July 8, 2015

Gay Marriages, Then and Now

The photo at left is one of the most famous of the 20th century. It was taken in New York City's Times Square by famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 27, 1945 -- V-J Day, which marked the end of World War II. The image at right is a classic cartoon spoof from The New Yorker, suggesting where we are today.

Public opinion about homosexuality has shifted radically in the 70 years between these two images. Most of the change has come in the last 20 years.

My acceptance of my own homosexuality has followed a similar trajectory.

But last week's epic Supreme Court decision upholding the legality of gay marriages has certainly prompted unprecedented reflection on the topic.

In 1945, I graduated from high school. In 1955, I was kicked out of Cornell Law School after my second arrest occasioned by unlawful homosexual conduct while in an alcoholic blackout. In 1957, I married the woman I loved. In 1977, we separated as a result of my "coming out" as a gay man.

Gay Men and Traditional Marriages
My generation may be the last in which many gay men chose a traditional marriage. I didn't tie the knot just to add more camouflage to my hidden sexual orientation.

I came to Washington in April, 1955. The volatile combination of alcoholism and repressed sexuality resulted in yet another arrest and another court-ordered therapy. This time, the therapist thought we could awaken my latent heterosexuality. Unlike the deception I employed during the mandated therapy after my first arrest at Cornell, I decided to be open and to work with this therapist. Coincidentally, as this therapy began, I fell in love with the woman I married. I actually believed I was "free at last" from the curse of homosexuality. Happily, hopefully, I entered into the marriage.

A few years later, I realized I wasn't "cured." Today, I'm very glad I got married because of my wonderful children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. No doubt most gay men who have chosen marriage through the centuries -- and created families -- have felt a similar gratitude.

But what about the wives and children in these marriages?

"I'm Only As Sick As My Secrets"
This is one of many slogans from Alcoholics Anonymous. It popped into my mind as I began thinking about this post.

Perhaps partly because I believed my new wife had triggered some latent heterosexuality in me, I didn't discuss my orientation with her. But my secret infected our marriage. I soon came to understand that my innate sexual orientation hadn't changed. And -- as always -- my alcoholism only made matters worse.

I don't want to add more details here. But looking back, I'm consoled that my wife and I really were in love. That love happily defined the early years of our marriage... and the formative years for our son and daughter. That love is no doubt one of the reasons they turned out so splendidly.

I had more in common with my wife than with anyone else I've ever met. And I've never loved anyone more than I loved her.

Gay Men and Gay Marriages
Clearly, a marriage between two gay men has a much healthier grounding if they are both openly gay. And these marriages need not be childless. Many gay couples have chosen to adopt children. Studies already confirm that these children end up just as a healthy as children from opposite-sex marriages.

In the fight to legalize gay marriage, advocates kept saying they wanted gay couples to enjoy the same rights as straight couples. But gay and straight couples differ in one important way.

I remember years ago talking with a straight pal. He asked me, "Why is it that you gays have so much more fun than we do?"

I knew that by "fun" he meant "sex." I replied simply, "It's men dealing with men." Watching his expression as my reply sank in was like watching a light bulb come on.

Mother Nature -- God, if you prefer -- arranges for survival of the species by programming males to sow their seeds as widely as possible, while females are programmed to be nest builders.

Most men spend a good deal of time and effort seeking sex. A gay male is much more likely to be successful.

Does Marriage Mean Monogamy?
Religions typically mandate monogamy in marriage. The heterosexual world hasn't had a lot of success with that requirement.

Monogamy is naturally an issue in committed relationships between gay men. Some studies have found that most gay male couples are in monogamous relationships. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 45 percent of gay male couples in the San Francisco Bay area were in monogamous relationships.

I can't help but wonder if those results are more a function of what the men said, and less on actual behavior. But most gay male couples -- married or not -- view monogamy as a topic for discussion and negotiation, and not necessarily as a "given."

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Next week, we'll return to the primary focus of this blog: health. I want to explore the shift from the traditional one-size-fits-all healthcare we've known to a more personal, individual approach... one that more accurately acknowledges each patient's unique situation.

That slowly emerging healthcare trend in some way mirrors the way couples -- gay and straight -- are beginning to define and structure their marriages... not based on old established "norms," but on personalized standards that work for them.

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