Sunday, January 28, 2007

Do Gay Men Really Want Marriage?

By Steve Charing

While the Maryland Court of Appeals deliberates on the constitutionality of the state’s 1973 law, which restricts marriage to between a man and a woman, it is a good time to examine if marriage between a man and a man is what gay men want.

Based on an accumulation of conversations over the past year or two with all age groups —both personal and via the Internet—as well as blogs and other data, I feel comfortable about offering my thoughts pertaining to gay men and same-sex marriage. But I will make this qualification: my comments are not intended to be generalizations or absolute facts nor are they the results of any broad-sample scientific survey. Instead, these points reflect trends and tendencies that I believe portray an accurate picture of many gay men vis-à-vis their attitudes towards same-sex marriage.

Although I count many lesbians as friends, I’m not going to pretend that I can offer any insight regarding the mindset of lesbians other than the fact I strongly believe that they are far more willing to enter the realm of same-sex marriage than gay men are.

Statistics support that theory. In Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, even though it is believed there are more gay men than lesbians in the state, lesbian marriages outnumbered gay male marriages from May 17, 2004 through November 9, 2006 by a count of 5,642 to 3,122. That’s nearly a 2 to 1 ratio. The following analysis, however, is focused on the male issues surrounding marriage, which may explain, in part, why the Massachusetts experience is what it is.

Gay men are very similar to straight men. Why not? They’re men! Males, being the hunters they are (and that’s the case in virtually all species), seem to relish the conquest. Straight men marry for a variety of reasons, and most have families to keep them together. But we all know—and I’ve been told by a good number of married men—that many still have attraction issues with other women. Nonetheless, those who stick to their marriage (nearly half don’t for a variety of reasons) still wander, if only with their eyes.

But for these married men, a split-up could be both painful and financially draining. The laws are structured that way. They can lose their children and have to pay unseemly sums in alimony and child support. Therefore, divorce isn’t a good option unless it’s better for the family than unhappily remaining together. So while half of marriages disintegrate, imagine how many more would as well if it weren’t for children, divorce laws and their attendant penalties.

Gay men, except the married ones in Massachusetts, generally have the independence that so many straight men can only fantasize about. And the sexual freedom it brings is a major impediment to same-sex marriage. For one thing, there are large numbers of gay men—mostly younger—who eschew long-term relationships, much less marriage, to preserve to some degree their sexual sovereignty. The trend seems to be that the younger one is, the less inclination there is in forming a long-term relationship.

While many claim they want boyfriends, there is significant trepidation, especially among the younger guys, about settling down. And sexual freedom is not the only factor that thwarts a desire for a long-term relationship.

"Being single (or just dating) is very liberating," said one guy in his early thirties. "You don't have to plan your life around someone else's wants or needs. You can do what you want to do, go where you want to go, see who you want to see. Nobody to answer to."

He added that the independence that single life brings reduces dependency on others. "When you're single, there is nobody there to let you down. Less disappointment that way."

Others just don’t trust gay men sufficiently to settle down. Numerous gays are constantly fearful that their partner will cheat on them (a legitimate concern) and impact the relationship and its accompanying emotional investment. "I’ve given everything of myself to my boyfriend, and one day I find out he’s out with another dude," said one twenty-three year-old. "I can’t trust men. They’re ass-----."

And many other men are involved in "open relationships" or engage in "threesomes" to try to have it both ways—a boyfriend and a variety of sexual contacts.

For these men, marriage, if allowed, would clearly not seem to be a desirable or recommended option at this point in their lives.

But there is a different side of the equation. "It's nice to know there is someone out there who is looking forward to seeing you, who misses you, who is thinking about you, who loves you," said one single man in his thirties. "Life feels a little less scary when you know you don't have to shoulder the burden of doing everything by yourself. When you are in a long-term relationship, both partners have each other to fall back on, be it emotionally, physically or economically."

Relationships can also help eliminate some of the games experienced in dating different guys. One tries to put on his best side to impress his would-be partner for fear that anything less desirable would cause an early exit. As one man put it, "When you're in a long-term relationship, most likely you've both seen each other at your worst, and you're still together, so you don't have to pretend anymore. You can just be good or as nasty as that is."

Once you truly fall in love with a person and can deal with any foibles, that is the signal to think in terms of a serious relationship. It does take commitment, communication and work. The security and dependability, as well as the elimination of the "games" involved in dating, are strong inducements for long-term-relationships.

Another is family, and that’s where marriage would be paramount. "Marriage is important to us because we're a family just like everyone else, and we deserve the same rights as everyone else," said a member of a gay couple in their late twenties who have adopted a baby boy. "The rights marriage gives us allow our son to be protected if something should happen to us."

When you see gay men in long-term relationships, most appear to be older and have probably experienced enough emotional trauma and drama that are frequently associated with the single life. They are ready to settle down. I know of couples who have been together 20, 30, 40 years. Mine has lasted 27 wonderful years, and I am as happy today as when I first met my partner.

There are also many younger established couples, and marriage would be beneficial and secure for them as well. The over 1,100 rights and benefits that marriage would accrue would only strengthen their partnership and family.

Nonetheless, being in a long-term relationship doesn’t necessarily translate into a desire for marriage. The same issues that beset heterosexual married men could also surface, and men (and women) are mindful of that. And there are financial and other considerations that could preclude marriage.

So, to the question, do gay men really want marriage, it depends on each individual’s circumstance and priorities, as well as his desire to get serious about sharing his life with someone he loves through thick and thin.

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