Christianity,  Culture,  Politics

How will gay “marriage” impact your marriage?

If you’ve ever been in a debate with someone about gay marriage, one of the conversation stoppers that proponents often throw out is this: “How does gay marriage hurt traditional marriage?” Or more personally, “How does my gay marriage corrupt your straight marriage?” The thinking goes like this. What two people do in the privacy of their own home ought not concern you, even if they choose to reinvent society’s most basic institution. After all, who are you to judge someone else’s pairing? If some people want to call gay unions a “marriage,” what’s that to you?

The assumption in this line of argument is that marriage is a private good with no public consequences. But is this assumption valid? Is it not the case that a redefinition of marriage affects all marriages? Certainly a redefinition of marriage to allow gay nuptials will continue to sever the link between marriage and procreation. But this is not the only public consequence.

Mark Regnerus argues that monogamy might also be a casualty of legal gay marriage. Whereas the vast majority of Americans still consider adultery to be morally wrong (source), the same cannot be said for those in gay unions. Regnerus writes:

Because adultery doesn’t work the same way in a significant share of [gay] unions; instead of a single standard, couples negotiate (and often renegotiate) what their standard will be. It’s why Dan Savage can call nine extramarital partners being monogamish rather than serial cheating. Social theorist John Milbank asserts that when the definition of adultery must be tweaked, the exclusive sexual union risks ceasing to be perceived as having unique relevance—that is, not crucial—for marriage in general. We’re not there just yet, but the bridge is definitely under construction…

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.

In short, Regnerus is arguing that the redefinition of marriage will bring with it a redefinition of marital norms. We’ve already seen this happen with the advent of legal no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce laws have given us unilateral divorce-on-demand as the norm. Thus the norm of lifelong monogamy has given way to serial monogamy over multiple marriages. That is why our culture is quite accepting of a man who has multiple wives—so long as he has them one at a time.

In the same way, I think Regnerus is on to something when he says that the legalization of gay marriage may cause a similar revision to the definition of “faithfulness” in marriage. A study published in 2010 reveals that monogamy is simply not a central feature for many gay unions. The New York Times reports:

Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result [of abandoning monogamy], they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

Did you get that? The article suggests that “monogamish” serial adultery might be the future for all marriages. And not only that, adultery may save the institution from irrelevance! Perhaps this sounds like an absurd suggestion, but should we really be surprised by this? When we redefine marriage, everything is on the table. And there’s no reason to exclude the possibility that the monogamous norm might give way to the “monogamish” one on display here.

So as we appear to be on the precipice of legal gay marriage in this country, here’s a question everyone ought to be asking themselves: How much redefinition are you willing to allow? Is the monogamous norm up for grabs as well? The question is not whether we will define marriage in our culture and in our laws. The question is which definition we will land on. If we abolish the norm of monogamy, that will cause a revision that will affect everyone—both gay and straight.

How does gay marriage hurt straight marriage? Laws establish norms, and norms establish cultures. A thriving marriage culture will not be helped if spouses begin “renegotiating” what faithfulness means. For this reason, legal gay marriage could hurt straight marriage in ways that people never anticipated.


  • Jon Hall

    I see the day coming when churches will perform marriages that have no legal bearing within the government. The secular world will continue to redefine marriage, basically turning it into nothing more than a legal contract between people.

    Is there a time coming when we won’t even apply for a marriage license with the government since their definition is so tainted? It is far more important to be married before God and your church than having some secular government’s stamp of approval. We’re obviously not there yet, but the day could come. Thoughts?

    • Chris Ryan

      If couples want the civic benefits of marriage–tax rates, inheritance rights, etc–they’ll have to get civil recognition and that means marriage licenses. I also don’t see the governor giving up his tax/fee.

    • buddyglass

      “Is there a time coming when we won’t even apply for a marriage license with the government since their definition is so tainted?”

      You actually don’t have to do that now, depending on the state. Typically “common law marriage”, which is just as legally binding as ‘real’ marriage, requires two things: 1. the ability to legally marry (i.e. old enough, not currently married, etc.), 2. cohabitation, 3. both parties representing themselves as “married”.

