Marriage Equality means Divorce Equality. Although it’s not being talked about a lot, sometimes things just don’t work out and you have to break up your marriage. We asked journalist and author Steven Petrow, who often writes LGBT educational editorials in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and a gay divorced man, to talk to us about what it means to have had this experience.
There are roughly 646,500 same-sex married couples in the US, according to a 2019 report by the William’s Institute. For LGBTQ couples, the odds of breaking up are about 0% to 1.8% annually, which is slightly less than their heterosexual peers, who have a 2% divorce rate.
Journalist and author Steven Petrow have recently made his divorce a teachable moment in an opinion article he published on The Atlantic. It turned out that many of his and his ex-husband’s friends—straight and gay—didn’t think divorce laws applied to same-sex couples. Fred Hertz, a California-based lawyer specializing in same-sex-family law, had told him that many of his clients are surprised that nowadays there’s no separate set of rules for gay couples . A divorce is a divorce.
So in retrospective, how does Steve see his divorce? “The best and the fairest way to describe it,” he tells us, “as a friend described it to me, if you think of a couple that starts off, think of them as railroad tracks. You hope that they’re parallel, and they’re going to stay parallel and you’ll stay in tandem forever. But if they’re just off a little bit, like if the one on the right is bending a tad to the right and the one on the left is bending a tad to the left, well they’re close at the beginning but 14 years later they have really diverged a huge amount and you’re in different places. And that’s how I understand what happened to us.”
At a time when gay marriage is such a big deal to the community must a gay couple stay married as a symbol of our success? What does it mean that a gay man gets divorced after we worked so hard to get married in the first place?
“As a professional who was giving advise to LGBTQ people about their relationships, who wrote a book about gay weddings I did feel a certain sense of responsibility about doing it in an appropriate way and of course I felt huge sadness,” says Steve Petrow in our interview with him.
“I did have that conversation in my head as well, and of course when something doesn’t work out there’s a personal disappointment. As I said to friends, I never imagined in this lifetime that I would be married as a gay man nor did I ever imagine that I would be divorced.”
Gay Divorce is Part of Marriage Equality
Steve wasn’t alone in these feelings and this experience.
“Early on people were quietly getting married and many of those – I call them the early marrieds – they ran aground fairly quickly. I think we’re now seeing stabilized numbers where in the end the percentage of same-sex couples who divorce will be about the same as opposite sex over time which is to say about 50 percent.”
So is there anything qualitatively different between gay marriage and straight marriage that may speak to the potential success of such a commitment? This is a good question. We talk in this episode about the opportunity that comes with the novelty of same-sex marriage to establish new patterns in relationships. Will such patterns improve the quality and longevity of marriages? We don’t know. But we’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Our Guest: Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is an award-winning journalist and book author who is best known for his Washington Post and New York Times essays on aging, health, and civility. He’s also an opinion columnist for USA Today, where he writes about civil discourse and manners. “Steven has long been an eloquent voice for civility in public discourse, and such a voice is needed now more than ever,” editorial page editor Bill Sternberg said in a release. Steven’s 2019 TED Talk, “3 Ways to Practice Civility” has been viewed more than 1.6 million times and translated into 13 languages.
The most recent of his five books is Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners. His next book, Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I’m Old, will be published in 2021. You’re likely to hear Steven when you turn on NPR’s “All Things Considered Weekend,” or one of your favorite — or least favorite — TV networks. Steven also served as the host and executive producer of “The Civilist,” a podcast from Public Radio International and North Carolina Public Radio WUNC.
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Co-Hosts: Yan Dekel, Alex Maghen
Guest: Steven Petrow
Opening Theme: Hercules & Love Affair, “Leonora” buy here
Articles Related to this episode:
Celebrating My (Gay) Divorce (Steven Petrow, The Atlantic)
The Good Father: Lessons in Co-Parenting (Rita Bratovich, Star Observer)
Hounds of love: The rise of pet custody battles in divorce settlements (Sophie Gallagher, The Independent)
Proposed bill aims to settle pet custody after marriages dissolve (Lynzi Deluccia, NBC News)
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