I have been in a conventional marriage for 20 years (most of them very happy) but recently came to the realization that I am gay. I would be grateful for your perspective on a dilemma I have yet to resolve: What are my ethical obligations to my wife in this matter? If honesty is the bedrock of a marriage, how can I not discuss a realization as basic and profound as this? Or, given how devastating this news might be to my wife, should I continue with a relationship that is something of a charade? I have not been involved in any extramarital relationships up to this point.
If until now you have been bisexual and have lived for two decades in a relationship that has been "very happy," it seems to me that your first obligation is to try and see if you can still make this relationship work. The implication of your letter is that your spouse would be shocked and devastated to learn that you were leaving her because you now regard yourself as homosexual. This suggests that you have been a sufficiently ardent lover so that she has no clue concerning your other sexual orientation. If that is the case, then perhaps your relationship need not end.
On the other hand, if you intend from now on to choose an exclusively homosexual identification and lifestyle (and I use the word "choose" deliberately, knowing that whereas many homosexuals do not have a choice, your years of heterosexual activity suggest that you do), then it would seem that you have the obligation to share this information with your spouse. For one thing, if you intend to start engaging in sex with men, your spouse needs to know that. Presumably, she will not consent to live in an "open marriage." Therefore, the moment it becomes clear to you that your life as an exclusively heterosexual male is over, it seems to me that you have no moral choice but to tell your partner. If you no longer have any heterosexual feelings, your wife will pick up on this anyway.
What makes your letter particularly difficult to answer is your remark that most of the years of your marriage were very happy. Discrimination against gays puts pressure on many gay people to try to live publicly heterosexual lives. Such a falsification of their sexual identity can lead to misery both for themselves and their spouses. Women I know who have been in such marriages (as well as men whose wives have come out as lesbians) have found the experience painful--even before their partner revealed the truth. The fact that their partner regarded heterosexual relations as a burden made them feel unattractive and unsatisfied.
Your case, however, is different. You don't explain how it has come about that what was acceptable to you for so many years has now become unacceptable. Therefore, before you give up on something that has brought you much joy to experiment with something that might not work out at all, you should think hard and long. If you do decide to stay with your wife, I don't believe it wise to share with her your internal struggles over your sexual identity, any more than you would share with her the news that you had almost decided to leave her for another woman.
Joseph Telushkin, a rabbi and Beliefnet columnist, is the author of 10 books, including "The Book of Jewish Values," just out from Bell Tower/Crown.