It’s time to go back to the beginning, I think, to clarify why straight spouses need to be heard in the current conversations about social justice swirling around us. It is not because they are overlooked, which they are. Rather, straight spouses want desperately to share their wide lens on what happens to their families when their husbands or wives come out. Every family member — they, their gay or lesbian partners, and their children — is hurt by antigay sentiments and action, such as constitutional amendments and laws that limit legal marriage to that of a man and women.
Up to two million gay men and lesbians in the United States have followed the traditional idea that marriage is limited to a man and a woman and have entered a presumably heterosexual marriage usually without the straight spouse’s knowledge of their sexual orientation and often without the gay or lesbian spouse’s acknowledgment or realization. They marry because they truly love their fiancés and want to raise a family and also to meet societal expectations. Their faith communities, families, and society in general expect that marriage will occur in almost everyone’s life and that it would, of course, be with someone of the opposite gender. While many gay men and lesbians now do not feel a need to follow the traditional pattern, a number still do. So, don’t stop reading
Once they marry a straight person, most lesbians and gay men struggle to suppress or deny their same-sex attraction and become totally involved in the marriage and parenthood. However neither prayer nor practice changes their sexual orientation. For most, their internal struggle escalates, often reaching severe depression, until something happens to change the pattern. The children finish school and leave home, or they meet someone socially or at work, or the Internet invites them to explore and — poof! — their same-sex attractions are ignited or they unexpectedly fall in love. When they disclose (or are discovered), that they are really gay or lesbian, their straight wives or husbands are devastated, their children confused. Though some couples manage to stay married, because of their long history, love and close friendship, the good of the family, or the difficulty of separating, most divorce – and their children lose a two-parent home.
I lived that experience, watching my gay husband suffer without knowing why until he came out. As I then met and studied straight spouses across the country, I saw that they, like their gay and lesbian mates, were stigmatized, too, and so were their children. I saw, too, that their issues and those of their families were ignored and not understood, as they tried to protect their gay spouses and children from rejection in their churches or synagogues, jobs, schools or communities. That’s why I founded the Straight Spouse Network in 1991 to provide confidential personal support for straight men and women who faced this unforeseen family crisis for which they were not prepared.
Given these scenarios that repeat themselves across the country, the rationale for legalizing one man-one woman marriage as the only marriage form and a way to bring stability to the community is sabotaged by the reality of the family crises experienced by mixed-orientation couples. Neither spouse entering those marriages has high odds of fulfilling his or her hope of creating a lasting relationship and family. No children born to them can be sure their two parents will stay together.
Revealing the devastating impact on families of couples married under the one-man/one-woman societal imperative is the reason why straight spouses want their voices heard by proponents of laws designed to exclude gay and lesbian couples from marrying. Avoiding the perpetuation of this kind of harm to families is reason enough to pass laws that enable gay men and lesbians, no less than other adults, to marry any person to whom they wish to commit their lives and love, regardless of gender. Only then can the hopes of all spouses and families in the United States have the greatest possible chance of being fulfilled.