexual marriages. Just look at our political class.
I’ll also point out (as I did on Erin’s blog) that if your churches are going to kick people out for being gay, it’s a bit disingenuous to complain when the people you deliberately exclude don’t bother with living up to your moral standards. This is in many ways a situation that springs directly from how churches have historically chosen to deal with homosexuality.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm


Let’s not get into whether or not something is a sin. That’s an important discussion, but not germane to this one, which is about social science, social policy and cultural norms.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:06 pm


Geoff, no doubt a small number of heterosexual couples have chosen to live in an “open” marriage. Far more live in marriages in which one or both have fallen short of the ideal of fidelity. Nobody disputes that. But it’s simply not true that most people (at least in this country) accept infidelity as part of the deal when they marry. There’s a significant difference between falling short of an ideal, and abandoning the ideal. The controversy here is not around whether or not every straight is faithful to his or her spouse. The controversy is over the extent to which gay couples take open infidelity as normative within a committed relationship/marriage — and, in turn, what effect that may have on the broader cultural understanding of marriage. The gay journalist whose blog essay started this thread cites experts who say that it will effect hetero marriages, and for the better (by causing them to abandon a standard seen as unrealistic). That’s what’s at issue: the ideal being proposed, not the behavior of married people.



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Lindsey Abelard

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm


There is a lot of commentary these days about how fewer people are getting married and more people are having kids outside of marriage. What I would like to know is if the percentage of people with dependents on public assistance is increasing as well. I think this information would be very useful for not only the debate about SSM, but also the debate over marriage itself. I don’t understand why we don’t see this data presented more often in these debates.



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Turmarion

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:12 pm


My general rule is always to take social science findings with a large grain of salt. Human behavior is such an incredibly complex thing, and interpretation by other humans is so much a part of the research, that it’s hard to untangle correlations and causes, to say nothing of ideology (which in fairness, a researcher may not be consciously aware of). Especially on very contentious issues such as SSM (or same-sex anything, for that matter), family matters, and such, it’s really difficult to sort out the motivations behind the research and to be sure that everyone is being objective.
Of course, the other issue derives from Hume’s famous dictum that you cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”. To one who sees SSM as a matter of rights, any negative effects it might have are irrelevant; just as any neutral or positive effects it may have would be irrelevant to one who sees SSM as violating God’s will and/or human nature. No amount of research, even if both sides accepted its validity, would necessarily change anyone’s mind. Wherein lies some of the problem.



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TC

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:13 pm


They also worried that discussing the subject could undermine the legal fight for same-sex marriage.
What if it read: They also worried that discussing the actual temperature data could undermine the legal fight for global warming controls.
Same tune, different lyrics. Hide what potentially undermines your objective, even if it is true.



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Michael C

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm


Rod……….I think the horse has already bolted, and hetero couples have long since stopped cease(ing) and desist(ing).
We don’t have monogamy, we have serial monogamy at best, with at least 25% not even doing that.
The social conservative ideal of married for life, children only within matrimony, has long gone, if it ever was the case. The fact is that America is the most religious nation in the OECD and has one of the highest divorce rates.



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Michael C

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:23 pm


And while that nice young couple getting marries at the church next door expect to be faithful, and live out their lives together, they also both signed the pre-nup.



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Cecelia

posted February 4, 2010 at 6:06 pm


the assumption that behavior in SSM will affect hetero mariage is based on the notion that heterosexual couples will look to gay couples as role models – this seems unlikely to me.
Is the behavior of gay folks in San Fransisco the same as the behavior of a gay couple in Boise? The study obviously does not have a representative sample. It is also comparing apples to oranges – unmarried gay couples sexual behavior versus married heterosexual behavior.
I don’t doubt that extending civil marriage to gay couples will have some kind of impact on society. I am not convinced that the major impact will be felt in heterosexual marriage. Given the divorce rate, adultery rate and child abandonment by one parent rate – it seems any impact might be an improvement. I am rapidly going towards the notion that we should stop pointing fingers at SSM couples and concentrate on what is wrong with heterosexual marriage and what to do about it.



