By Karen Bieman
Before every rainbow there is a storm.
I am thinking of those who have suffered in the years leading up to the current rainbow-fest and those who will continue to suffer, due to lingering homophobia and religious intolerance or condescension.
I am also definitely thinking of the far-too-many brave straight spouses who have endured years of a mismatched marriage, because someone who was gay felt unable to be honest with themselves or accept their same sex attraction, choosing instead to marry a straight person, taking them (without their knowledge) into their closet of shame. For these straight spouses, the glut of rainbows all over Facebook brings up a mix of emotions, some of which are very, very painful, yet some of which have a scent of hope that perhaps others will not suffer as they have.
I am thankful for the brave souls who dared to be true to themselves even when most of society judged or bullied them. The ones who dared to come out when the world shouted, hide away!
I am hopeful that there will continue to be a growing acceptance of people, not “in spite of” their sexuality (eg. “love the sinner hate the sin”), but inclusive of it, recognising that someone’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of **who they are**, not an addendum, or a choice.
I am hopeful of a better tomorrow for all people, regardless of race or gender or sexuality. But as we welcome that better tomorrow, let’s not forget those who have suffered along the way and continue to do so.
I am hopeful that with a growing acceptance of homosexuality there will be less bullying, less suicides, less unhappy lives lived inside a closet of shame, and less suffering straight spouses who unknowingly marry someone who is definitely not straight but wishes they were.
A new and better tomorrow really is possible. It is up to us.
By Becky Arrington
As I am writing this the morning after the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal nationwide, I have mixed feelings.
Last evening I was elated and celebrated with the many gay friends on Facebook who have been struggling for many years to have their unions recognized in Georgia. Some had never entered into marriages with straight partners, comfortable in knowing their own sexuality. Others I had met years ago when speaking at the Gay Father’s of Atlanta meeting, and I helped many of them and their wives as they went through the process.
With every post I responded to or read, my heart was also drawn to the many friends and acquaintances in the Straight Spouse community. No matter how you feel supportive for the REST of the country, your own situation is still raw and painful. Having the country celebrate diversity could feel like a slap in the face. Your feelings are very real, so please take extra steps to feel those and honor them. In our last meeting we talked a lot about what people do to work through the angst. Whether it is journaling, walking, punching a pillow or crying take the time and the space for yourself to allow them to come.
Here is a link to an an article written in 2013 during the first Proposition 8 debate in California from a Straight Spouse who is a comedian in New York. She sums up the concept that most of us realize…..had our spouses’ early lives been filled with acceptance and openness that they could have lived an alternative lifestyle then they could have taken another path and we wouldn’t be here today.
Becky Arrington is a co-facilitator of the Atlanta Straight Spouse Support Group, which is a gathering of individuals who are either going through or have experienced having a spouse who is gay. It is a safe place to explore your feelings, listen to others and realize that you are not alone. Their credo is to accept everyone exactly where they are in the journey, to support and not to judge, for each relationship is unique to that couple.
Same sex marriage becomes law in New York on July 24. Throughout the lengthy and contentious debate, the point that marriage itself will be changed if gays and lesbians can marry each other has been shouted back and forth. Well, it will affect OUR marriages – and probably lessen the frequency of a gay or lesbian person marrying a heterosexual person just to have a married life and children.
No, gay marriage won’t eliminate all mixed orientation marriages like ours – there are still those people who are deeply closeted to themselves and don’t want to be gay who will attempt to “straighten up” by marrying a heterosexual. We know the rest of that story, it is all over this site and this blog.
Here is what could change for the better – our divorces.
Now that gay people can marry each other in New York and several other states, it’s possible to actually marry the person they’ve fallen in love with outside of their marriages to us. Rather than hanging on to the status quo at any cost, some gays and lesbians will choose to divorce the straight spouse in order to marry their partner. No more pretending, sneaking around, having an “arrangement”. For some gays and lesbians who are currently married to heterosexuals, divorce and remarriage will become much more desirable than living a double life.
