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Juliet Jeske Headshot

One 'Straight Spouse' for Marriage Equality

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The current court struggles against California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the U.S. Supreme Court could help decide the fate of same-sex marriage in this country. If the federal government decides that limiting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional, opportunities for same-sex marriage legislation could open up in states that have banned such unions. In a best-case scenario, state laws currently on the books that violate the U.S. Constitution could be nullified. We have seen examples of this same thing in regard to civil rights and access to abortion. The marriage equality battle has in many ways reached a tipping point.

Opponents of same-sex marriage claim that letting gays marry will cause some sort of destruction of our society. If we allow gays to marry, then the institution of marriage will erode, and locusts and frogs will drop from the sky, and maybe the rivers will run red with blood. Biblical plagues aside, preventing gays and lesbians from entering into legally binding marriages does have real-life consequences. Marriages that are not recognized by the state face all sorts of legal obstacles with regard to child custody, inheritance, citizenship, tax penalties and even health insurance. And there's one group of collateral damage that is largely ignored: "straight spouses" and their families.

When I use the label "straight spouse," most people have no idea what I am talking about. As a group, we are mostly hidden. A common saying in straight spouse groups is "as our spouses come out of the closet, we go into one." We are not small in numbers; according to many sources, including the Straight Spouse Network, there are approximately 2 million Americans who end up in mixed-orientation marriages. It might be hard for many to believe that the problem is so prevalent, but straight spouses exist in every region in the United States, crossing every racial, cultural and socioeconomic boundary. We are everywhere, and that's a direct result of prejudice and hatred for homosexuality. Ironically, we were all one half of a "traditional marriage" that was wrecked by homophobia.

In most situations a gay man or woman enters into a marriage with a straight partner under false pretenses. They want children, a stable home life, white picket fences and apple pie dreams. What they usually end up with are broken families and deeply damaged relationships. No one can live a lie for an extended period of time and not do great destruction to themselves and everyone around them. Some are in denial of their true sexual orientation for years, while others actively pursue a gay life for the duration of their sham marriages. A few mixed-orientation marriages are successful. However, they are the exception, not the norm. In most of those cases, both partners knew that they were entering into a nontraditional relationship. The vast majority of mixed-orientation marriages leave a path of destruction across generations.

No laws are going to stop human sexuality. Even in countries where homosexuality, promiscuity and adultery are punishable by death, the behavior still occurs. Homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identities have been around as long as humans have been on this planet. Instead of reducing LGBT people to second-class citizens and forcing them to live a life of shame, we should embrace them as they are and end this insane marginalization. Sexual activity between consenting adults should not matter to the state or to anyone but those individuals.

Had my former spouse and countless others felt that they had the option to marry and raise children with a same-sex partner, the plight of many straight spouses like me could have been avoided. When opponents of same-sex marriage cry that such partnerships will be a threat to "traditional marriage," I have to think of my own wrecked life and question their logic.

The damage that I have suffered as a result of my marriage and subsequent divorce has been devastating. Even four years after the fact, I have difficulty trusting and bonding with intimate partners. I have yet to have a decent, stable relationship for any length of time. Yet I am one of the luckier ones: I didn't contract HIV, I didn't have to go through a divorce with children, I didn't lose everything, I didn't have to bury my spouse from AIDS, and I didn't commit suicide.

We need marriage equality now, so that, in a few generations, there will be no such thing as a "straight spouse." Every man or woman should have the same expectations for a loving legal partnership that is recognized by the state and society. Forcing people to live in rigid, narrow constraints leads to nothing but suffering. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are simply part of humanity. It's about time we accept them as full-fledged members of the human race and not buy into bigotry and superstitious nonsense.