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Thomas Collins

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm


I am totally in favor of looking at all the empirical data, including the social science, in hopes of enlightening the issues for all concerned, not just those that fit our personal opinion or agenda. In my view, marriage considered within the narrow purview of a “right,”, actually diminishes marriage in terms of its meaning, significance and purpose as a foundational institution in our society. Marriage is intimately and integrally associated with intergenerational family and community life, as well as religious sacrament. Marriage viewed in this larger context, shows same-sex relationships to be relatively more focussed on qualities and characteristics of the relationship, by itself, not on its broader social significance in terms of potential for bringing forth new life, the next generation of family and community, sacred scriptural meaning, the heterosexual marriage carries. The state has less natural interest in regulating relationships alone, and would seem to have less relevance in SSM, except where the couple makes an explicit commitment to raising children, which may not even be seriously considered at the point of forming the relationship commitment. SSM places relatively more emphasis on the two parties within the relationship by itself, and relatively less on the creation of a new intergenerational family; the children normally implied in a straight marriage, get relatively less consideration. SSM is not part of the traditional or scriptural definition of any religious group I am aware of, so there is no depth of history of SSM as a religious sacrament — a distinct existential disadvantage, in my view. Also, gay couples are not able to model for their adopted children, if they choose to have them, the complex interpersonal interactions of two genders collaborating in life, adapting to each other and working issues through. This would seem to be helpful to the healthy adaptation of heterosexual children later in life, given that the great majority of children still turn out to be straight. Self-identity issues tend to be more complicated in adoptive children in general. With SS couples layers of additional complexity are added, introducing many more adjustment issues. Although you present a study indicating adoptive children do as well with SS couples as with their heterosexual married parents, considerable other social science data shows otherwise. We need to put it all on the table.



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Jake

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:37 pm


First of all, the study Rod cites assumes that gay male couples in the Bay Area are representative of gay and lesbian couples everywhere, which may not be the case. But even if it is, and we could somehow prove that gay couples value sexual exclusivity differently than most straight couples, why should that matter? If two straight people get married, but don’t intend to remain sexually monogamous, they can still get married. When my girlfriend and I get married, I’m not going to cheat on her. But if I went to a judge and told him that I DID plan on cheating, he’d still marry us. Why should we hold gay people to a different standard?



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John

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm


I wonder if any of that can be attributed to the failure to promote abstinence until marriage/civil union/domestic partnership/religious ceremony from both, those who are a part of and are not a part of the gay community. And if many who might otherwise prefer to enter into a monogamous relationship feel they have “to settle” for a relationship with someone who wants an open relationship in order to have any relationship.
One other factor that seems obvious – the false sense of security that infidelity for us has no consequences since our relationships produce no unwanted pregnancies. It’s a false sense of security that must be debunked (the fear of AIDS and STD’s should be used to promote gay monogamy).
We don’t have, as of yet, the cultural support straights have to keep them in line and there is no incentive to behave since it is our sexual nature (as opposed to any behavior) that is stigmatized. We might see different results if this culture moved in the direction that David Brooks and prospective U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron suggests – rewarding fidelity (same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike) while stigmatizing infidelity (same-sex and opposite-sex alike).



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Troy

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm


It occurs to me that, counting the 1 month window in 2008 when San Francisco allowed same sex weddings, there still has been only about 1 year of recognized married gay couples in California. Assuming this 3 year study finished in the last 6 months, there is only half a year or so of truly married couple data.
It is worth wondering whether changes in attitude on monogamy flowed the other direction as well, with same sex couple now actually wedded, changed their behavior or new couples marrying post any future reversal would bring a different attitude.
As for what sociology tells us for this or any other debate, it seems its studies will always find changing attitudes because human society is dynamic. It hard to think of many examples where you could study and not find changing attitudes 20 years later.



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Crustacean

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:00 pm


Rod,
I don’t see why you describe past discussion of homosex “marriage” on Crunchy Con as having been 99% heat and 1% light, since most of the opposition to homosex “marriage” articulated on those prior Crunchy Con threads was based — at least in large part — on *precisely* those grounds that you have cited here: (A) that a majority of homosex relationships, including “marriages” are not monogamous, (B) that normalization of homosex marriage will therefore entail normalization of non-monogamy in heterosex marriage as well, and (C) that normalization of non-monogamy in heterosex “marriage” is a significant part of what motivates a significant proportion of the advocacy for homosex “marriage,” both “gay” and “staight.” The findings you cite only confirm what opponents of homosex “marriage” have been saying here all along.