A same sex marriage option also integrates gays and lesbians into the same expectations during divorce that straight people have. In New York, adultery is not restricted to just the opposite sex, and is difficult to prove. But in other states, adultery is defined as occurring between opposite sex relationships only. Consequently, a man who cheats on his wife with another man cannot be charged with adultery. If it is necessary for any reason to prove fault, the wife has to find other grounds, even if the homosexual relationship is open and obvious. States that approve same sex marriage will also have to examine grounds for divorce, to be certain that they allow for same sex adultery. Likewise, if a partner in a same sex marriage commits adultery with someone of the opposite sex, it should fall under the definition of adultery.
Often, straight spouses note how quickly gay spouses move forward with partners and new relationships; it can seem that as we’re still picking up the pieces, they’ve moved on to a whole new life, practically overnight. In truth, gays and lesbians have had their entire lives to figure out their sexuality and what they want in a relationship – we have far less time to recover from the end of our marriages to them. Perhaps now that same sex couples can marry in several states, including the large state of New York, our LGBT ex spouses will have the same set of instructions from the court about overnight visitors and child visitation. Instead of denying the obvious, and pretending that this is just a friend, the best interests of the children in adapting to changes in their family will have to be honestly considered. It isn’t homophobic or discriminatory to expect the same standard of not having a visitor sleep with the parent when children are present until the divorce is final and the new relationship is stable, as this is an expectation which is widely applied to heterosexual divorces.
Straight spouses are not a unified group when it comes to support of same sex marriage. Socially, culturally, and politically, we are all over the map. But perhaps with the legalization of same sex marriages, which are themselves open to legal divorce, the circumstances of our divorces and families will not be treated as something exceptional or hidden, but as a normal process in the steps toward resolution and healing.
By Tara Theresa Hill (Gay Family Life)
As the debate continues to rage over The Marriage Equality bill in New York, I can’t help but feel a bit ticked off at the situation. I’m sure that many people feel that way and normally, I try not to emote during my blog sessions, but I just have to get this off of my chest. In my conversations and discussions with people on growing up with a gay parent, someone always points out to me that it is clear that I am advocating for gay people. They say that I am not proposing a debate on the issue so much as telling them why I am in support of equal rights for gay couples. Well, yeah, that is kind of the point of my whole presentation. In one session, I even had someone ask me if I was going to try to hide my gay mother and her wife from my children. I had to stop myself from losing my temper and instead calmly responded with, “If I was really going to ‘hide’ them from my children, would I be here talking to you about this right now?”
Of course, I am in support of marriage equality. My whole goal is to try to open people’s minds by talking to them about my life experiences being raised by a gay parent. I guess it is fair to say that I am I biased. I certainly should be. Not only was I raised by my two great moms, but I also have several close friends who are gay as well. To put it simply, I have grown up around a lot of gay people. Some of my best friends are gay.
Even though I don’t like it, I can understand how someone who has never met a gay person might not know how to react to them. I can also see why a person who was raised in a homophobic environment, a household with very specific gender roles, or even some strict religious families might not understand or even like gay people for that matter. I can comprehend this because I am human and have had my own reservations about things and cultures that I am unfamiliar with. I also know that I am blessed because I was raised to keep an open mind to everyone’s lifestyles and traditions, and that other people have not necessarily had this type of upbringing. However, I believe that everyone has the power to change and that most people are genuinely good and don’t want to see others suffer. I could be wrong. I could be naïve, but those are my beliefs. I have to hold on to the hope that everyone can change if given the chance, and that we can help make things better through educating people about the diverse society that surrounds them.
My mother taught me that one of the most important things is to have compassion. I have compassion for people who are against gay marriage because they are blind to how their actions and words are hurting others. Well, it is our job to open their eyes and help them see. Given my background, I feel that it is my responsibility to help in this fight. That is why I speak. This is not just about New York or even the United States. This is about reshaping our thinking as a society. I not only speak in defense of my mother and Elena, but also for all of the gay people that I know and love. Every time I get up to speak to a group of people or write this blog, I see their many faces swimming before me, and I know what I must do. I must keep sending out the message. Yes, I am for marriage equality. Yes, I am an advocate for gay rights. Yes, I am ‘biased’ as they say, but I have a right to be. Now I ask you to ask yourself, wouldn’t you be if you were me?
