|Pro-'gay marriage' author and activist Dan Savage, who coined the term 'monogamish'|
I ran across a very interesting article by Mark Regnerus at the National Review. I've been reading it, and I want to put it--and my reactions--out here for some further digestion of its points.
Here's the gist of it, if I understand it right:
Men tend to be more permissive toward non-monogamy, where women tend to be more uncomfortable with non-monogamy.
This explains the data that homosexual men, even in relationships, tend to have more partners, while they don't tend to have more sex overall. He doesn't claim this is because they are gay, but because they are men:
So gay men have more partners, but no more sex overall, than straight men. Why? In keeping with sexual economics expectations, it’s not that gay men necessarily wish to have more sexual partners than straight men.
It’s that they are far more apt to be in relationships that permit them because their relationships are with men, who tend—on average—to be more sexually permissive than women. Men make poor gatekeepers when it comes to attractive others’ sexual advances. That is not news.
Thus the tension around nonmonogamy is simply not as dynamic among many gay unions as it is among those with a man and a woman. NYU sociologist Judith Stacey, interviewed in the New York Times Magazine article on Savage, agrees:
“They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them—right down to the physiology of orgasm—to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men.
I didn’t say it, but I believe it, and the data support it.
To buttress his argument, he cites data--admittedly very limited--that suggests lesbian relationships tend both to be more monogamous, but they also give sex a lower priority.
So here's the thing: notice how the complementarity of men and women forces a certain balance in a true (i.e., heterosexual) marriage.
And here's the upshot, as the author himself states it:
A key here lies, strangely enough, in the legitimacy that straight women already accord gay men’s unions. (Women support same-sex marriage at levels well eclipsing that of men.) Why does this matter? If gay marriage is perceived as legitimate by heterosexual women, it will eventually embolden boyfriends everywhere (and not a few husbands) to press for what men have always wanted but few were allowed: sexual novelty, in the form of permission to stray without jeopardizing their primary relationship.
In other words, if it's valid to say that in putative marriages between gay men a greater degree of non-monogamy is accepted--and then such marriages are treated as essentially the same as heterosexual marriages (or as a bumper sticker I saw recently said, "love is love"), then how long before men in heterosexual marriages say, why can't I have that?
Consider: several decades ago, our common approach to marriage was changed by laws introducing increasingly permissive notions of divorce. There's no getting around the fact that, as a result, even as the Catholic Church continued to teach the same thing about the indissolubility of marriage, more and more men and women coming for marriage brought with them the influence of the culture. And, as is well known, Catholics tend to seek civil divorce at approximately the same rates as non-Catholics.
So, did no-fault divorce change marriage as a social institution? Of course it did.
Now, someone may argue, the reason this won't happen is because the women in true marriages won't permit it. And many of them won't.
To which the Mr. Regnerus offers this point:
The terms of contemporary sexual relationships favor men and what they want in relationships, not just despite the fact that what they have to offer has diminished, but in part because of it.
The supply of marriageable men (but not women) has shrunk—for lots of reasons left unexplored here—leaving the balance of those who are more marriageable (e.g., more educated, wealthier, more stable) with more power than ever before to realize their wishes in their relationships.
Meanwhile, women no longer need marry to thrive, but most still wish to marry. As a result, women find themselves in a weaker position in the marriage market, competing with other women for desirable men. On the other hand, they have more power than ever—and often employ it—to leave relationships that have gone sour. Big difference.
If women’s position in the wider mating market—and inside relationships—was more advantageous, they could not only generate fine and stable relationships but also eschew sex—if they felt like it—without relational consequences for intimacy or male unhappiness. But that, we know, is not the case.
Here's another interesting tidbit:
While seated next to an Army attorney recently on a flight to Washington, DC, I asked how his office would prosecute same-sex adultery cases in a military long known for defining the crime by penile-vaginal penetration. His response? “We’re awaiting orders on that.” My hunch? The decriminalization of adultery, as has long since occurred in civilian life.
Many libertarians and conservatives, including Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, assert that marriage is a conservative institution—which is true—one that will therefore function as such for those who enter it, whether gay or straight. While certainly the case for some, that claim is an unlikely future for many, not because gay or lesbian couples are liberal but because those in the driver’s seat of the contemporary mating market—men—are permissive.
This, I predict, will be same-sex marriage’s signature effect on the institution—the institutionalization of monogamish* as an acceptable marital trait. No, gay men can’t cause straight men to cheat. Instead, the legitimacy newly accorded their marital unions spells opportunity for men everywhere to bend the boundaries. Dan Savage will be proud.
* The article cited Dan Savage, a popular columnist who writes about all kinds of sex-related topics, who calls nine extramarital partners being "monogamish" rather than serial cheating.