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:11 pm


Okay, so the arguments from cultural conservativeness come down to:
1. Gays getting married might be bad for children.
and
2. Gays getting married might make it more likely that people in heterosexual marriages might start sleeping around.
Dang, just come out and say that gays living openly as loving couples weaken the moral fiber of the nation by their perverse antics – or as the rest of us call it, living life.
Because I don’t think you can have it both ways.
Either they are living a criminally perverse lifestyle and are a danger to society – and because of this, they are not entitled to full civil rights.
Or
They are full, equal citizens and deserve to partake in the same civil society as everyone else. They want to partake in the civil government process of binding their chosen relationship with legally recognized and enforceable privileges. They want civil marriage as the simplest way to make that happen.
We seem as a society to have generally recognized gays as full citizens except for the big one of civil marriage. And that is the crux of this matter. Full citizenship is an all or nothing sort of thing. You have to have a good reason to deny it.
Some common reasons are age – too young, lost for criminal behavior, and that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, you have the same civil rights as anyone else.
I’d be working hard to change the law if I couldn’t marry the person I loved and I wouldn’t accept these vague reasons that seem to say that straight marriage is so unappealing that it couldn’t compete with gay marriage.



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steve

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:13 pm


I would also agree, based on the article, that the study probably has limited relevance to your thesis. It sounds like these are limited to the Bay area and it is not clear if they were married (did I miss that?). But, let’s assume they are married. Representative? People in Urban California are likely different than people in the Midwest in some important ways.
Why do you believe that heterosexuals will emulate gays? How would we know, other than an occasional paper like this? Would you? Who do you know that would be influenced by what gays are doing?
Look at it from another perspective. Perhaps it is the failure of heterosexual marriages that has been an influence on gay relationships. Most gays grow up in homes with heterosexual parents. What did they see there that made them think monogamy is a mixed bag? Gays are surrounded by non-gays, while we can pretty much avoid or be unaware of gays if we so choose in our direct relationships. Are we influencing them? Do you have your worries backwards? What if we solidify our marriages first?
Steve



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me

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm


M.B.:
“me, I don’t think your science holds up…
Members of same sex couples are actually *more* likely (biologically speaking) to parent children as a result of sexual activity outside of their partnership than within…so according to your rationalization it would seem such families would be in even more need of the protections that marriage offers to families and children.”
Whaaaaaaaaa?!?!?! I bees comfused! Good golly. That makes about as much sense as tits on a bull.



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Jon

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm


Monogamy has often been honored in the breach in heterosexual reationships too. I’ve known married guys who cheat on out of town business trips. My step-brother’s ex-wife was quite the party girl and we strongly suspect that their second child was not his, conceived while he was on a hunting trip. Nowadays of course such things are kept well-hidden, except among in the swinger subculture, but there was a study I saw once that claimed 10% of children do not have their fathers’ genes.
Going back in history (pre-divorce era of course) adultery was very common and even celebrated. Kings could claim to be champions of the faith while keeping mistresses openly (though at least Louis XIV married his mistress secretly once the queen was dead). Sometimes this even extended to female philandering. Mme de Stael’s moral stature as Napoleon’s domestic archenemy was unblemished by the fact that she slept all around Europe and none of her surviving children belonged to her actual husband.
When all is said and done sometimes we just have to let hypocrisy pay its trubute to virteu.



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:22 pm


Crustacean, I again have been asked to convey that you are invited to blot – free and unfettered – at Alexandria.
The blog owner thinks you might add some liveliness to the place.
Here is a link to a thread about this possibility:
http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/renewed-offer-to-crustacean/



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John E. - Agn. Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm


…. to blog I meant, of course.
Feel free to blot there, also.



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M.B.

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:51 pm


me, it’s quite simple: sexual activity within a monogamous same sex relationship will not result in offspring. Nonmonogamous activity that same sex partners may indulge in outside of their same sex relationship could be with a man or a woman and as such would be more likely to result in the conception of a child.
I believe you were implying that hetero marriages (and the accompanying assumption of monogamy) needs societal protection BECAUSE cheating hetero spouses are capable of complicating the equation by producing offspring with people outside of the marriage. But, scientifically speaking, the holds true for same sex marriages…
So the same protections, civil rights, and social sanctions are necessary for the well-being of same sex unions as well.



