Some of the opponents to same-sex marriage claim that if we start letting men marry men, and women marry women, we’ll end up in a situation where, say:
- A man and a man want to marry another man;
- A woman and a woman want to marry another woman;
- A man and a woman want to marry a woman;
- A man and a woman want to marry a man.
So here’s a question that may cause some to spontaneously combust … why would this be a problem?
If we’re seriously evolving marriage to be inclusive of same-sex couples, it’s time to look at that outmoded notion that it’s about monogamy, as well. If you look at the number of marriage breakdowns that happen because of partners cheating on one another, isn’t there some justification to consider that maybe, just maybe, open relationships suit some people better than monogamous ones?
Clearly, some people can and do live in monogamous relationships without that sort of tension. But others don’t, and people would be foolish to think that monogamy is the only natural state we can live in, given our evolutionary background. In my post, “What’s so scary about polygamy?“, I linked to someone’s very clever “map of non-monogamous relationships“. If you think that monogamy is the norm, you may want to have a good read over that map, and – all humorous examples aside – see that there’s a much bigger world out there.
I had someone comment a while ago on a post I’d written, railing against the hypocrisy of people in open relationships wanting to get married to one another. “Marriage is about monogamy!” he declared piously. “Well, maybe for some”, is my response.
But a quick glance around the internet tells us this is a broken idea for a lot of people. A five second Google search finds “Infidelity facts“, which provides statistics from 2006 in the United States – one of the most openly pious countries in the world:
- 53% of marriages end in divorce
- 41% of marriages has one or both spouses admitting to infidelity, either emotional or physical
- 57% of men admit to having an affair
- 54% of women admit to having an affair
- 74% of men say they’d have an affair if they knew they wouldn’t get caught
- 68% of women say they’d have an affair if they wouldn’t get caught
What does this say? If it’s statistically accurate and broadly representative, it means that a lot of people out there actually want to be in open relationships. But, because it’s something that’s sexual, the discussion of it is taboo in so many places in society.
Since the perceived default heterosexual relationship is one of monogamous marriage, there’s a false perception out there that it’s all hunky dory. Yet statistical evidence (a 10 second Google would continue to reveal more statistics backing the above) would suggest that marriage as a monogamous institution creates all sorts of tensions that people don’t like. (A cynic might suggest that a monogamous relationship is only one partner removed from celibacy, after all.)
So, if we accept that statistically a lot of playing around does happen in marriage, it comes back to a central point – why should marriage be deemed a monogamous relationship?
Anecdotally, it seems a strong fact that the gay community has far more successful open relationships than the heterosexual community has monogamous marriages. Sure, jealousy is something that is openly discussed as a possibility, but tell me where that’s different from a typical marriage? And a simple fact – the difference between couples who cheat on each other, and couples who are in an open relationship? It’s called communication. Cheating is about hiding – open relationships are about telling.
So, coming back via a circuitous route to my main point – if we allow same-sex marriage, then we’re starting the process of accepting that there can be non-monogamous marriages. I’m not saying that all same-sex couples are in open relationships, but there’s a good bet that there’s going to be a bunch of them who have been in open relationships for years, possibly decades, who’ll still want to tie the knot. For them, marriage has nothing to do with sexual monogamy, and everything about a recognised relationship.
But honestly, why stop at 2 person marriages?
There are equally people out there who live in 3 or more person relationships – and healthy ones. I’m not talking freakish religious leaders in the southern states of the USA who ‘marry’ a bunch of barely legal girls. I’m talking consenting adults who form a mutual 3-way or more bond which can only possibly be described as a loving relationship.
Why should they continue to be denied a legal and fair recognition of their relationships? Why should such relationships remain a taboo topic, leaving people unable to ask questions about them or discuss them openly?
One thing seems clear to me – if we look at those marriage statistics regarding infidelity, and expand them more broadly, looking at say, the success of celibacy for certain religious orders, etc., it’s clear that we don’t actually talk about sex enough in society. It’s a semi-taboo subject for a lot of people, which leaves a lot of others in the dark in terms of whether what they want is “normal” or not, what their feelings mean, etc.
If we stopped pretending that marriage has to be about monogamy, those discussions could start to freely happen, and humanity, collectively, could get the bugs out of our arses.