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Monogamy: Dan Savage Calls Me Out

by David Badash on July 15, 2011

in Civil Rights,News,Politics

Post image for Monogamy: Dan Savage Calls Me Out

Dan Savage thinks his public comments on marriage, monogamy, and fidelity don’t hurt our efforts to win hearts and minds in our battle for equality — and admonishes me for pointing out that they do.

Dear Dan,

In, “Confidential to David Badash,” a rant on your blog even most of your readers who commented seemed to think little of, you call me out for my article, “Chuck Colson: ‘Gay marriage will inevitably undermine all marriages’,” in which I call your comments in a New York Times interview last month, (in passing, I might add, as the piece is about Chuck Colson, remember, Dan?,) “misplaced rambling,” and your statement on monogamy, “circumspect.”

You didn’t piss me off, but thanks for saying “I’m sorry,” as you write, for, “sharing my opinions and shit like that.”

Time and time again, Dan, as I have mentioned before, you do shoot your mouth off without thinking about the bigger picture or the consequences of your actions. For an advice columnist, surely that’s not wise, is it?

I have no desire to judge the covenants of your relationship or of anyone else’s. Lord knows, the only people who can create and guide and judge their relationship are those whose relationship it is.

And for the record, while I personally believe in monogamy and fidelity — the “forsaking all others” thing — I don’t think I have the right to force that on anyone else.

But 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.

Fischer’s was a false statement — as is almost everything that comes out of his mouth about us — but it makes our jobs all the more difficult, especially as he is heard in forty states via the AFA’s 180+ radio stations.

“The view that we need a little less fidelity in marriages is dangerous for a gay-marriage advocate to hold,” the Times piece that started this brouhaha warned. “It feeds into the stereotype of gay men as compulsively promiscuous, and it gives ammunition to all the forces, religious and otherwise, who say that gay families will never be real families and that we had better stop them before they ruin what is left of marriage.”

And that’s my point.

The millions of 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.

Voters, sadly, don’t need to be handed a reason to vote against us — or for the Michele Bachmanns, Rick Santorums, or Rick Perrys of the world. Giving them a reason merely justifies their own ignorance.


If you read my entire Chuck Colson piece, which offended you so much you needed to send me a public admonishment, you’d have read the part in which Colson writes, “So the next time you hear friends question what harm gay marriage will do, why not talk about the Times article…”

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.

Voters, sadly, don’t need to be handed a reason to vote against us — or for the Michele Bachmanns, Rick Santorums, or Rick Perrys of the world. Giving them a reason merely justifies their own ignorance.

You see your job as calling things as you see them, and delivering advice based on your perceptions. I see my job as helping to inform and educate people, and present our issues to the general public honestly and positively — but that doesn’t exclude the importance of calling out those whose missteps harm us.

“We’re fighting for equal rights, sistergirlfriend, not a very special right to a bullshit double standard,” you write. Gay people don’t have to be on our best behaviors, as defined by you or Maggie or the Pope, to be entitled to our civil rights. They’re called rights, David, and not treats or trophies, for a reason: we don’t have to earn or win them. They’re already ours, technically, even if they’re not yet recognized.”

I agree, seeing that I spend every day, almost every waking moment, writing about our civil rights — and about those who are hard at work trying to prevent legal recognition of them. I certainly don’t need to be reminded that the rights of LGBT people are inalienable, as I’ve written often, like here.

I don’t think we have to earn our rights — they’re ours, they’re inalienable, they exist because we do —  but I do think, for the good of our community, people in the spotlight, people with a platform, have a responsibility to make sure we’re helping, not harming, the movement. That’s why I wrote this. And this.

All that said, Dan, I really do want you to know that I have great respect for so much of what you’ve accomplished. The It Gets Better Project should go down in history as possibly one of the greatest life-saving creations of the decade. You, and Terry, deserve all the accolades you’ve received for that.

As with so many battles within our movement, I fear you may not feel you and I are fighting for exactly the same thing. I hope you realize we’re on the same side.

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JasonFTL July 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Sorry, David, but I don't buy your argument–as long as fundamentalist whackjobs run amok in this country, there will NEVER be a "right time" for Dan's commentary, and the idea that he should keep quiet until some arbitrary point in time when his statements might cause less "damage" to the community's reputation is absurd. No matter what we say and do, or how many conservative mores and principles we adopt in a vain, and pathetic, attempt to become "acceptable," the radical Christianists will always find grounds to denigrate us, biblical or otherwise. I frequently disagree with him, but at least he has the integrity not to whitewash the truth–the majority of straight AND gay couples are not 100% "faithful," and those couples who are honest and realistic about dealing with their sexual needs in the context of relationship stand a far better chance of maintaining the relationship in the long term. The right's insistence on an outmoded and unrealistic concept of fidelity is the problem, not Savage's destruction of that particular straw man.

Brian Stroup July 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

If we are going to wear a mask of shame believing that it will trick our persecutors into accepting us, then we are doomed to become the persecutors whenever that mask is threatened by the truth. I would rather win my rights through gradual acceptance than by hurried assimilation. If we abandon core values of sexual freedom and diversity, we may win civil rights, but we lose our selves in the process.

"It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep." — Malcolm X

perezti July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Criticize Savage for timing or providing fodder all you want, he's speaking the truth, and gets my applause.

Hate Inc. isn't going to stop fighting against our right to marry even if we met a same-gender version of the 1950's fantasy narrative that didn't exist, even then.

