Huffpost Style
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Olmsted Headshot

Beyond Labels: What Comes After Marriage Equality

Posted: Updated:

Hooray for Dan Savage. In a long profile in the New York Times magazine he challenges the assumption that his commitment to his husband is a commitment to monogamy. It turns out (like the majority of gay men I know in long-term relationships) he has an agreement with his husband that accommodates occasional sex outside of the marriage. Savage and his partner understand that it's a lofty and unrealistic expectation for one person to fulfill all of the other's needs and desires. We are offered up the portrait of a couple who don't confuse long-term love with short-term intimacy, even if they take advantage of grazing outside of their marriage fairly infrequently.

It's not easy for someone like Savage to go public about this. There's a lot of pressure for well-known advocates of marriage equality not to risk feeding into stereotypes about gay promiscuity or anything-goes subversion of the institution we want in on. Luckily, he's got some high profile company in the person of Jerry Weintraub, the uber-successful Hollywood producer depicted in the HBO documentary, His Way. In the last quarter of the film, the charming Weintraub's wife of four decades, the uber-classy Jane Morgan, unveils an endearing affection for her husband's current mistress (for lack of a better word) over whom she thought a divorce was entirely unnecessary. Jane and Jerry remain married, best friends who speak to each other every day, even though he lives with another woman.

I'd like to offer up my experience in the realm of doing things differently relationship-wise. There are a whole lot of us out here in all kinds of non-traditional setups, and I think the more we unapologetically come forward, the more others might feel empowered to chart their own path.

I live with my ex. We haven't had sex in 15 years, nor have any desire to. He has his sex life, I have mine, and we sleep in separate bedrooms. We share a car, and don't worry who bought the last bag of groceries. We eat together, watch TV together, and laugh a lot, but we never get sentimental with each other. I wouldn't be surprised if we continued this way through old age, but I've been around enough to know there's no reason to write scripts for the future. If I had to label us, "spouse" would feel more accurate than "roommate."

I met a guy in Tennessee online five years ago. When I visit him, we're together as a couple. When we're apart, we text each other sweet messages or call. I can't imagine him not in my life and vice-versa, but we know we don't have the kind of compatibility that would work if we tried to play house full-time. (We find different things interesting, though I have turned into a huge football fan because of him.)

I met another guy online, an American who lives in Austria with his lover of 13 years. He visits his father in LA yearly, and we spend some wonderful time together when he does. The rest of the year he writes me sharply funny and affectionate e-mails from all over the world, as he travels for work. I would like to see him more often, but I wouldn't dream of challenging his current relationship.

Nuclear families were held up as the ideal in my parents' generation; now blended and non-traditional families are finally getting recognized as the "new normal. " The same shift is slowly occurring in the general view of relationship choices not based on the monogamous paradigm. Two "Happy" shows illustrate this -- "Happily Divorced, in which Fran Drescher's principal relationship is with her gay ex-husband and Happy Endings which is the portrait of a circle of friends who are practically in a group marriage. These shows resonate because we see similar situations occurring in our own lives. The one you love is not always the one you bed; and the one you bed might not be the only one. The assumption that "One Plus One Forever " is the ideal is being questioned as never before. When it comes to relationships, one size does not fit all. (It never really did.)

As a matter of fairness, gays should have the same rights as straights, period. But we need to fight for far more than marriage equality. We should aim to create a society in which adjectives like gay or straight, single or married, faithful or unfaithful are far less important than nouns like consent, respect and honesty. And of course, love.