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Crustacean

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm


John E.,
I appreciate the invitation and will give it some thought, as well as the blog a perusal.
I have to say, though, that a glance at the contributors’ roll makes me feel like Batman being invited into Arkham Asylum.
Perhaps the relationship you-all had in mind instead was the more collegial one shared by the Flash and his “rogues’ gallery.”
The description of my position here of late as being that of a “chained dog” makes me think that perhaps that is the kind of relationship that you propose– though I think my position here of late bears more resemblance to that of a *muzzled* dog, one in line for being *neutered* next.
As for the notion that my projec heret is Murdochian, that makes me think that you-all — like Rod — haven’t been reading me closely — or collegially — enough.
Unless by “Murdoch” you meant *Matt* and not *Rupert.*



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm


Crustacean, it could be something like that. It is a free and open format – you wouldn’t be the only Conservative voice there. I can think of three that have taken conservative positions on different topics.
Anyway, have a read around the place. I don’t think anyone has changed someone else’s political views, but sometimes we spark a lively group discussion.



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Hector

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm


I think the best comment here was made by Geoff G., who said it’s important to draw a sharp separation between church and civil marriage.
I strongly believe that same-sex marriage should be recognized under federal and state law in this country. I equally strongly believe that my church should _not_ recognize same sex marriages, though I wouldn’t have a problem with some kind of blessing of same sex partnerships. The marriage service in the Prayer Book states clearly that procreation is the most basic of the three goods of marriage, and I think that with respect to church marriage, that should remain so (which rules out gay marriages in a Christian context). Civil marriage is quite a differnet thing- procreation isn’t what most Americans see as the fundamental reason for being of marriage anymore.
That seems to me to be the position of sensible moderation. The state should be consistent with its values, and the church should be consistent with its own, and in the United States, from the beginning, these two sets of values have been different.



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Matt

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm


A few observations:
As many have noted, this study is junk science. It’s comparing apples to oranges in terms of access to civil marriage, it’s a study in the Bay Area, and, most importantly, I can guarantee you the gay men they found are not representative. These studies always, always recruit gay men by trolling gay bars, gay clubs, gay community centers, gay health clinics, etc. The monogamous, settled, maybe even kid-raising gay couple has more pressing issues and things on their plate than participating in these studies; they are at the PTA meeting or working in their garden or whatever, and the people doing the study never even know about them.
My friend is a research coordinator for a number of gay health studies in NYC. Guess where they find ALL of their subjects? Gay bars and health clinics. You are much more likely to find a certain type of gay man at these places. (I’m not trying to bash gay men with gay-centric social lives. I’m just saying it’s not representative of all gay men.)
Lastly, and this is admittedly strictly anecdotal, but this kind of behavior is much more common among middle-aged gay men than it is among the younger generation. Partly this is a result of ’70s culture, gay and straight. (The “swingers” phenomenon is also a more middle-aged person thing.) I think the mainstreaming of gay culture will accelerate the process of leaving this kind of dated free-love silliness behind.
It is true that many of the most visible gay men agitating politically for gay marriage are also “advanced thinkers” about monogamy, and I do wonder why anti-gay-marriage people don’t make more hay out of that. I think it’s one of our biggest problems (speaking as a gay guy/gay marriage supporter).



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Your Name

posted February 4, 2010 at 11:22 pm


Seems to me the study says more about male behaviour when not having to compromise with women than it does about people based on orientation. Straight men are also more promiscuous and prone to cheating than straight or gay women.
So really, shouldn’t marriage just be restricted to women?
I’d also argue that an open arrangement is better for the longevity of a marriage than is serial cheating and lying.



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Norwegian Shooter

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:10 am


Rod: “The gay journalist whose blog essay started this thread cites experts who say that it will effect hetero marriages, and for the better (by causing them to abandon a standard seen as unrealistic). That’s what’s at issue: the ideal being proposed, not the behavior of married people.”
I’m glad you pointed out the open-marriages-are-better idea. Why would you oppose (or be afraid of) something if it helps people be happy and have longer relationships? Which points to the reason you mistake what the issue is. It is not one ideal being changed into another. You can write all the Burkean arguments you want, but it doesn’t amount to a hill a beans if it is shown to be false in the real world.
It is the behavior of people. Marriage indicators for all combinations of married, straight, open, ideally monogamous, actually monogamous, gay, unmarried, et al. That is what counts. Not some abstraction of what marriage should be. Not only will we never agree at the level of abstraction, but we’ll continuously talk past one another.



