One Gay Man’s Perspective

Bathhouse Betty might be right
Bette Midler shocked her gay fans when she asked whether marriage was a good idea for same-sex couples, but are the gay guys you know ready to tie the knot?
From the Houston Voice

She got her start as Bathhouse Betty, back in the days when gay men treated “the tubs” as all-around social clubs, and not just as places to — you know — become better acquainted.

So it came as an unpleasant shock to many in her legions of gay fans when Bette Midler, asked by Larry King this week her views on gay marriage, didn’t offer up a politically correct answer about equal rights long overdue.

Instead, Bathhouse Betty thought about the flesh-and-blood gay guys she knows and loves, and questioned whether marriage was such a
good idea.

“Many of the homosexual men that I know — you know, they like to move around,” said Midler. “They like to have — you know, they’re — that’s
part of it. That’s part of the fun of being a gay man. I’m really wondering how — what that commitment is going to be about. Does that mean they’re not going to cheat, they’re only going to be with one?”

Many of us, like Bette, know one or two homosexual men who — you know — like to “move around.” In fact, we know a whole slew of gay men for whom “moving around” is — you know — part of it, part of the fun of being gay. Of course, let the record reflect that the same could be said of many heterosexual men — and plenty of married ex-presidents — but her point is still one worth considering.

Some of the attacks on “gay marriage” have been over-the-top alarmist, like suggesting it could lead to the end of civilization. Others have been heterosexist, as if there were something innately superior about the “complementarity” of heterosexual love between people of opposite genders.

Superior? No. But different? Maybe.

WE SOMETIMES FORGET that this “experiment” of same-sex coupling is still a relatively new one. It is only in the most recent generation that large numbers of gay men and lesbians felt free enough to find a partner and build a life together.

For many gay couples, especially the men, long-term relationships aren’t necessarily exclusive sexually. In fact, as Bette put it so — you know — eloquently, many of us have found that’s part of the fun of being gay. We write our own rules.

Of course there are plenty of same-sex couples, especially on the lesbian side, for whom sexual monogamy is every bit as important as it is to George W. and Laura. And there are even some heterosexual couples today, especially under 30, who tie the knot and then make unconventional decisions about what that commitment means to them sexually.

But the gay rights movement hasn’t always been exclusively about accessing traditional institutions like marriage and the military. For a long time, it was much more revolutionary, focused on rewriting traditional institutions to reflect a more progressive and less rigid view of life.

In the case of marriage, the legal rules can be pretty darn rigid, depending upon the state. They certainly all aspire toward sexual exclusivity, and sex outside of marriage can be grounds for divorce or, in states with “no fault” divorce, at least an argument for a more favorable division of property.
In some states, adultery remains a crime, though it’s unclear whether those laws will survive the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer striking down sodomy laws that criminalize private consensual sex between adults.

Certainly the major religious faiths that have recognized gay marriage in one form or another expect the couple to remain faithful sexually.

BUT THOSE OF us who have been in long-term same-sex relationships, and those who professionally counsel us, often find that it is more important to communicate honestly about what sort of ground rules each partner wants and coming to agreement and living faithfully to those terms. For some of us, that means monogamy, but not for many of us. The ground rules themselves, whether complete monogamy or some — you know — moving around, are less the point.

Do same-sex couples who choose something less than total sexual exclusivity still deserve full access to marriage rights and responsibilities? Are they less entitled than straight couples who publicly aspire toward monogamy but then look the other way at sexual infidelity (those ex-presidents come to mind again).

Is it any of the government’s business what private arrangements couples might make on something so private as sexual monogamy? Does it become the government’s business when the couple signs up for legal and financial benefits?

And what about unmarried couples, gay and straight? An entire framework of public and private benefits have been established for unmarried “domestic partners.”

Most of these benefits were enacted because gay couples couldn’t access all the public and private benefits of civil marriage, although the benefit rules are typically written in gender-neutral terms and more straight couples avail themselves of them than do gays.

If gay couples can get married, should domestic partnership benefits be jettisoned? Or ought we as a society have one level of benefits for “live-in” couples and another, more involved and broader set of benefits for couples that legally tie the knot?

Or are we moving toward a three-tiered system, with gay “civil unions” in the purgatory somewhere in between those domestically partnered and those heterosexual couples who, in the words of the Supreme Court, enjoy the “sacred precincts of the marital bedroom.”

Bathhouse Betty may not have intended to open such a can of worms when she offered her two cents on gay marriage, and Larry “Softball” King certainly didn’t mean to trip her up by asking the question. But maybe we ought to take a stab at thinking about these issues before we petition our government to rewrite a centuries-old tradition.

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