The Straight Spouse Network invites the perspectives of various individuals who wish to share their unique experiences. We wish to thank Tara for allowing us to reprint her blog post. She is the daughter of a mixed orientation marriage and was raised by her lesbian mom and stepmom. Her views represent one perspective of one adult child. As a resident of New York State she is very interested in all our families having visibility and speaks with college groups about her experiences growing up.
You can read all about the legal decision in California, upholding gay marriage, and overturning the referendum against it. There are plenty of articles about how gay people are affected, how married people are affected, how churches and clergy are affected, how society is affected, how the institution of marriage is affected.
There’s very little written or spoken about how we straight spouses and straight partners are affected.
It would be naive to argue that all of our marriages would have never occurred if gay marriage were legal. Some might not have occurred. However, for some of us, the prospect and reality of gay marriage engenders a hope that there will be fewer reasons going forward for a gay person to seek intimacy and family connection by marrying a straight person.
These realities haven’t come about in our lives BECAUSE of gay marriage. They’re already there, consequences of our “one man-one woman marriages” which were also “one gay-one straight marriages”.
The most important direct impact gay marriage has on us is in the moving forward phase, after our separations and divorces. Many of us who have children have long had to deal with step parenting issues that arise with our gay former spouse’s new partner. Now, with a legal designation of marriage in some areas, we can move forward with the same set of laws and expectations in place as any other step family. For many of our children, the shock of having a gay parent is really secondary to the shock of divorce, because divorce has more of a direct impact on their lives.
Gay marriage means if our children are dependents of the gay parent, they are legal dependents of the gay step parent as well – which could open up employer sponsored health insurance to them if we ourselves are not able to provide coverage. For some of our families, the alternative for our children’s health insurance has been Medicaid, even though our ex’s long time gay partner has good insurance, but no legal standing as a married person with dependents.
It can also mean that a gay couple will use the legitimacy of marriage to bully the straight parent. This “I have a new husband/wife who will be a better mother/father than the one I’m replacing” school of divorced parenting happens in heterosexual divorces where litigation over children is used as a weapon of control. It can be expected a variation will continue with gay marriage too.
It can mean that claims by straight spouses of infidelity, fraud or deceit in the marriage may be honored more than they are now, since the legal definition of marriage will include gays. It can mean that there will be fewer restrictions on straight ex spouses speaking about their ex being gay. After all, that is the truth we and our families live, and is not badmouthing when spoken honestly.
Sadly, the inevitable legal appeals will have another consequence for us – yet again, our lives will continue to be dismissed and ignored unless we can be used to further someone else’s agenda. Straight spouses are not a monolithic group. We don’t speak with one voice or with one experience. We do have a common need for support, affirmation, confirmation, and recognition of the process of our healing. Many of us support gay marriage, many of us oppose it. Some of us support it as a civil institution but would be uncomfortable with it in our churches. The fearful spectors of what gay marriage will bring are the realities that we now live with. Some of us have horrible family situations, some of us have made for a peaceable realm within our so called rainbow families, which actually are step families. No matter, we exemplify what there is to be afraid of, and so we are shoved aside, along with any recognition of our ongoing need for counseling, support, friendship, and normalcy.
Ongoing appeals of the California decision on Prop 8 also bear consequences for the Straight Spouse Network. Like it or not, as a non profit we are lumped into the category of LGBTQ charities, even though the people we serve are not LGBTQ. Within that narrow category, foundations that might give us grants to carry on our important and largely unnoticed work will have to choose their priorities. For many foundations who fund LGBTQ charities as a mission, the priority will be funding gay marriage litigation, not funding recovery programs for straight spouses.
Our reality continues, unchanged. For many of our families, the ability of our former husbands and wives to now marry their gay partners is a welcome relief. For others, it’s a nightmare – but a personal one, not a social one.
A while back, the board of the Straight Spouse Network took an official position on gay marraige. You can read that position here.