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Old 01-29-2010, 12:13 PM   #1
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Default Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret

I expect I'll be discussing this with a number of gay friends I'll see at a party this weekend. Wondering what y'all think about it?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/us/29sfmetro.html

Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret

By SCOTT JAMES
Published: January 28, 2010

When Rio and Ray married in 2008, the Bay Area women omitted two words from their wedding vows: fidelity and monogamy.

Bay Area Report
This article is part of our expanded Bay Area coverage.

The Bay Area Blog features coverage of public affairs, commerce, culture and lifestyles in the region. We invite your comments at bayarea@nytimes.com.
Go to the Bay Area Blog »

“I take it as a gift that someone will be that open and honest and sharing with me,” said Rio, using the word “open” to describe their marriage.

Love brought the middle-age couple together — they wed during California’s brief legal window for same-sex marriage. But they knew from the beginning that their bond would be forged on their own terms, including what they call “play” with other women.

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.

According to the research, open relationships almost always have rules.

That is how it works for Chris and James. Over drinks upstairs at the venerable Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, they beamed as they recalled the day in June 2008 that they donned black suits and wed at City Hall, stunned by the outpouring of affection from complete strangers. “Even homeless people and bike messengers were congratulating us,” said Chris, 42.

A couple since 2002, they opened their relationship a year ago after concluding that they were not fully meeting each other’s needs. But they have rules: complete disclosure, honesty about all encounters, advance approval of partners, and no sex with strangers — they must both know the other men first. “We check in with each other on this an awful lot,” said James, 37.

That transparency can make relationships stronger, said Joe Quirk, author of the best-selling relationship book “It’s Not You, It’s Biology.”

“The combination of freedom and mutual understanding can foster a unique level of trust,” Mr. Quirk, of Oakland, said.

“The traditional American marriage is in crisis, and we need insight,” he said, citing the fresh perspective gay couples bring to matrimony. “If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.”

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.”

Deb and Marius also have rules, including restrictions on extramarital intercourse. “To us,” Marius said, “cheating would be breaking the agreement we have with each other. We define our relationship, not a religious group.”

So while the legal fight over same-sex marriage plays out, couples say the real battle is making relationships last — and their answers defy the prevailing definition of marriage.

“In 1900, the average life span for a U.S. citizen was 47,” Mr. Quirk said. “Now we’re living so much longer, ‘until death do us part’ is twice as challenging.”

Scott James is an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.
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Old 01-29-2010, 06:20 PM   #2
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Hmm, Ernest, the survey participants were all bay area residents, and that is hardly a representative sample of all gay and lesbians. Just because it is the gay mecca, doesn't mean SF has a gay/lesbian demographic that is respresentative of the gay and lesbian population in all 50 states, so those findings might not carry over to gay and lesbian married couples living in Vermont or Iowa, for example.

Still, interesting article for sure.
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Old 01-29-2010, 06:40 PM   #3
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Hmm, Ernest, the survey participants were all bay area residents, and that is hardly a representative sample of all gay and lesbians. Just because it is the gay mecca, doesn't mean SF has a gay/lesbian demographic that is respresentative of the gay and lesbian population in all 50 states, so those findings might not carry over to gay and lesbian married couples living in Vermont or Iowa, for example.

Still, interesting article for sure.
I was really more interested in people's response to the general concept/philosophy. I agree it isn't necessarily reflective of the general view but how do you feel? Is monogamy simply a cultural contrivance, like hetero marriage, or does it hold a deeper emotional significance? Do you think it's any different for lesbians than gay men?
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Old 01-29-2010, 06:48 PM   #4
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I don't know, Ernest. I've never given it much thought, and really don't have an idea of what position I would take on monogamy, or of how I'd read monogamy regardless of what the sexuality of the couple is.

Personally, for me, monogamy is what I'm interested in, because I get attached very easily to the people I feel strongly about, and I want to be their alpha and omega, and vice versa. However, I'm not your typical lesbian-leaning bisexual, anyway.
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Old 01-31-2010, 10:56 AM   #5
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I don't know, Ernest. I've never given it much thought, and really don't have an idea of what position I would take on monogamy, or of how I'd read monogamy regardless of what the sexuality of the couple is.