  • Michael Lynch

    Forget gay “marriage.” The fact that homosexuality is considered normal and something not chosen should have similar consequences to what this post is getting at. If about 2 to 3 percent of the population considers themselves homosexual justifies calling it normal, how soon will it be said (if it’s not already) that those who commit adultery simply can’t help it–they were made that way? The percentage of people who commit adultery far exceeds those who call themselves homosexual.

    • buddyglass

      Like homosexuals, adulterers may in fact be “born that way”. That is to say, they may be born with a predilection toward promiscuity in the same way homosexuals may be born with a predilection toward homosexual sin, e.g. same-sex attraction. The logical leap society seems to have made with homosexuality but not with run-of-the-mill promiscuity is to conflate “born that way” with “right and good”.

      The reason, I think, is because adultery has clear victim. It’s not “sleeping with someone other than one’s spouse” that motivates people to view adultery as “wrong”, per se, but the fact that sleeping with someone other than one’s spouse typically involves being deceitful and concealing the (presumably hurtful) adultery from said spouse.

  • Chris Ryan

    Instead of asking as it does above, “How my gay marriage affects your straight marriage?” how about we ask this, “How is my straight marriage affected by their gay marriage?” Are you going to love your wife less b/cs your gay neighbor got married? That would be the money question.

    You have to overlook a lot of history to argue that marriage has never been a negotiation. In fact marriage has always been a negotiation, in ways small and large. What’s changed is that women are more equal negotiating partners. More often than not this meant that women had to put up with adulterous men b/cs “boys will be boys”. They also had to put up with men who were drunkards, or wife beaters. Economics, technology, and laws changed though and now women have more power in the relationship than they did before. So the point is not that marriage will suddenly be up for negotiation, its that marriage has always been up for negotiation. And, so the 2nd money question is this: “Do we really think that empowered women will put up with men who want open marriages?” I think not.

    Gay marriages will no more undermine straight marriages than interracial marriages undermined same race marriages. Apples and oranges as grocers say.

    • Andy Moffat

      Does your point not assume that there won’t be plenty of women looking for an open arrangement as well? Adultery is far from a male only thing.

  • buddyglass

    Just as with no fault divorce, same-sex marriage will not affect my marriage. It may affect my general well-being if it creates more dysfunctional individuals whose dysfunction ends up degrading everyone’s collective standard of living, but it will have no direct effect on my marriage.

  • Brett Cody

    If the homosexuals get “married”, then the true church will be prepared to offer them the true love of Christ and help them repent of their sinful fiction, as Piper coined it.

    There will be a remnant of those truly married that will need prayer as they show Christ in their marriage as well.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    It might help to ask one of the millions of heterosexual couples living in the states where homosexual marriage is legal, just to see if they feel their marriages have been ruined. Or even just investigate a little bit to find out if the marital norms have been redefined, as the anti-gay-think-tank-funded academic Mark Regnerus postulates.

    Monogamy is not a central feature for quite a few straight unions either, regardless of whether they vocally (and in many cases hypocritically) condemn it. I’m not arguing in favor adultery at all–but the odds that it is happening more often than is disclosed/revealed is a solid 1:1.

  • Quinn Rae

    Same sex marriage has been legal in British Columbia Canada for 10 years now and it has made absolutely no impact on my heterosexual marriage, or that of my family or friends. It really is a non-issue.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Yes, all the couples I know are quiet family people who are caring for their aging parents. They are no longer a visible minority group and have no special characteristics or mannerisms that distinguish them. They work against the sex trade and other causes that are typical of Christians.All the ones I know have relationships at least as stable as heterosexuals.

  • Andy Moffat

    I think the subject line of this blog piece is a little misleading. As a person already married, I don’t see gay marriage having on impact on my marriage. But I do see it having an impact on the future of all marriage as the foundational thoughts and understanding of what’s acceptable change. This is, I believe, what Denny is getting at. It will take time for these things to filter down, and the change may seem imperceptible to us until we see the changes whole sale in the way our kids and grandkids view the issue. We’ll see how they think of it and how they live the changes out and wonder, “how did we ever get here..”

    Also, these changes can have an impact on my marriage if I use them as the basis for explaining away and rationalizing my own desires to break the sanctity of my vows. Instead of the cultural norms serving to help shore up the institution of marriage, they will instead be used to help people more easily break from the norms of monogamy and fidelity. Of course, gay marriage is just the next step in this. We’ve been well on the way to this for years with easy divorce, common law marriage, cohabitation, etc.

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