Let’s talk about the F word.
No, not THAT one.
Let’s talk about the F word that has been mentioned by many straight spouses and ex spouses of LGBT people since the Supreme Court decision affirming same sex marriage in June 2015.
Yes, in the midst of all this celebration, and affirmation of same sex marriages, some of us are realizing that we THOUGHT we had a real marriage, based on real love, real commitment. But many of us have come to realize that our marriages were a sham. A fraud. Legal fakery.
So, were our marriages based on fraud? Some were. Some were a reaction to living in a world that demanded that men and women marry and produce a family in order to be respectable. Some were less the result of the lies that were told to us, and more a result of the lies our LGBT spouses told themselves.
Think about it. As painful as it is, it’s kind of difficult to assign fraud to a spouse who married you because they were fond of you, so their parents, counselors, pastor, etc, told them to get over this same sex thing and marry that nice girl or good man, and make lots of babies and forget about all that gay lifestyle nonsense. Only they found after they married us that they couldn’t just forget it.
Some of our marriages were clearly based on a fraudulent assumption. Some of us were married to people who knew for a long time that they were attracted to the same sex, and had no intent of refraining from that activity. For some women, the answer to “well why did you marry me, then?” has been a brutally honest response that the husband was looking for a hostess, gatekeeper, or a possible nurse for the future. For some men, the answer has been that the wife wanted a baby, or financial security.
Often, there is no remorse expressed by the gay spouse in answer to that question. There is often no acknowledgement of the effect that the decision by an LGBT person to marry someone of the opposite sex has on their spouse. Many of our gay spouses have already dealt with stages of grief and emerging from their closet can be a relief, a cause of joy, of determination to move ahead. But the straight spouse is JUST STARTING to grieve loss and deal with change and a strong flood of emotions.
So our timetable for dealing with this is not the same – and not acknowledged by our spouses or many times by our families, friends, and counselors. Many of us never have an affirmation, or an admission, or an apology. We are relegated to the less than human status of “collateral damage”.
Collateral damage refers to the civilian casualties of war, such as when a bomb wipes out enemy supplies and fuel and kills civilians living in the region. Too bad, so sad. War is hell.
Who knew our marriages were a war? Most of us didn’t say “I do” to the promise of being a human shield against homophobia. Yet, when our husbands or wives disclose their true sexuality to us, or when we discover that they are having a same sex physical or emotional affair, we often are in the front lines of homophobia, and all the ridicule and hatred that comes with it.
By the same token, our pain and anger is unacknowledged or passed over by many LGBT people and straight allies – explained away, because it just isn’t relevant to the political struggle of LGBT people, whom we just HAVE to understand.
No one ever seems to feel they have to understand us.
Then there are those of us who continue to live in the aftermath of a fraud – divorcing a spouse who will never admit to having an LGBT relationship, affair, or sexual orientation. We will never have an admission, let alone an apology or acknowledgement that wrong was done to us. We may be forced to dance the eggshell two step for many years, while our spouses and the courts demand a waltz in three quarter time. All because when we speak the truth, we are asked for “proof” and belittled or demonized or even threatened when somehow our experiences and observations don’t meet the legal test.
So, should we go after our ex spouses for fraud? Be careful here.
The answer is best given to you by a lawyer who specializes in family law in your state or country. And even if you CAN, consider if you SHOULD. The key question is – what do you want to accomplish, and will it benefit you? What will be the outcome for your children, if you have any? How will it help you going forward? Is it worth the legal cost and effort?
Some people will move ahead, maybe become friends, or friendly at least. And some will need to pursue their ex spouses for damages, financial and otherwise. But many of us will get the legalities done, and then face the long haul of maintaining a relationship if we have children. Some of us have come to find out that the lies continue, in one way or another. Our recovery, our healing, our reclamation of our own lives can be a slow process, requiring distancing, putting ourselves first, and changes in our lives that WE choose. It’s difficult to take these necessary steps when we are still vulnerable to hurt, shame, blame, and deception post divorce.
Many straight spouses have supported same sex marriage, and consider themselves to be “straight allies”. Perhaps it is time for LGBTQ people to be our “gay allies” as well. We don’t need a banner, a flag, a parade or a celebration – just inclusion in the rainbow as we move ahead into new directions with honesty, understanding, respect, and compassion. Even if we are still hurting, still angry, still grieving – or moving ahead faster or slower than anyone expected, we are still inescapably part of the rainbow family.
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.
Well, DOMA is dead. What does this mean for us, the heterosexual current and former husbands and wives of gays and lesbians?
It means that if our ex spouses marry someone of the same sex, the federal government will allow them to be taxed the same as other married couples. They can file a joint return and avoid the double taxation that has plagued gay couples for years. It means that if they marry someone of the same sex who is not a citizen, that person has the same rights as any other foreign born person who marries an American. It means if they are a federal employee, their same sex spouse can qualify for insurance benefits and have parity with opposite sex spouses. It means that soldiers can declare their same sex spouse as next of kin.
It doesnt mean that any state that does not recognize same sex marriage now has to do so. It only applies to the federal government.
The Defense of Marriage Act has done nothing for traditional marriages. It has only punished gay people by disaffirming their legal same sex marriages, subjecting them to high and sometime punitive taxation, and disallowing legal protections available to other married people.
Socially of course, the implications are huge. For example, its now recognized that people marry others of the same sex; so in our male/female marriages, if our spouse cheats on us with someone of the same sex, fewer people will tell us its not really cheating….
Perhaps as same sex marriage becomes more common, the social dynamic will shift for marriages and breakups such as ours. Instead of asking the heterosexual partner “how do you know?” or “What, you didnt know? We all knew…we thought you knew….” perhaps the more common question when our marriages disolve will be asked of the homosexual partner. “What were you thinking? Why did you do this? Why did you keep it a secret? You could have married someone in a real marriage….”
Of course, one size or experience does not fit all. Many people do not come to the realization that they are homosexual until later in life, after they have married. But perhaps as same sex marriage becomes more familiar to those in the legal system and counseling professions, our divorces or marriage counseling will be more focused on the individual situation, and not on the faults of the heterosexual partner for either not knowing, or telling, or not telling, or being angry, or not being angry enough.
The Supreme Court also affirmed that Proposition 8 in California, which rescinds the law allowing same sex marriages, is unconstitutional. This is in line with our position paper affirmed in 2008.
Obstacles to legalizing same sex unions do not save traditional marriages. They certainly did not save most of our marriages. Those of us who are still married to our LGBT spouses have remained married due to many reasons – commitment by both to the relationship, or for reasons of family, health, or economics.
Legalizing same sex marriages and affording those couples the same federal recognition as other married couples does not invalidate anyone elses marriage.
Many of us had “traditional” marriages – and consider those to have been invalid, because for many of us, the marriage was based on a lie and conceived as a cover, sometimes intentional at the onset, sometimes not.
Perhaps as it becomes more socially acceptable for gay people to marry each other, there will be fewer heterosexual people facing the devastating consequences that we all know so well.
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.