Personally, for me, monogamy is what I'm interested in, because I get attached very easily to the people I feel strongly about, and I want to be their alpha and omega, and vice versa. However, I'm not your typical lesbian-leaning bisexual, anyway.
Yeah, you know, I've heard of this "gays prefer open relationships" concept before.....but have honestly never observed it in real life. What I didn't gather from (admittedly, a skimming of) the article is: did they also look at the relationships of straight Bay Area couples vs couples in the rest of the US or world? Maybe they are also more open, and this phenomenon is a local effect?
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Old 01-31-2010, 03:53 PM   #6
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I must say that studies like that make me a little wary because there are plenty of homophobes who will blow it out of proportion and use it to justify their "ZOMG, all gays sleep around and get AIDS, don't let them marry and please protect our innocent children" hate campaign.

So far, the article confirms my experience and I know a lot of gay men. Almost all the gay male couples I know who have been together for say, more than 5 years are in open relationships. They are a very varied bunch and live in different places, from conservative Singapore and relatively gay-friendly London so I am inclined to believe that there is some truth to the study.

However, most lesbians I know (again, diverse bunch in different parts of the world) seem to frown upon open relationships.
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Old 01-31-2010, 10:06 PM   #7
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I dunno, it kinda reminds me too much of the propaganda about gay people "ruining" American values. I remember the case studies and stuff like that about how gay people just want to sleep around or spread AIDS or some crap like that, just to try to make homosexuality look like it's immoral.

I think some people prefer open relationships, and some prefer closed relationships. I'd also like to see a comparison to straight couples with open relationships, or a larger selection from across the country, like Melian suggested.
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Old 02-01-2010, 05:31 PM   #8
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I don't know, Ernest. I've never given it much thought, and really don't have an idea of what position I would take on monogamy, or of how I'd read monogamy regardless of what the sexuality of the couple is.

Personally, for me, monogamy is what I'm interested in, because I get attached very easily to the people I feel strongly about, and I want to be their alpha and omega, and vice versa. However, I'm not your typical lesbian-leaning bisexual, anyway.
Deleted so as not to derail thread with goofy flirty comment.

Last edited by Geektastic1; 02-01-2010 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 02-01-2010, 05:55 PM   #9
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I must say that studies like that make me a little wary because there are plenty of homophobes who will blow it out of proportion and use it to justify their "ZOMG, all gays sleep around and get AIDS, don't let them marry and please protect our innocent children" hate campaign.

So far, the article confirms my experience and I know a lot of gay men. Almost all the gay male couples I know who have been together for say, more than 5 years are in open relationships. They are a very varied bunch and live in different places, from conservative Singapore and relatively gay-friendly London so I am inclined to believe that there is some truth to the study.

However, most lesbians I know (again, diverse bunch in different parts of the world) seem to frown upon open relationships.
I think open relationships are a lot more common among gay men than lesbians, but a fair amount of lesbians on the west coast seem to be into polyamory. I think it's generally more common in San Francisco overall than anyplace else, naturally.
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Old 02-02-2010, 06:44 AM   #10
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Deleted so as not to derail thread with goofy flirty comment.
Aww, I missed goofy flirty comment!
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:49 AM   #11
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hmmm.. actually, now that i think of it. All of my gay male friends who are in relationships have been cheated on by their partner or they have opted for an open relationship. The only exception to this is one couple i know but even they chat and flirt with other guys online. Like Cors said pretty much all the lesbian couples i know have been together for years monogamously. Sounds like there might be some evolutionary reasons for this...erm kinna... or maby culturally this is expected? I dont think gay males cannot/dont want to be monogamous and i think it depends on the individual. It would be interesting to compare the infidelity rates of gay and straight males. I hate when i feel i am making blanket statements about a group of people..hmm perhaps my findings come from the fact i hang out with a big bunch of slutty men?
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:51 AM   #12
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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 found this really offensive. The article lays out the parameters of this outside-of-the-union activity: it's open and both partners know.

But somehow if you're straight, you're cheating or having an affair (which is another way of saying cheating, in my opinion).

Hmnn. If only I'd known before I'd done it! Maybe I should just become gay so that I'm not seen as immoral. By this study, at least.

boooo!
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Old 02-02-2010, 10:39 AM   #13
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I found this really offensive. The article lays out the parameters of this outside-of-the-union activity: it's open and both partners know.

But somehow if you're straight, you're cheating or having an affair (which is another way of saying cheating, in my opinion).

