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Mixed-Orientation Marriages  
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Mixed-orientation marriages--in which one partner is straight and the other is gay or lesbian--are becoming more visible. Ang Lee's Academy Award-nominated movie Brokeback Mountain (2005), which depicted gay men who fall in love with each other though they are heterosexually married, gave a human face to what the media referred to as "Brokeback Marriages."

As homosexuality becomes more accepted by our society, more gay men and lesbians feel comfortable coming out in their heterosexual marriages, though the exact number of mixed-orientation marriages is unknown. Data on these marriages is unreliable because of the inconsistent ways of defining "gay" or "lesbian" in demographic research.

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Statistics from the Straight Spouse Network contend that up to two million gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the United States are or have been heterosexually married. Demographer Gary Gates recently found that of the 27 million American men currently married, 1.6 percent, or 436,000, identify themselves as gay or bisexual.

Research shows that more than 80% of mixed-orientation marriages end in divorce. But divorce is not necessarily inevitable for these marriages.

When a gay spouse steps out of the closet, the straight partner usually goes immediately in. Each partner has a "coming-out" process to undergo, but they can negotiate this process together, as a couple.

Often, the dilemma of partners in mixed-orientation marriages is centered not around sex, but around love. Some of these couples have been married for decades; many have children, and have built good lives together; they feel a deep and abiding love for one another. Neither has fallen out of love, yet their lives have changed by virtue of one of the spouses's discovery of his or her authentic identity.

The prospect of separating and divorcing is devastating, not only for them but for their children as well. These couples usually do not want to divorce. Just because one partner comes out does not mean that they stop loving each other.

Keeping a Straight Face: Why Do Gays Heterosexually Marry?

Two popular questions are "Why do gay spouses marry in the first place?" and "Why do straight spouses--consciously and unconsciously--marry gay spouses?"

Part of the answer to the first question is that our society does not grant permission for young people to explore alternative sexualities. Moreover, our culture places enormous pressure on individuals to conform, especially sexually. Heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage are privileged in all sorts of ways. It is much easier for young people to marry heterosexually than to discover their authentic selves.

Some of the gay men and lesbians who marry heterosexually hope that their gay urges will go away. More often, especially among lesbians, they are not even fully aware of their urges or at least have not labeled them when they marry.

Gay men and lesbians marry heterosexually for a variety of reasons, ranging from the need to conform to familial and societal expectations to a desire, founded on a genuine love for their partner, to create a shared life with their potential spouse. Some marry in order to have children, or to be taken care of, to bond with a mother or father figure, to establish a cover or "beard" for their gay activities, or in hopes that straight sex will "cure" their desire for homosexual relations or, at least, keep that desire strictly sexual.

Why Straight Spouses Marry Gay Men and Lesbians

Most straight spouses marry gay men or lesbians without knowing that their partners are gay or lesbian. But some suspect it and others know it for a fact. Those who know of their spouse's homosexuality often think that their partners will grow out of their same-sex desires or that a good marriage will cause the desires to dissipate.

Some heterosexual men and women who marry gay spouses are enablers, people who display an approving and supportive attitude toward someone else's self-destructive behavior or make it possible for them to avoid the consequences of such behavior. Some straight spouses allow their gay and lesbian spouses to "act out" their same-sex desires without really acknowledging them, while neither of the spouses accepts the consequences of such behavior.

Some straight spouses may be unconsciously drawn to partners who might betray them. Perhaps while growing up, they experienced lies and witnessed emotional boundary violations that remained unresolved and left them traumatized. This kind of background can make the straight spouse unconsciously seek a "familiar" spouse who will violate trust.

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