Political Lives, Brokeback Wives

WivesUK Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten, who recently stepped down because of an alleged affair with a rent boy, has drawn attention once again (think New Jersey Governor James McGreevey) to the wives of secretly homosexual public figures. Oaten’s wife, Belinda, has said that she views her husband’s actions as “the ultimate betrayal.”

But what of other wives who aren’t in the public eye? The issue resonates more deeply than ever today because Brokeback Mountain has, for the most part, brought a historically hush-hush topic out into the open in the guise of a tragic romance, and in a working class milieu. The Guardian explores this topic and asks some interesting questions:

“For a wife who has had no inkling that her spouse was anything other than heterosexual, is it better or worse than finding out that he has been unfaithful with a woman? And is it possible to sustain a marriage after her husband’s proclivities are revealed, or is parting inevitable?”

Digging for statistics on these kinds of marriages, The Guardian reports that according to the Straight Spouse Network (a U.S.-based support group), “about two million gay men and lesbian women are married to straight partners, roughly a third of couples break up immediately, a third remain together for a year and then split, while the remaining third try to stay together. After three years, half this latter group are still together.”

Conservative Christian groups will place the blame for marriages that end up like this on the gay man, and not the real culprit — a society with so great an intolerance to homosexuality that lying to one’s family at the risk of losing it seems a better option than to live openly. The irony is that many conservative and fundamentalist religions that damn homosexuality based on their warped reading of scripture are the root cause of the problem.

Doesn’t it make sense that the “sanctity of marriage” is threatened more when gays are not allowed to live openly? If gay men are being pressured (because of societal or religious pressure) to marry heterosexually, how is marriage’s “sanctity” being preserved? It’s not. And don’t expect the various wingnut religions to admit anytime soon that their own intolerance is threatening the very institution they seek to protect.

Hopefully, Brokeback Mountain is helping open the world’s eyes to this tragic conundrum.

“When your husband dies, you lose your future with him,” a woman named Pat tells the Guardian. “But when something like this comes out, you lose your past because it was all based on lies.”

I know plenty of gay men as well who feel as though they didn’t start living until they came out of the closet. Many of them look back on their adolescence and younger years as a carefully constructed lie. What a shame. Life is too short for these kinds of losses. Things are changing, but not fast enough. This article in the Guardian presents some interesting perspectives, and it’s good that they’re being brought out of the closet.

Secrets and Lies [the guardian]

Posted January 30, 2006 at 3:30pm ETC by Andy Towle
in Current Affairs