Jack_Jamison July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm

So, if I understand you correctly, David, we should all lie about our sexual lives to further the cause? You don't want the truth to get out? For god sake, let's stop the parades and destroy all the footage of two homos getting married – that inflames the right-wingers enough. Don't even mention AIDS. This is the same flawed logic used in all previous human rights struggles: don't act different, and they'll think we're one of them; just tell them what they want to hear. It's hogwash, and you know better. Dan is, correctly I believe, pointing out the fact that monogamy doesn't seem to be working very well for the hetero community. The LGBT community is the same, only more so. And although you say you don't speak for all of the LGBT community, it seems to me you are handing out advice you believe everyone should follow – especially those visible folks like Dan Savage – who is, after all, an advice columnist. I wonder if the more damaging behavior is the backbiting and infighting so common in the community. Ahhh, well, at least you've fanned the flames of the controversy – perhaps a few more people will become enlightened by hearing the truth.

Thorne_Cassidy July 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm

In politics, I'm a pragmatist, and so I agree that Savage's push for non-monogamy is a bad thing politically. I also share your personal view on monogamy. Even more,–legal or not–, I do not recognize or respect "open" relationships as the genuine article. Something that should concern only my closest, coupled friends. In the public sphere, we should not differentiate: no one else's relationship is my business. I hope you continue to offer such candid opinions despite being admonished for not saluting the pre-approved, "correct" answers gays are supposed to have.

Nashobabear July 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

Here's a MAJOR problem with some marriage equality people: as a gay liberationist I refuse to conform to heterosexual-monogamist "norms." It is not your place to tell me how I should conduct my relationships as a gay man, just because you want to be accepted as an imitation heterosexual.

Mister_Moose July 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm


SHould I also get a less gay hairstyle, de-gay my house, place my ankle on my thigh when I sit, and never ever mention that I have a boyfriend? Would that help make "them" more comfortable? Please let me know because I want to help by being the very best boy ever.

David Badash July 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Gee, I don't know.
Are you considered America's top advice columnist?
Are you likely to have an interview printed in the New York Times in which you suggest gay men aren't really into monogamy?
Do you have a platform on which millions of people read you?
Are you in a position to have the religious right use your words to make our battle for equality that much harder?

If not, I really don't care what you do.

Jack_Jamison July 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Okay, David, I hear you. Will you please help me cover up the truth about black fatherhood, marriage, and educational statistics? The right wing still uses them too…

Thorne_Cassidy July 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Those things generally are covered up by omission–until we have scandals like those in the Atlanta school system. We either want to win or not. Do you think that if it were proven that women generally can't parallel park as well as men that we'd stop issuing licenses to women–or kick them out of the service for not being as able to meet the physical challenges of service. Clearly not–we changed the standard to accommodate. But the selling point could not have been: let women in the service, so we can lower the physical standards for some soldiers. Perhaps the victim/shame-inspired, alienated, ghetto culture that we like to call "gay" is less-inclined to monogamy. (I suspect that the next generation will be more like straight folks generally are now) Even so, it's simply bad politics to promote non-monogamy if you're speaking for the broader gay community.

sleepydogs July 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Why do those who advocate for non-monogamy assume that traditional marriage will or should change, instead of traditional fidelity norms for gay male relationships changing? For one thing, lesbians apparently are more likely to be monogamous, and their new marriages will be shaping the coutours of the institution too. For another, heterosexuals are less likely to be monogamous or to believe that infidelity is wrong in a dating relationship, as opposed to a marriage. Maybe once marriage is a normal, equally accessible thing for gay couples, they'll begin to follow a similar pattern: marital relationships will be more monogamous, while nonmonogamy will remain more popular for dating couples.

Mister_Moose July 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm


I appreciate that you have taken the time to let us all know how we should all behave and how our relationships should be structured…because I want my relationship to look just like hetero's relationships. I certainly wouldn't want to violate anyone's sense of psychic order.

sleepydogs July 17, 2011 at 1:32 am

I have not suggested that anyone "should" or "should not" have a certain kind of relationship. I'm simply observing that trends might not follow the path that some have assumed. If the argument is that a greater tendency towards nonmonogamy among gay men is going to change marriage, making fidelity less significant, I ask why couldn't it be instead that equal rights to marry are going to change relationship trends among gay men?

chevio755 July 19, 2011 at 8:15 am

David, I think you're absolutely right and I'm glad to see someone is out there who is willing to discuss the implications of Dan Savage's statements rather than merely re-report his opinions and appearances. That said, Dan has probably never been so good at building support on the right, and anyone who says otherwise has never had a conversation with a Republican about the redefining of "Santorum."

Dan Savage is essentially the LGBT equality movement's Rush Limbaugh. Yes, I acknowledge he's not loathsome quite like Rush is, but he's arrogant and bombastic enough that the LGBT right's movement would do well to distance itself from him…

David Badash July 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Thanks – I truly appreciate your support. Between the post on Dan's blog, Andrew Sullivan's blog, and now Queerty, it's feeling a tad chilly in this 90+ degree weather!

Thorne_Cassidy July 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

If you had the exact same opinions they have, then we'd have no reason to come here. Besides, contrary to many of the admonishments in these comments, it isn't the far right that we hope to persuade–but rather the middle-of-the-road, indifferent, albeit reasonable voter/constituent. He's scratching his head, innocently wondering why the "homosexuals" –strange people he believes he doesn't know–want to marry just to screw around and not even maintain the appearance of being an exclusive couple. We're winning because of efforts like Savage's "It gets better videos;" though it's much slower going than it needs to be because of Savage's tendency to talk about how he and his husband are banging some third guy from both ends–or talking about "whipping up some santorum in Santorum"… Savage isn't above criticism.

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