Surprise! Lots of Gay Marriages Are ’Open’

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 29, 2010

Some may put this into the category of "studies that confirm the painfully obvious," but researchers at San Francisco State University (where else?) are releasing findings that many gay couples are not monogamous.

The New York Times is reporting that the study, to be released in February, noted, "Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships."

Rather than flouting traditional marriage, the gay way may, in fact, be its savior. Per the article: "Some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage - one that might point the way for the survival of the institution."

Actually, the "and lesbians" in the sentence above is apparently not accurate (something many may say is intuitively obvious). According to the Times, the 556 couples studies for three years were all male-male. Of them, about half had sex outside their relationships--with knowledge and approval of the other partner.

"With straight people, it's called affairs or cheating," Colleen Hoff, the study's principal investigator, told the paper, "but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations."

In a conclusion that may surprise some (but not others), the researchers found that these open couples were, in fact, just as happy in their relationships as those who were totally monogamous. A study in 1985 found that open gay relationships last longer.

In a Times blog post, reporter Scott James playfully details some of the "rules of the road" for gay open relationships. "To be clear," he writes, "it's not polygamy, but playmates."

He cites the study as pointing to those rules like, the "200-Mile," "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" rule: If a cat is far away, a mouse can play. The "One-a-Day" rule allows for a time-out. Perhaps the most discussed among gay couples is the "Not More Than Once With the Same Guy" rule. Another sticky subject is the "Not In Our Home Rule."

Of course, some will insist that such a study undermines the argument for gay marriage. There used to be a phrase in Yiddish, "Don't discuss in front of the non-Jews." This kind of community groupthink would maintain that the study reinforces the stereotype of two gay men as horn dogs, seeking out sex, sex and more sex wherever they can find it.

Commentor on James' blog item reiterated this belief. "Try not to portray us as these sex-crazed stereotypes," one wrote.

Another said his post "trivializes and belittles the 50% of gay relationships which which are monogamous and devoted partnerships. Thanks for giving the bigots more ammunition and the Sunday-go-to-church gossips something to gasp at."

Another made the interesting point that studying couples in San Francisco and projecting them as typical is no more accurate than straight couples in the capital of the counter-culture. A study in Indianapolis, say, may yield very different results.

But at least one heterosexual observer would disagree. "The traditional American marriage is in crisis, and we need insight," Joe Quirk, author of "It's Not You, It's Biology." "If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages."

There is also a question of how monogamous those "traditional" heterosexual couples really are. In 1972, a bestseller entitled "Open Marriage" spurred media discussion that such marriages were on the rise.

Many experts, however, disagree. But, since Alfred Kinsey's pioneering research in the 1950s, there haven't been thorough-enough studies to verify the incidence of open relationships among heterosexuals, according to many observers.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).