Does Flexibility Stabilize Marriage? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 15 2011 @ 8:17pm

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

When Chris first referenced Dan Savage's critique of monogamy in marriage, I bit my tongue.  I wanted to reply, I thought that my point was so obvious that a sea of readers would send a torrent of emails.  I waited.  Then, I saw this follow up, diving into the issue more directly.  The responses were cogent and well put, but seemed to miss the most obvious problem.  So quickly on the heels on the historic New York legislation (and well before the nation has had a chance to absorb its meaning), we are now being told by one our nation's most prominent gay leaders that marriage means something different to gay men than it does to the rest of us. 

Yes, I get his point that men have historically been less faithful than women.  Yes, our evolutionary predisposition is to stray.  Perhaps monogamy does strain against our nature (by the way, respect for property, injunctions against rape, and the very notion of law are all "unnatural").  None of that, however, is the point.  The point is that Savage tacitly admits that the inclusion of gay men into the institution of marriage will change marriage.  Most voters don't care that 19th century men kept mistresses, and they don't want to hear rationalizations from powerful men about why their own infidelity should be sanctioned.  They just want to know that the bigoted arguments from the far right are mere hyperbole, so they can join the swelling ranks of moderates who recognize marriage equality.

By the same logic that gay men will make marriage less monogamous, lesbian couples – who are more monogamous than straight couples – will make the cultural institution more monogamous. Sounds like a wash to me. Another reader:

Dan Savage just came on Colbert. He's playing behind me as I type and I am as disturbed by what he's doing with the "monogamy isn't natural" argument as ever. You know why? Gay people fought a hard fight to demand their rights to create – to have society observe – them valid as a couple. Legal. A respected union. They still have to fight.

And everything he does with this, "I want to cheat on my husband when I feel like it" argument undermines everything they fought for. That straight couples fought along side them for, wanting them to have an equal thing. I don't know why he's doing this. I only know that I turned around and hissed at the TV, "I never cheated on my husband." Apparently Savage has. And he wants it validated. It's wrong what he's doing. It undermines the work and dreams and need and accomplishment of so many people. I don't know why he's doing it. It's stupid. Mostly it's selfish and self serving.

For the millionth time, non-monogamy isn't cheating if the couple is open and honest about extramarital sex. Anyway, I can't speak for Dan, so here is his response to David Badash, a gay writer who founded The New Civil Rights Movement and fired a salvo at Savage that echoes many of the complaints of Dish readers like the ones above. Savage:

Yeah, the haters are worked up about Mark Oppenheimer's piece in The New York Times Magazine. Haters gonna hate, as the kids say (or were recently saying), but it's not like Maggie Gallagher is going to sign off on our full civil equality if we just behave.

We're fighting for equal rights, sistergirlfriend, not a very special right to a bullshit double standard. Gay people don't have to be on our best behaviors, as defined by you or Maggie or the Pope, to be entitled to our civil rights. They're called rights, David, and not treats or trophies, for a reason: we don't have to earn or win them. They're already ours, technically, even if they're not yet recognized.

… David, you're not doing the struggle for marriage equality any favors when you embrace the hypocritical arguments of those who oppose marriage equality, i.e. that non-monogamous couples don't deserve the right to wed (but only non-monogamous gay couples; straight couples can do whatever the fuck they want), the choices made by married gays should come in for higher scrutiny than those made by married straights, etc.