Thursday, May 3, 2012

Response to Minnesota Marriage Minute video, Episode 18

Minnesota for Marriage has another video out, Episode 18. Once again, they're abusing statistics.
Give it a look, if you haven't seen it yet.

The question they're addressing today is
“Aren’t committed gay and lesbian relationships just the same as marriage relationships?”
They, of course, conclude that there's something very different about committed same-sex relationships.
No doubt many gay and lesbian couples profess love for one another but studies of gay relationships show that they are fundamentally different than the marriage relationship.
Really? Well, let's what these studies say.
"Marriage is characterized by by a lifelong commitment of both love and fidelity. Indeed, fidelity is universally expected in marriage, however, fidelity and monogamy are fundamentally lacking in many gay relationships. One recent study by gay researchers at San Francisco State University found that only 45% of gay male relationships are based on an expectation of monogamy. Other studies have put the percentage of gays and lesbians in open relationships as high as 75%. The New York Times wrote an article about this entitled "Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret." The article said that couples having sex outside of their marriage might point the way for the survival of the institution. Dan Savage, a prominent gay sex counselor, is an outspoken advocate of open relationships, not only among the gay community, but among married heterosexual couples as well. He says, quote, "Monogamy is ridiculous and people aren't any good at it. We're not wired for it, we didn't evolve to be. It's unnatural, and it places a tremendous strain on our marriages, and our long-term commitments to expect them to be effortlessly monogamous." This attitude by the nation's leading media and gay advocacy voices shows how redefining marriage will impact all of society. If marriage is redefined to be genderless, our marital expectations will be challenged and the norm of monogamy and fidelity will be undermined. This would have profound adverse effects on children, parenthood, social responsibility, and the public good." 
So, what's wrong with their argument? Several things. First, take a look at "Indeed, fidelity is universally expected in marriage. . ." All you have to do is look at any polygamous culture (such as some in the Middle East) to falsify that statement. Or, you could look right here in the United States. Wikipedia cites numbers of 15% of married hetero couples having agreements that would allow extramarital sex (unfortunately, the most recent study on the issue that Wikipedia cites is from 1983, and when I poked around on Google Scholar for more recent studies about hetero open relationships, I was unable to find anything useful. Perhaps someone else knows of something?).

Second, they don't actually address the New York Times article they cite (found here). They simply take it as a given that the article is clearly wrong. Some passages from the article:
The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.
[. . . ]
According to the research, open relationships almost always have rules.
[. . . ]
A couple since 2002, [Chris and James] opened their relationship a year ago after concluding that they were not fully meeting each other’s needs. But they have rules: complete disclosure, honesty about all encounters, advance approval of partners, and no sex with strangers — they must both know the other men first. “We check in with each other on this an awful lot,” said James, 37.
Notice that it's not exactly willy-nilly, sex with whomever they please when they please.
That transparency can make relationships stronger, said Joe Quirk, author of the best-selling relationship book “It’s Not You, It’s Biology.” 
“The combination of freedom and mutual understanding can foster a unique level of trust,” Mr. Quirk, of Oakland, said. 
“The traditional American marriage is in crisis, and we need insight,” he said, citing the fresh perspective gay couples bring to matrimony. “If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.”
Yeaaaaaa. . . . What's the divorce rate right now? Among heterosexual couples? Even if they can't agree with having open marriages, I suspect that an awful lot of couples could learn a thing or two about openness, honesty, trust, and communication from couples that have successfully negotiated open relationships. At any rate, Yanta did not address the reasons the New York Times said that open marriage may show a way to save the institution of marriage.

Now, the Dan Savage part annoys me for a couple of reasons. One, is it shows Dan Savage using the naturalistic fallacy when he calls monogamy "unnatural." I could just as easily say "Using chemotherapy to treat cancer is unnatural, therefore, using chemotherapy is bad." More importantly for this post however, is the implicit assumption by Yanta and Minnesota for Marriage that Dan Savage speaks for the the LGBT community. He doesn't. Yes, he's prominent. However, Pat Robertson is also prominent, but he does not speak for the entire Christian community. Even the Pope doesn't speak for every Catholic.

However, what's really wrong with this video is that the argument it makes and conclusion it draws really aren't connected. Let's assume for the sake of argument that an important quality of marriage is monogamy and not having sex outside your monogamous marriage, i.e., fidelity (note that being polyamorous, I obviously don't truly agree with that, but I'm willing to see what it does to the argument). Nothing in the New York Times article or the quote by Dan Savage, nor in the statistics quoted by Yanta, demonstrates that same-sex relationships are inherently different from heterosexual relationships. All it demonstrates is that a large number of homosexual people (and also some heterosexual and bisexual people) do not yet accept the idea of monogamy as a value. If Yanta's argument could be said to demonstrate that gay relationships are inherently different from straight relationships because a percentage of gay people are in open relationships, then Yanta's argument must also be said to demonstrate that straight relationships are inherently different from straight relationships because a percentage of straight people are in open relationships. That seems a contradiction, wouldn't you agree?

The importance of fidelity is separate from whether same-sex marriage should be allowed, and judging by the prevalence of adultery (without an agreement to be open), is a point that you would need to make to the heterosexual couples at least as much as you would to gay couples. Many same-sex couples would (and do) actually agree that fidelity and monogamy are important (25% - 55%, based on Yanta's own stats), and may very well join you in making that argument. That is, if you weren't sidelining them by claiming that their relationships are obviously inherently different from yours, or inherently wrong.

(As I was writing all of the above, another thought occurred to me. Is it possible that one of the reasons a larger percentage of gay relationships are open is precisely because gay relationships are marginalized by mainstream society? If you're being told that your attractions and relationships are wrong even though it is simply a part of who you are, and you are not harming anyone, then I would not find it at all surprising if that led to you being willing to buck society by trying out new relationship models.)

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