Michael and Jenet Erickson: How are same-sex and traditional marriage different?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Dan Savage, the creator of the widely acclaimed "It Gets Better" project, argues with aplomb, "Men were never expected to be monogamous." Author Masha Gessen admits candidly, "we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change." Hannah Rosin, senior editor at the Atlantic, hopes that non-monogamy "may infect the straight world." And even Frank allows "that the challenges that gay life has leveled at our culture's stodgy and outdated norms can be healthy and positive for everyone."

What is rarely discussed is the possibility that the norms of prevalence, monogamy and permanence, in fact, arise out of the complementarity and mutual dependence of the genders. Indeed, complementarity might explain why, for example, man-woman relationships appear to have higher rates of monogamy than man-man relationships, and higher rates of permanence than woman-woman relationships.

But what does complementarity mean for someone attracted to the same gender? That is an agonizingly difficult question with significant religious, social and moral implications. Though its answer requires great compassion, it should not keep us from having an open discussion about the differences between same-sex relationships and married men and women.

If same-sex relationships will, as some hope and others fear, change marriage, then we should be more honest about what that means for marriage. We owe that especially to children — whose hearts rely so much on marriage.

Jenet Jacob Erickson teaches in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU. Michael Erickson is an attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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