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shawninPhx

posted February 5, 2010 at 2:33 am


“The point is that this research indicates that for an enormous number of same-sex couples, strict monogamy is not expected within marriage. In other words, they mean something meaningfully different from “marriage” than heteros do.”
“Far more live in marriages in which one or both have fallen short of the ideal of fidelity. Nobody disputes that. But it’s simply not true that most people (at least in this country) accept infidelity as part of the deal when they marry.”
Rod, your two posts don’t line up. You seem to conclude (in the first post) that most same-sex relationships don’t adhere to strict monogamy, but you rely on a small sample study to prove it. As I’d say to any client — this is not a statistically significant sample and should be used with caution.
In the second post you assume that most straight people believe in pure fidelity, but you provide no background study or research to show this. Any search on Craigslist would show you that there are plenty of heterosexual couples who did not have this in mind.
At the end of the day we must remember that we’re dealing with individuals. And individual’s aren’t easily placed in boxes. I’m a gay man who is fine with others doing what they like, but I’m clear to my potential partners that I believe in 1-1. I’m betting there are a lot more like me as well.
In the end, I think both sides in the Prop. 8 fight ignored this issue because both knew it could cause backlash. Had the pro-prop 8 people touted this study, the anti-prop 8 people would have printed out a Craigslist casual encounters posts for a day or two.
In the end, I don’t think either side touched the issue because both sides know that they would have been equally damaged. Marriage is not a contract that remains the same for all people. Some have children and some do not. Some have open sexual boundaries and some do not. Some live together and others apart. Trying to pin down just what IS or is not a marriage (whether hetro or homosexual) is almost impossible. And that’s what’s frustrating to both sides. Marriages is not like a speed limit. There are unique circumstances, varying factors and personalities involved.
That’s why it’s so hard for us, as a society, to come to an agreement. Because we can’t even agree on what the unique definition of marriage is supposed to even be.



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hlvanburen

posted February 5, 2010 at 9:31 am


“Geoff, no doubt a small number of heterosexual couples have chosen to live in an “open” marriage. ”
Honestly, Mr. Dreher, I think the number may be larger than you suggest. While it is hardly the last word on statistical frequency, a Google search on the word “polyamory” reveals a fairly large number of support and advocacy groups as well as networking sites. I have a hard time believing that the majority of these target GLBT audiences.
Open marriages and non-monogamous relationships have not only been around for some time, but have also enjoyed some measure of acceptance. I mean, even David had more than one wife, apparently with the blessing of God.
While the phenomenon may well be significant from a social science standpoint, I am not certain that your take on it is the correct one. To me it seems to be something that crosses the heterosexual/homosexual boundary, affecting both sides.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 5, 2010 at 9:39 am


Having several friends in polyamorous relationships (past and/or present) I can offer this personal perspective:
The primary objection to non-monogamous variations of committed relationships is that the objector would never accept it for him or herself.
So, with only mild sarcasm intended, the fear here seems to be that if it’s allowed it will become mandatory.
My BS meter is sorely strained right now…



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Dan

posted February 5, 2010 at 10:54 am


Thoughtful post, Rod. However, I think you misunderstand the way debate goes. It’s not the job of advocates of one side to publicly help the other side make their argument. The reason is simple – there’s no reason to expect the other side will extend you the same courtesy. Advocates aren’t in the business of arguing fairly in the same way you should argue with a friend. They are in the business of winning, and they would set back their cause by arguing less forcefully than the other side. I know that’s morally ambiguous at best, but such is the world in which we live.



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Lord Karth

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm


On a related subject: There’s something that I’m having trouble figuring out about this whole infidelity/”open marriage” business. Perhaps one of you might be able to enlighten me.
Exactly who the Hell has the time, energy or inclination to engage in these sorts of things ? From what I see around me, most people seem to be far too busy trying to survive economically to have much time or money or energy to spare to indulge in this sort of silliness.
I wonder if any studies have been done on what role social/economic class, or profession, plays in all this. Maybe I’m just out of it, but (for example) no lawyer I know has the time to get mixed up in all that kind of thing; we’re all too busy trying to keep our practices going and meet our munitions bills.
This is a serious question, troops. Any answers ?
Your servant,
Lord Karth



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Peter

posted February 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm


Some people spend time commenting on blogs; other people spend time having sex. It’s all about priorities.
My guess is that most people in open relationships aren’t going outside their relationship every day or every week. Maybe a couple of times a month or even a couple of times a year.



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BobSF

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm


Speaking of light vs. heat, here is a link to the actual study:
http://crgs.sfsu.edu/research/gaycouples.htm
I encourage everyone to read it before making any leaps of imagination as to who was studied, why, and what it all means.



