Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist and a leading gay activist. He is probably best known for spearheading the “It Gets Better Project”—a YouTube campaign encouraging gay teenagers that being gay gets better after high school. He has received a great deal of favorable press from mainstream media outlets, even though his work as a gay activist includes a fair amount of morally dubious activities.
Mark Oppenheimer recently profiled Savage in a lengthy piece for The New York Times Magazine. Oppenheimer’s article focuses on Dan Savage’s prescription for healthy marriages—non-monogamy. Savage argues not only that gay marriage should be legal but also that monogamy should be discarded as a marital norm. From Oppenheimer’s article:
Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit and articulating a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality, rather than the romantic ideal, of marriage. In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.
Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, … others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.
“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told me, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”
The view that we need a little less fidelity in marriages is dangerous for a gay-marriage advocate to hold. It feeds into the stereotype of gay men as compulsively promiscuous, and it gives ammunition to all the forces, religious and otherwise, who say that gay families will never be real families and that we had better stop them before they ruin what is left of marriage. But Savage says a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.
Savage believes that whatever sexual urges one feels should be embraced and pursued. Any marital norms that deny such urges are oppressive and unrealistic. Both gay and straight couples need to consider the possibility of non-monogamy—a mutual agreement that allows occasional infidelity.
Some people believe that the debate about gay marriage is simply a matter of legalizing the unions of same-sex partners. They are wrong. It is about deconstructing what nature and the Bible teach us about the meaning of our sexuality. Until that truth is eliminated from our consciences, the assault will continue.
Savage illustrates again what I posted about last week. Many gay marriage supporters are not simply seeking legally sanctioned gay unions; they want to bring an end to marriage as we know it. Pointing this out is not playing the part of the alarmist. It is just a matter of paying attention to arguments that are entering more and more into mainstream of public discourse.
If you haven’t been paying attention, now would be a good time to start.