Please read Why Marriage Fail before continuing, especially if you intend to unload your opinions (and possible hatred) in the Comments thread.
Now that gay marriage is legal in my home state of New York, I’m wondering how successful these unions will actually be. In a previous post, Why Marriages Fail, I delineated some of the major reasons why many marriages do not thrive, either by dint of divorce or simply due to misery within the relationship. Are all of those points valid for homosexual couples as well? Unfortunately, gay marriage is a relatively new topic of research for psychologists, so therefore speculation is the dominant force at this point. That said, let’s go through the pitfalls seen in traditional marriage and see if they are applicable to gay ones.
1) Marriage requires compatibility not just at the point of saying ‘I do,’ but across the entire life span.
This is equally valid for gay couples. Unless there is research of which I’m not aware that suggests gay people maintain their personalities over time more so than heterosexuals, gay marriages are just as likely to struggle with this aspect of lifelong commitment.
2) Assuming that marriage implies monogamy, the institution itself is counterintuitive to biology.
This point is difficult to address, as at least one study suggests that monogamy is not a central feature of many gay marriages. In fact, a study at San Francisco State University found approximately 50% of gay couples have sex outside of the relationship. However, this is not a secret, as many partners both know and approve of this behavior. Experts in this area, as well as many gay couples, suggest that although this may seem counterintuitive to the institution, this feature may lead to a stronger relationship. Why an open marriage seems to work more effectively in homosexual relationships versus heterosexual ones is not clear, although several of my gay clients over the years have pointed to evolutionary ideas: “there are no sperm wars going on, no rivals. My partner isn’t going to inseminate (or be inseminated by) someone else and pass on their genes.”
3) There is far too much emphasis on ‘weddings’ as opposed to ‘marriages.’
Anyone is prone to focusing much more on his/her wedding day than the relationship itself. That said, my own anecdotal evidence suggests that homosexual couples don’t zoom in on the traditional, “this is the most important day of my life” mindset that gets so many people into trouble, almost by definition: it’s not a traditional relationship. I’m sure you can find gay Bridezillas all over the country, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the issue of hyperfocusing on the day of matrimony is more likely, although certainly not exclusively, to be seen in heterosexual couples.*
4) Many couples do not know how to fight fairly.
I’ve seen this problem in both gay and straight couples, professionally and personally, in equal proportion. This is just a sad feature of many relationships. No advantage here for either.
5) Marriages solve problems.
As stated in Why Marriages Fail, marriages amplify, not diminish, problems. This won’t change, regardless of sexual orientation. With gay New York couples now able to marry freely, will they make the same error as heterosexual couples? Only time will tell us that.
6) People settle for less than what they want.
Again, clinical experience suggests this is a universal phenomenon, not a heterosexual one, and only time will tell us if the legalization of marriage will significantly alter this behavior in homosexual people.
7) Couples assume they are immune to reasons 1-6 and believe that hard work isn’t part of the deal. They think that love, sex, children or some combination thereof will be enough.
Both heterosexual and homosexual couples seem particularly bummed when the real work of a relationship kicks in. That said, given the battles that gay couples have had to fight just to receive anything resembling equality, are they perhaps at an advantage for working harder as a team? Could an “us against the world” philosophy help two people work harder than a couple that is embraced by tradition? I don’t have the answer to that, but such an outcome wouldn’t surprise me.
If we’re keeping a scorecard here, it looks as though homosexual marriage has an advantage over tradition. I hope you recognize that what is on paper here doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world. But suppose it does? Would it be a bad thing if, 20 years from now, new research emerges that patently demonstrated gay marriages are happier, longer, more satisfying? That would actually be fantastic. Why? Because aside from the Bible thumping homophobes of the world who wouldn’t read that research anyway, the rest of us would look closely and perhaps say, “what are they doing right that we aren’t?” I’ve always been a proponent of gay marriage; not only because I believe that anyone should be able to marry the person he/she chooses, but also for a more subtle reason: heterosexual marriage is, at best, a significantly flawed institution. If straight people suck at it, why not give someone else a chance? And if gay marriage works better than traditional marriage, let’s not just celebrate, but educate ourselves about it. It’s such curiosity and understanding that makes resistance to meaningful change a pointless endeavor; instead, it allows us to embrace what might serve to actually improve the world.
* A gay colleague suggested to me that homosexual couples have often waited years for the right to marry and simply want to get the process completed. Other couples fear that their rights could be repealed and therefore don’t plan extravagant weddings. “Maybe this will change as gay marriages become more commonplace but, for now, a large number of gay couples would prefer to invade City Hall instead of planning this single day that is all time and energy consuming,” he added.