Amity Pierce Buxton, Ph.D., is the founder of the Straight Spouse Network and author of ‘The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families.’
OAKLAND, Calif. — A non-profit organization that supports the heterosexual spouses and/or ex-spouses of LGBT people has released a position paper in support of legalizing same-sex marriage. The statement from the 22-year-old Straight Spouse Network (SSN) adds to the discussion the voices of one of the least heard populations in the debate — those who are or have been married to gay or lesbian spouses.
“As we observed the pain suffered by over 15,000 straight spouses and their families since 1986, it became increasingly clear that all family members struggle in these situations and their pain could have been avoided had the gay and lesbian partners been able legally to enter into a committed relationship with individuals of the same gender and to raise a family with them,” said Kathy Callori, executive director of SSN.
The phenomenon of closeted gays marrying straights typically only comes to light in high-profile marriages, such as the recent case with former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey. Yet it is estimated that up to two million gay men and lesbians in the U.S. have been or are in heterosexual marriages.
Some have already disclosed their orientation, others will, and still others may stay closeted or will be outed. When the gay or lesbian spouses come out, SSN leaders assert, they get the attention and make the headlines while their wives or husbands and the issues with which they must cope are ignored
“Most gay or lesbian spouses marry because they love their mates-to-be and want a family,” said Amity Pierce Buxton, Ph.D., founder of SSN and author of “The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families.”
“Many marry because it’s the “right thing to do” or they think marriage will make them straight or lessen their gay feelings,” she continued. “Others deny or are not yet consciously aware that they have same-sex attractions. Whatever their initial situation, their same-sex feelings gradually emerge, causing a profound struggle until they come out or are found out.”
Sam Cheney, president of SSN’s board of directors added, “When straight spouses find out their partners are gay or lesbian, they are shocked and have to cope with unique issues, including sexual rejection, closeted sexual orientation and their own crisis of faith. Even with SSN’s help, it can take years to resolve the personal and family challenges of their partners’ disclosure. While some couples stay married, the majority divorce. If they are parents, as most are, the family break-up can have deep, long-lasting effects on the children as well.”
By adding its perspective to the public debate about marriage equality, SSN hopes to facilitate a broader understanding of the current situation for gay men and lesbians and their straight spouses in mixed-orientation marriages. Members believe education will spur greater support for the legalization of gay marriage, hopefully resulting in a decrease in the divorce rate and a strengthening of the institution of marriage for all families.