Renovating Marriage, One Gay Couple at a Time

At the risk of perpetuating yet another stereotype about gays and lesbians, I think it’s safe to say that members of our community are pretty talented at rehabbing old things. When I lived in Atlanta in the 1990s, it seemed that gays and lesbians were singlehandedly responsible for taking old houses in abandoned neighborhoods and turning them into revitalized homes and neighborhoods.

The turnaround was so astounding that one year, the best sign at Atlanta’s gay pride read: “We can rehab marriage and sell it back to you at twice the price.”

Seems that sign was a bit prescient. As more and more states accept same-sex marriage, researchers are showing that gays and lesbians have much to teach their straight counterparts about the institution they have been bogarting for the last few centuries.

As Liz Mundy recalls in her Atlantic article, University of Washington professor Pepper Schwartz and her gay colleague, the late Phillip Blumstein performed groundbreaking research finding that:

… gay and lesbian couples were fairer in their dealings with one another than straight couples, both in intent and in practice. The lesbians in the study were almost painfully egalitarian—in some cases putting money in jars and splitting everything down to the penny in a way, Schwartz says, that “would have driven me crazy.” Many unmarried heterosexual cohabitators were also careful about divvying things up, but lesbian couples seemed to take the practice to extremes: It was almost like ‘my kitty, your litter.'” Gay men, like lesbians, were more likely than straight couples to share cooking and chores.

Without the rigid gender roles pushed on gay and lesbian couples, roles have to be worked out in a way that plays to each partner’s strengths or tastes. In my household, I wash dishes, do laundry, change out the bed sheets and generally do the “women’s work,” while my partner is in charge of the garbage disposal and lawn mowing chores. She also does most of the cooking, though. Those divisions don’t mean someone is “the man” and someone else is “the woman,” it simply means we’ve had to work out the chores in ways straight couples might take for granted, even if the wife would be better suited to mow the lawn, and the husband a better cook.

But, research by scholars, especially gay ones, carries little weight with those who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds. For them, I point to a growing number of religious leaders who also understand that gays and lesbians can do a lot to “redefine” marriage in beneficial ways.

Rev. Ed Bacon, who leads the 4,000 member All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., told Oprah Winfrey this past weekend that marriage would be “enriched” by same-sex couples.

I’ve never had a straight couple come to me and say, ‘My marriage is in trouble because of the gay couple living next door.’ To the contrary, I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘Because of the love between Bob and Joe, I have learned how better to love my wife or my husband.

Similarly, across the pond, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam, called marriage equality a “very strong endorsement of the institution of marriage,” and urged Christians to rethink their opposition:

Before Wilberforce, Christians saw slavery as Biblical and part of the God-given ordering of creation. Similarly in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church supported apartheid because it was Biblical and part of the God-given order of creation. No one now supports either slavery or apartheid. The Biblical texts have not changed; our interpretation has.

Certainly, those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds would hesitate to compare themselves to those who supported slavery and apartheid, but even conservative religious pollsters, like Lifeway, have found that 50% of those who identified “born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian,” believe legal support for such unions is inevitable. Overall, 64% of those asked said same-sex marriage would become legal across the U.S.

By the way, not everyone in Atlanta was pleased that it was mainly gays and lesbians who spearheaded the rehabbing craze in their city; afterward, however, they seemed quite happy to pay twice the price to move into a nice house in an area that was safer and improved for everyone. So it shall be with marriage.

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