David Badash: Dan Savage’s Open Marriage Will Set Back The Entire Marriage-Equality Movement

Savage Love‘s Dan Savage and David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement are currently in a bitchy blog battle. It’s not quite as foul-mouthed as the blog battle between Ruben Diaz and Joe.My.God’s Joe Jervis, but it is worth reading, especially since it features an out sex columnist and an out civil-rights activist clashing over promiscuity and marriage equality.

Savage has long advocated open relationships for couples who find monogamy rife with “boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.” In fact, he recently said as much in a recent New York Times interview. But when he noticed anti-gay activist Chuck Colson using Savage’s words to suggest that homos want to make the institute of marriage ultra-slutty, Badash called Savage’s words “misplaced rambling” and added that “those same-sex marriage activists who enter into marriage might want to think about the fact that they are the ones who will be looked at as setting the standard.”

So, basically Badash thinks that as a married gay-rights figure, Savage should be monogamous—or at least silent about his non-monogamy. Right…

Before we get to Savage’s response, Badash may take some small consolation in the fact that Savage and his partner Terry Miller had a Canadian wedding not legally recognize by the state of Washington. So don’t worry about Savage’s opinion on marriage, Badash—he’s not even really married at all. Aren’t semantics awesome?

Sorry, we just had to…

But seriously, Savage responded to Badash’s criticism thusly:

David, you’re not doing the struggle for marriage equality any favors when you embrace the hypocritical arguments of those who oppose marriage equality, i.e. that non-monogamous couples don’t deserve the right to wed (but only non-monogamous gay couples; straight couples can do whatever the fuck they want), the choices made by married gays should come in for higher scrutiny than those made by married straights, etc.

To which Badash responded:

I take umbrage with the timing of your comments—even one of your readers made the same observation, and with feeding into the religious right’s pernicious meme that gays are sex fiends. AFA’s Bryan Fischer recently stated, “fidelity in same- sex relationships is virtually unheard of,” and so, as you can imagine, your comments feed right into that bunk…

That’s what we don’t need, Dan. You know so well, from the success of your It Gets Better Project, that words matter and that we’re fighting a war for hearts and minds. Giving fodder to the enemy only hurts our community—and all those kids you are working so hard to help. Did you ever stop to consider that a great many people read The New York Times, and having your words as ammunition could be used by those who oppose us?

And no, as you write, we’re not going to change Maggie Gallagher’s mind. But the millions of other Americans who are on the fence about us only need to hear that someone billed as one of the most central figures in the LGBT fight for equality thinks that fidelity and monogamy are going to be tossed out by same- sex couples, and there goes another state, say, Minnesota, adding a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Badash is basically saying that any gay person who has become a national media figure has an obligation to either shut up about their feelings on monogamous marriage or pretend that all gays want nice, sanitized monogamous marriages where we never do anything to offend or challenge anyone.

As The New Gay‘s Zack Rosen once  wrote, “Sex is a part of who we are. If we trade sex for rights, we are not fully free… No one ever won equal rights by keeping their oppressors comfortable.” He’s right on both counts.

Yes, words matter. Yes, Dan Savage is one of America’s top advice columnists, one whose every word millions of people scrutinize. And yes, the religious right will use Savage’s words to make our battle for equality that much harder. But the religious right has called us promiscuous perverts, child molesters and poo-eating, Communist animal rapists for decades. Do we really think one interview and a single column are going to cost us the 2012 marriage referendum in Minnesota?

Savage’s words didn’t come from “mindless rambling.” He’s long advocated for open marriage in columns, speeches, podcasts and books. But yet this particular interview and this particular column of Colson’s is the flashpoint threatening to set back the marriage equality movement? Hardly.

Savage doesn’t write in a vacuum; he’s just one of many queer voices in this particular discussion, one of many heard by “swing voters.” He’s not a spokesperson for the marriage- equality movement like Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry; he doesn’t even “run” the It Gets Better campaign, something that has become larger than him. Savage is foremost a gay-rights activist and sex columnist. And when he talks about monogamous marriages not working for everyone, he applies that to gay and straight people alike.

It’s not like Savage advocated child rape or bestiality. He advocated open relationships, something more morally sound than lying about an ongoing extramarital affair. And because he is influential and in the national spotlight, he is actually in a good position to influence swing-voter Americans to abandon their preconceptions about what marriage must be and embrace a new vision of what it can be. As he sees it—and his many writers and callers have attested—”traditional” marriage doesn’t always work for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. (After all, we homos didn’t create the staggering divorce rate.)

So when Savage advocates for open marriages, it’s so that marriage can transform into an institution that is less repressive and sexist—a ambitious and admirable goal.

Anti-equality foes will contend that we want to redefine marriage as part of a scheme to outlaw religion, stomp morality, indoctrinate children and spread disease and promiscuity throughout the land. They’ve said it for decades and they’ll continue saying it for decades.

In response, we shouldn’t shy away from espousing our vision of what the institution could become.  Just as the US government redefined marriage over the centuries to include minority and interracial couples— and to allow women to retain property and deny their husbands’ sexual advances—so too should the institution be redefined to include committed adults who consensually love and support each other in the way they see fit. Savage’s words don’t take away from that vision, they merely acknowledge its problematic reality.

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