Hmnn. If only I'd known before I'd done it! Maybe I should just become gay so that I'm not seen as immoral. By this study, at least.

boooo!
Historically polyamory has been practiced widely and "successfully" in many cultures. Apart from the fact that they are currently denied the legal right to marry in most states there are any number of reasons homosexuals might elect for ethical non-monogamy. It's not my cuppa but I don't know why anyone needs to judge plural relationships as immoral unless they're an unwilling or unwitting party to one? Marriage in the legal U.S. sense imposes certain boundaries and penalties for infidelity. In any case someone will always manage to see you as immoral. Why worry?
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Old 02-02-2010, 11:38 AM   #14
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In any case someone will always manage to see you as immoral. Why worry?
are you actually asking me this question seriously, and in reference to my post above? are you?
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Old 02-02-2010, 11:47 AM   #15
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are you actually asking me this question seriously, and in reference to my post above? are you?
Well technically it was rhetorical but if you just want to answer I'm kinda curious now.
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Old 02-02-2010, 12:02 PM   #16
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Well technically it was rhetorical but if you just want to answer I'm kinda curious now.
well, my answer is that your answer was shitty.
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Old 02-06-2010, 03:54 PM   #17
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A close gay couple I know practices this particular arrangement, and they have an awesome "marriage." It's not for me, but if you can make it work, more power to ya.
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Old 02-06-2010, 04:53 PM   #18
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I really and truly do not understand why people get married and then have open marriages - gay or straight. Shagging other people while in a union that is meant to be about monogamy, about fidelity, is BULLSHIT!!! Don't get married for fucks sake Ugh!
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Old 02-06-2010, 05:23 PM   #19
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well, that's your definition of marriage.
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Old 02-06-2010, 05:34 PM   #20
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I really and truly do not understand why people get married and then have open marriages - gay or straight. Shagging other people while in a union that is meant to be about monogamy, about fidelity, is BULLSHIT!!! Don't get married for fucks sake Ugh!
See, other people's definition of marriage is different - plus, insurance/tax provide MANY incentives to get married (in the states at least), whether you're planning on having a monogamous union or not.
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Old 02-06-2010, 08:46 PM   #21
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hmmm.. actually, now that i think of it. All of my gay male friends who are in relationships have been cheated on by their partner or they have opted for an open relationship. The only exception to this is one couple i know but even they chat and flirt with other guys online. Like Cors said pretty much all the lesbian couples i know have been together for years monogamously. Sounds like there might be some evolutionary reasons for this...erm kinna... or maby culturally this is expected? I dont think gay males cannot/dont want to be monogamous and i think it depends on the individual. It would be interesting to compare the infidelity rates of gay and straight males. I hate when i feel i am making blanket statements about a group of people..hmm perhaps my findings come from the fact i hang out with a big bunch of slutty men?
See? Gays shouldn't get married 'cause they're promiscuous. Of course, since until fairly recently* being openly homosexual was unacceptable and in many places actually illegal, there are relatively few public role models for monogamous behavior. (A closeted couple can't be a role model for someone who doesn't know they exist...) Imagine what heterosexual marriage would look like if it had been banned for centuries and was suddenly deemed acceptable! I think we'd see much the same sort of patterns.

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Old 02-07-2010, 04:21 AM   #22
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Coming from an open (AND polyamorous) relationship myself, I can definitely see some blaring reasons why an open gay marriage would stand the test of time more effectively than its' monogamous counterpart.

In an open marriage the HAPPINESS of all parties involved is imperative. One does not feel as if they are being CONTROLLED by their partner. They are free to go where they want, see whomever they please and do what makes them HAPPY without their own partner dictating what they can and can not do.

Keep in mind, we come from a society that by and large says: "You CAN'T be gay!"

We also come from a society that says: "You CAN'T have more than one partner!" and "Polyamory is a SIN!"

From a very personal perspective I can see how this would work. I myself am married, to a man. I am also SUPER attracted to women both mentally and physically. I always have been attracted to females, a good majority of my sexual partners (and relationships) have been females or TG.

I LOVE my husband and am very attracted to him on all levels, but I must acknowledge my desires and NATURAL inclinations towards women, or else, I would not BE me! My husband does not try to insinuate himself into my relationships with other women. In his eyes and my own it would be ABUSIVE AND CONTROLLING for him to attempt to change who and what I am. Rather, who and what I am, (even if that IS my twat hungry, woman lovin' side) is celebrated, as it is another part of me. (I feel the same with him.)

He is happy when I am happy. I am happy when he is happy. That is love, in my book. It is as simple as that.
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