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BobSF

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm


In particular I would direct everyone to the 2006 Bay Area Reporter (probably the biggest gay paper in San Francisco) article that covered the beginning of the study. First paragraph:
San Francisco AIDS researchers are looking to interview 450 gay male couples as part of an ongoing study on open relationships. Simply called the Gay Couples Study, the research is examining the agreements couples make on having outside sex partners and what rules, if any, regarding safe sexual practices govern those sex encounters.
The study began at UCSF and has, apparently, moved to SFSU.
Here’s the link to the BAR article on the UCSF site where the study was once based. The link on the SFSU site appears to be broken:
http://www.caps.ucsf.edu/projects/GayCouples/pdf/GayCouplesStudyBARarticle.PDF



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Jon

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm


Re: This is a serious question, troops. Any answers ?
At a guess, this is a young people phenomenon. And maybe an idle rich people phenomenon. Middle class, middle age people (gay or straight) most likely not.



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Peter

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm


It’s probably a lot more middle class, middle age than most people would be comfortable to admit. Most infidelity involves middle-aged, middle-class men. No reason open relationships would be any different.



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Jeffrey

posted February 5, 2010 at 5:21 pm


(Re-posting with censorship, since apparently the s-word got my comment held.)
Rod –
I have posted here(well, on your old blog) a couple of times before just to give my own perspective as a 21-year old gay college student, and what I see in the gay community around me.
We laugh at people in open relationships. We call them sl*ts. Nobody takes them seriously; at least, we don’t really respect their relationships.
The ideal, at least among my peers, is a life-long, monogamous relationship. Most of us wants kids too.
– Jeffrey



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Anon - for this one

posted February 5, 2010 at 7:12 pm


My spouse and I are heterosexually married.
Back in the day, say about five years ago, the couples we met for swinging were middle and upper middle class. Single females we met fell into a broader range, say lower middle class, middle, and upper middle class – along with girls in their mid twenties who were in their early working years.
For different reasons, we haven’t had much non-monogamous sex for a few years, but if we found a couple or single woman we all liked and were comfortable with, we would give it a try again.



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michael

posted February 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm


“If it’s true that half of same-sex couples live in an open marriage/relationship…”
Unfortunate, but it is what it is… not much different from half of hetero marriages ending in divorce, and other ‘normal’ marriages afflicted by adultery. As many have already noted, marriage has been fundamentally redefined already… by heteros.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm


Karth, that is an excellent question.
The perspective of those who engage in relationships beyond the couple (triads, quads, etc.) is not how much work it takes, but how important the others are to them.
And make now mistake, it takes a lot of work compared to monogamy… but there is another factor in there, that is not measurable so easily.
How many friends do you have that you can honestly say that you love, but with whom sex just doesn’t enter the picture? Once you have that in your mind’s eye, think long and sincerely about how much effort you put into having and maintaining your relationships with them. Further, consider how much effort they make in return.
It often surprises people to see that even without sex and the accompanying issues of intensity and intimacy, relationships are hard work. We rightly and justly stay unconscious of that work because we are with people we love, and that is quite sufficient in and of itself.
The short version: Sex is just one of many ways to express our love for others. Amongst the polyamorous, sex is not definitive of the commitment within the relationship, and other expressions and actions are just as important if not more so.



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msl

posted February 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm


It really should be noted that the study referenced in the NYT article used gay men in San Francisco as its sample — not gay people overall, so the study can’t be used to generalize about the marriage and sexual habits of lesbians, for example, or gay men in a more staid part of the country.
It really drives me nuts to see social science research misread like this! One study does not describe a diverse group of people.



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msl

posted February 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm


It really should be mentioned that the study the NYT article is based on uses gay men in San Francisco as its sample. Therefore the results are only apply to this group — they do not describe the sexual and marriage habits of lesbians, for example, or gay men living in a more staid part of the country.
It really drives me nuts to see social science research misused like this! Research is cumulative. Many studies are needed to be able to draw strong conclusions. One study cannot characterize a diverse group of people.



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Lymis

posted February 10, 2010 at 8:56 am


It’s also important to note that the study (again, only men, only San Francisco) was not a study of gay marriage. It was a study of men in relationships that were tracked over three years.
Unless all these couples hopped on a plane to Canada or Europe at some point in the past, there is literally no way that they all had been married for the period of the study.
While you are welcome to assume that all gay relationships are identical, and that non-married relationships are a perfect predictor of married relationships, you cannot claim with any integrity that this was a study of gay marriages.
On top of that, at best it is a study of “men who have their entire life been told that traditional marriage with all its benefits and obligations was absolutely forbidden to them, conducted less than a decade after the Supreme Court declared that it was Unconstitutional to criminalize their relationships, who developed their dating and relationship patterns under these circumstances, who briefly had the option to marry for less than a year, and were currently living in one of the most sexually permissive cities in the world for the course of the study.”
Sure, let’s assume that’s what gay marriage will always look like.



