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Steven Thrasher: ‘Master Bedroom, Extra Closet – The Truth About Gay Marriage’

Ace scribe Steven Thrasher — who was named Journalist of the Year in 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association — knows how to get a rise out of readers with his stellar work that often explores race, class, and LGBT issues. Blend readers may recall his epic piece at the Village Voice, “White America Has Lost Its Mind,” written in the wake of the right-wing’s reaction to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black POTUS. I mean, how can you not react to this opening salvo….classic:

About 12:01 on the afternoon of January 20, 2009, the white American mind began to unravel.

It had been a pretty good run up to that point. The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing. White people, after all, had managed to invent a spiffy new form of self-government so that all white men (and, eventually, women) could have a say in how white people were taxed and governed. White minds had also nearly universally occupied just about every branch of that government and, for more than two centuries, had kept sole possession of the leadership of its executive branch (whose parsonage, after all, is called the White House).

But when that streak was broken—and, for the first time, a non-white president accepted the oath of office—white America rapidly began to lose its grip.

We had a lot of fun with it during a liveblog on PHB: “Stepping on the third rail of race w/Steven Thrasher of ‘White America Has Lost Its Mind‘ (Monday October 11, 2010).

***

Now Steven steps into some controversy of another kind —  he takes a look at the successful (and necessary) political sales pitch by LGBT rights activists to present a model of marriage that increasingly (and not surprisingly) doesn’t look very traditional at all, for obvious reasons, in “Master Bedroom, Extra Closet: The Truth About Gay Marriage” over at Gawker.

In the fight for marriage rights, gay activists have (smartly) put forward couples who embody a familiar form of unity. Straight people see Edith Windsor, the octogenarian lesbian widow fighting the Defense of Marriage Act, and they see a life that mirrors their own. The $300,000 tax bill she was slapped with when her wife died is an obvious injustice.

But not all gay unions are built on the straight model, particularly when it comes to the issue of monogamy. The Gay Couples Study out of San Francisco State University—which, in following over 500 gay couples over many years is the largest on-going study of its kind—has found thatabout half of all couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing.

The gay rights movement has made a calculated decision to highlight the similarities, not the differences, between straight and gay love on the road to marriage equality.

A caveat here, which Steven expounds upon below — we’re talking about the patterns of relationships relating to gay men, not lesbians (though why finding that lesbians are not likely to pursue open, committed relationships surprises him, I’m not sure).  Yep, the stereotype holds true, but it doesn’t politically serve matters to discuss it openly:

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Steven Thrasher: ‘Master Bedroom, Extra Closet – The Truth About Gay Marriage’

Ace scribe Steven Thrasher — who was named Journalist of the Year in 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association — knows how to get a rise out of readers with his stellar work that often explores race, class, and LGBT issues. Blend readers may recall his epic piece at the Village Voice, “White America Has Lost Its Mind,” written in the wake of the right-wing’s reaction to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black POTUS. I mean, how can you not react to this opening salvo….classic:

About 12:01 on the afternoon of January 20, 2009, the white American mind began to unravel.

It had been a pretty good run up to that point. The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing. White people, after all, had managed to invent a spiffy new form of self-government so that all white men (and, eventually, women) could have a say in how white people were taxed and governed. White minds had also nearly universally occupied just about every branch of that government and, for more than two centuries, had kept sole possession of the leadership of its executive branch (whose parsonage, after all, is called the White House).

But when that streak was broken—and, for the first time, a non-white president accepted the oath of office—white America rapidly began to lose its grip.

We had a lot of fun with it during a liveblog on PHB: “Stepping on the third rail of race w/Steven Thrasher of ‘White America Has Lost Its Mind‘ (Monday October 11, 2010).

***

Now Steven steps into some controversy of another kind —  he takes a look at the successful (and necessary) political sales pitch by LGBT rights activists to present a model of marriage that increasingly (and not surprisingly) doesn’t look very traditional at all, for obvious reasons, in “Master Bedroom, Extra Closet: The Truth About Gay Marriage” over at Gawker.

In the fight for marriage rights, gay activists have (smartly) put forward couples who embody a familiar form of unity. Straight people see Edith Windsor, the octogenarian lesbian widow fighting the Defense of Marriage Act, and they see a life that mirrors their own. The $300,000 tax bill she was slapped with when her wife died is an obvious injustice.

But not all gay unions are built on the straight model, particularly when it comes to the issue of monogamy. The Gay Couples Study out of San Francisco State University—which, in following over 500 gay couples over many years is the largest on-going study of its kind—has found thatabout half of all couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing.

The gay rights movement has made a calculated decision to highlight the similarities, not the differences, between straight and gay love on the road to marriage equality.

A caveat here, which Steven expounds upon below — we’re talking about the patterns of relationships relating to gay men, not lesbians (though why finding that lesbians are not likely to pursue open, committed relationships surprises him, I’m not sure).  Yep, the stereotype holds true, but it doesn’t politically serve matters to discuss it openly.

Peter Zupcofska, a leading marriage and divorce attorney for same-sex couples, says he’s dealt with premarital agreements between gay men in which they’ve agreed that sex with other people “would not be a reason to penalize each other.” Before they ever said “I do,” they wrote a contract with “the intention that they’d have an open relationship once they were married.”

Zupcofska says he has never drawn up such a clause for a heterosexual couple nor, fascinatingly, for a lesbian couple. A study out of UCLA found that two-thirds of formally legalized same-sex couples are made up of women; yet, nearly all the studies about sex and monogamy in same-sex couples focus exclusively on men.

Gay-rights groups are often nervous about sociologists or reporters looking too closely at what really happens in the bedrooms of gay relationships, out of fear that anti-gay activists will bludgeon them with a charge of sexual promiscuity, as a reason to deny them equal rights. But now that gays and lesbians are on the cusp of having access to marriage equality, will the conversation about monogamy change within queer culture? And would straight support have helped gays get the marriage rights they now have if the truly complex nature of sexual boundaries for gay couples were more openly talked about?

On the eve of this new era, I talked to a number of married gays and lesbians about these sometimes uncomfortable questions: a former Catholic priest from Connecticut who married his partner of three decades; a gay marriage and divorce attorney from Massachusetts; a highly religious, sexually monogamous couple in their thirties; two dads of infant children who are in a sexually open relationship; and a leading lesbian marriage equality advocate.

Steven brilliantly connects the story with his own experiences. And what about straight folks and non-monogamy? More below the fold.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding