Friday, April 08, 2005

The Real Threat of Gay Marriage

NPR's weekly program This American Life recently dedicated its hour to the topic of "The Sanctity of Marriage." (Click the link and search for the title - you can listen to the whole program free.) The first section of the show covered the work of Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute. Dr. Gottman and his associates study predictors of marital success. They also teach the techniques that they have discovered to be successful in happily married couples

Gottman and his team observe couples that have been asked to discuss a topic they disagree on (and according to Dr. Gottman's research and common sense, all couples disagree on something (and usually about certain key subjects)) and then study that interaction. While the couple discusses the issue, researchers categorize every level of interaction: from what is actually said to how it is said (not just the emotion behind it but the rate, tone, pitch, volume, etc. of speech) to facial expressions and body language to how couples respond to each other.

Gottman's research includes same-sex couples. Dr. Gottman's research sample of same-sex couples is very small (21 lesbian and 21 gay male couples )but has produced interesting results. If the results are representative, straights could be in real trouble.

Dr. Gottman tells reporter Ira Glass that same-sex couples are not just as good as straight couples, but are "even better" when it comes to handling conflict. He notes that compared to 42 straight marriages of the same length and satisfaction), same-sex couples were better at "listening when criticized,... [being] less defensive,...[and being] more positive." He notes a conversation one gay-male couple had regarding sex initiation where one of the men told his partner that he didn't have the kind of body he was turned on by. The partner acknowledged that and then re-asked the original question. Dr. Gottman compares that to a male-female couple: how many wives would not become defensive and upset when told her husband didn't find her body attractive.

Dr. Gottman doesn't know why these same-sex couples did better. Possibly, he postulates, it's simply "easier for men to talk men" and likewise for women.

Also, interestingly, Dr. Gottman notes that it's impossible to find government funding for research on committed homosexual relationships or their sustainment without being very careful about the types of words used in a grant proposal. Certain watchdog organizations use computers to locate certain words like "gay", "lesbian", and "homosexual" to protest any government funding. As such, those proposal aren't even reviewed. This is "the kind of climate in which we're working" Dr. Gottman notes.

Unfortunately, it's not surprising that certain elements of our society,don't want gays to have successful relationships and that our government, rather than doing the right thing, bows to the pressure these zealots exert. It's also not surprising that almost no major press coverage has been given to Dr. Gottman's (admittably limited) results on same-sex relationships.

The general population, and I believe a good portion of the gay community, wants to buy into the stereotype and the hype: we can't have stable relationships. We seem desperately to need to believe the idea that we're so flawed that we can't commit to one another. This idea certainly allows those among us who are promiscuous and want nothing more out of life than meaningless sex and drugs to rationalize their irresponsible behavior.

We are no more flawed than any straight person. We are told we are flawed constantly; others would have us believe that something is wrong with us, but I believe that it is life with those messages that make us better in relationships. Perhaps we are more sensitive to our spouse's viewpoint because our own viewpoint is so often denigrated in society. We know what it's like to be told we are bad and wrong, so we are reluctant to automatically label another person as such. Conflicts then become less about "winning" (oppressing the other viewpoint or need) or villianizing our opposition, but about giving that person the understanding and opportunity to express his/her side that we so often wish others would give us.

The information I quote in this entry can be found beginning around the 25 minute mark. After this segment, the program tears into DOMA with a satirical eye and also seriously looks at the legal arguments being used against gay marriage. However, I recommend listening to the entirety of the excellent program.

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