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stealthfighter

posted February 10, 2010 at 9:32 am


The truth is, whether or not gay couples are monogamous is irrelevant to the legal debate about extending civil marriage rights to them. Monogamy is not part of the legal definition of civil marriage. Marriages are not automatically dissolved by the state upon discovery of sexual “infidelity.” That decision is and remains up to the couple, as it should.
The SSM debate is and has always been about the legal definition of civil marriage only. It is SSM opponents who persist in changing the terms of the debate by throwing in specious and irrelevant arguments about “undermining the foundations of the institution.” They tried the argument about marriage being intended for procreation; the lack of a prohibition against infertile couples marrying blew that out of the water pretty quickly. Before that, the child molestation blood libel took a twirl before being recognized as the vicious smear that it is. This study gives SSM opponents a new red herring to throw at the debate, that SSM advocates will now have to spend months or years carefully explaining away as not being relevant despite everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to the contrary.
Yes, activists are reticent to discuss such a study, because they know all too well how false and misleading “findings,” much less accurate but immaterial study results, can be and are distorted and twisted by our opponents as bludgeons to demonize gays and our relationships as “inferior,” “deviant,” and “subhuman.”



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stealthfighter

posted February 10, 2010 at 9:45 am


Not to mention, even if we accept the study results as valid to extrapolate across all present and future gay marriages (a dubious proposition to begin with), do you REALLY THINK that this would make any perceptible difference in “our culture’s definition of marriage?” Let’s suppose gays make up 5% of the population. If half of their marriages are “open” that means that extending marriage rights to gay couples would mean an increase by roughly 2.5 percentage points in the number of open marriages. A seismic change indeed.
Let us also not forget that the rate of true monogamy in the heterosexual world is far from zero; in fact some studies put the estimate of sexual infidelity among heterosexual couples at — what do you know? — 50%. It seems to me the only difference between gays and straights is that gays are less likely to lie to their spouses.
Or perhaps that’s another aspect of “traditional” marriage that Dreher wants to preserve?



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theod

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:02 am


I still await for those who are against gay marriage to support very strong regulations or solutions against those who are most actively denigrating the wonderfulness of marriage and families. Why aren’t they vociferously proposing that society ban heterosexual divorce, criminalize heterosexual adultery, and ban their out-of-wedlock procreation? These acts are performed in VAST numbers by the heterosexual majority. Doesn’t it make sense to first preserve the sanctity of marriage & family against this demographic horde? Hand-wringing against homosexual marriage is projecting the degradations of the heterosexual tribe onto homosexuals. It’s truly strange that a group that divorces 50% of the time and creates more single-parent households than any other group, demands a monopoly on an institution it sacralizes in theory but clearly not in practice.



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Colleen

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:07 am


When you think about, probably 50% of heterosexual marriages involve sex outside of marriage. Think about the total for a minute- add together the small amount of heterosexual open marriages, the somewhat larger amount that participate in some type of “swinging” together and the largest group- the cheaters- I bet your total is close to 50%. And if you consider online porn cheating- we probably beat the gays.
The difference in heterosexual marriages is that the cheaters risk everything for the outside sex. They risk their home-life, financial stability and the happiness of their children for the desire to have sex with someone other than one person for 50 years. They have the ability to destroy their spouse with their casual decision. The sexual infidelity is multiplied in destruction by lies, betrayal and public humiliation.
I am a happily married woman. I do not want my marriage to end. I am glad we have been married monogamously for 13 years. But maybe we need to reexamine the idea of monogamy in heterosexual relationships with a bit more realistic framing. Maybe couples agree to monogamy for a decade at a time. It just seems weird to me that a few hours with another person will destroy my 13 year marriage.



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Tom

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:57 am


It seems to me the four commenters above all make excellent points, but surely the inarguable one–the one that doesn’t require any nuance or even basic common sense to grasp–is the point made in the first three paragraphs of the first comment, from Lymis. Unless this study actually does deal with married gay couples, how can it be said to speak to what gay marriages are or would be like? How can Mollie at Get Religion suggest that the study’s findings are “really interesting and important news” because “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”–when the study doesn’t look at that institution at all. I realize I may be missing something here (and I’m not saying that sarcastically, I do appreciate your call for a civil tone); would be grateful for clarification/thoughts, Rod (and would also be very curious to hear your thoughts on theod’s point). Thx.



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Aaron

posted February 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm


I think this is a bit more complicated than presented. Many gay men simply agree to open relationships–part of it is a trust issue. I have been in a relationship for 18 years, and my spouse is the most wonderful person I have ever known. In the first five years of our relationship, we considered the relationship open. One, it was socially expected that our relationships could not compare to straight relationships–open relationships allowed us to express difference; second, I am 10 years younger than my spouse. As gay males, we often do not have teenage years. It is irresponsible to go into a relationship without any type of dating experience. Most open relationships close after five years though, and ours did. We never talked about it (and the idea of an open relationship may be something we even admire). Still, our relationship matured and grew.
I know many more monogamous gay people than those who stray (I don’t live in an urban area though); I also know lots of straight couples who divorce because their expectations are problematic; I also know straight couples who are swingers. Everyone is different. Gay people who grew up without the idea of being accepted in society learned their ways–younger gay people have very straight ideas about relationships–marriage, etc. Most of it comes from the fact that we have simply not been allowed to even consider marriage. Marriage helps to stabilize.



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Aaron

posted February 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm


One additional thing–I was forced to get married because of Prop. 8. My spouse and I believe that marriage is largely a religious issue. We had no interest in marriage, but because of Prop. 8, we feared that marriage would be taken off the table. So we got married. We are committed after 18 years, and marriage did not force committment, but I have a rare cancer. I don’t know how long I have. I do know that my in-laws may have fought to take our property, and that bothered me. We got married.
I am now about to go on chemo, and I might have a bone marrow transplant. My marriage protects me. My spouse will need to make hard decisions in the coming months. Marriage allows him to do so.



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Robert

posted February 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm


It is unclear how the Social Sciences are “Not Cooperating” here. Perhaps my sense of what is “intuitively wrong” is malfunctioning.
I guess that the assumption is that heterosexual marriage is the not the reality (50% divorce, etc), but the mythical standard and that threats to the myth are actual threats to the reality. This make much more sense, intuitively…



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Bart

posted February 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm


Great post, Rod, and thoughtful comments. I have to agree with the earlier comment, though: this study has in no way been suppressed or hidden by the gay community here in SF. What makes you think it has been? Your tone – “you can’t hide the research you don’t like” – puzzled me: who’s doing that?



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Justin

posted February 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm


This does not shock me, but then again you are attempting to paint all gay people with a broad brush. Not all gay people have open relationships. Not all straight people have closed relationships. However, trying to exclude a whole group of people from the benefits of marriage because some members of that group don’t practice marriage as it has normally been practiced is discrimination, simply stated.
And by the way, straight people are pretty good at cheating on each other in marriage (just look up infidelity statistics on google), so using the logic that gay people should be barred from marriage rights because they are such philanderers, why would we then not do the same to straights or particularly straight men??? Or how about young straight people (the young are particularly more apt to cheat).
The problem with the “definition of marriage argument” is that once any couple gets married, it is up to them how to decide what their marriage is. Trying to dictate to others what their marriage should be is patronizing and assumes that people cannot make their own decisions without the meddling of others.



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Timothy Kincaid

posted February 11, 2010 at 7:53 pm


Rod,
I’m sure that you know that to report a conclusion about a population that the sample has to be representative. Unfortunately, this sample was about as far as you can get from representative of gay marriage. It included “relationships” of as little as three months, less than a third of which had any form of commitment ceremony, was comprised solely of men, recruited mostly at bars, reflected the values only of the San Francisco Bay Area, was 41% HIV positive (the national average is around 12%), and, most importantly, never INTENDED to say anything about what percentage of gay couples are monogamous.
See my full analysis at Box Turtle Bulletin.
It’s pretty much as if someone surveyed the attendees at CPAC and reported what percentage of Americans think gay folk should be incarcerated. C’mon, Rod. You know better than this.
The truth is that we do not know – we can’t even guess with any precision – what percentage of gay couples who marry are non-monogamous. But if half of the bar going, three-month, no-ceremony, HIV positive, gay male couples in San Francisco have agreed on monogamy for their relationship, I can’t help but believe that surely most lesbians in Iowa want monogamy as well.



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