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Broken Up 

The difficulties of keeping gay relationships going

When I first moved to Charlotte about seven years ago, I had two gay men as roommates. I think that's the only reason my very conservative father tolerated such an arrangement.

At that time in my life, I had my share of going through the gay club scene, private parties, tea parties, drag shows, AIDS fundraisers, etc. I've talked to probably hundreds of gay singles and gay couples who've had their own commitment ceremonies, or who just live together. I've known gay people who left heterosexual marriages, teens just "coming out," gay strippers, and one amazing drag queen who was famous in Charlotte, but whose parents had no idea their son was even gay.I can count on one hand how many gay couples I know that have been together more than 10 years. I know of only about four couples who've been together for over five years. The good news is, I know of many gay couples who've managed the elusive task of remaining close friends, even after their relationships have ended. Anne Heche could take a few lessons from these people.

Lately, there's been an avalanche of controversy surrounding the gay marriage issue. Conservatives say marriage is an "institution" that should be exclusively reserved for heterosexual couples. Homophobics and radical religious sects make the weak argument that the divorce rate would go through the rooftop church bells if gay marriages were legalized.

As part of the debate, there's a widespread stereotype that gay couples are much more likely to break up, because they allegedly "have trouble maintaining stable relationships," so why bother with the legalities, or the trouble of registering at Tiffany's and Pottery Barn?

Do gay relationships have a high breakup rate because the couples aren't legally married, or is it something in the very nature of gay relationships, or what? Statistics don't help us decide.

While researching this story, I dug deep to find figures regarding how long gay and lesbian couples stayed together. I never did find any. The closest thing I found was that gay and lesbian couples who had had commitment ceremonies felt more strongly that others would deem them a "failure" if they "divorced" when the relationship went downhill.

In other words, the embarrassment of going through all the trouble and ceremony of having a "wedding" and then splitting up was the driving force for staying together.

I think homosexual couples have the right idea here. They seem to take the relationship more seriously, because they're also fighting an uphill battle against societal expectations that they're supposed to break up. No one seems to give a rat's ass if Jack and Jill can't keep it together. If they don't have kids, the lawyers say it's all good and send them both on their way. But if it's Jack and Mack, well, we told you those people couldn't stay in a lasting relationship.

If gay marriages were legally recognized, you wouldn't see a resulting national traffic jam in divorce courts. In fact, you'd probably see a decline in the number of civil suits filed due to gay-related issues, primarily property redistribution. North Carolina doesn't recognize same-sex unions, and when one partner is the primary breadwinner, it's hard to stand in front of a judge and prove your level of financial investment during the course of the relationship.

A close friend of mine is a lesbian in her 50s. "Brenda" had a domestic partner, and she felt the relationship was stable enough for them to buy a home. Because Brenda's job was mostly commissioned when the home was purchased, the home was in her partner's name, but it was vastly remodeled with Brenda's money. When the relationship ended, her partner screamed sole ownership of the property, and Brenda was eventually forced to re-purchase a home she had already invested over $60,000 worth of materials in -- on her partner's terms.

If they were legally married, this would never have been an issue, and Brenda didn't know that a legal contract drawn up beforehand would have prevented anything of this nature from happening.

This happens more frequently than we would like to believe. Gay couples need to have their rights legally protected -- and they shouldn't have to pay a lawyer hundreds or thousands of dollars to draw up a contract every single time they decide to buy a car or an investment property. It's frightening and dehumanizing to think that just because you're gay, you're more at risk of your partner throwing you penniless out in the street than if you're heterosexual.

If straight men facing divorce are worried about the wrath of a woman scorned, they need to take a look at gay scorn. Gay scorn is when one partner legally wrongs the other -- be it in property investments, domestic violence, or even major theft -- and the offending partner threatens to "out" the other if he or she presses charges or seeks legal action. Continued homophobia and discrimination against gays make this possible. It's especially effective if the victim is employed with the school system, a law firm, or in any other high-profile position.

However, the very psychology of gay women and men in relationships is different...and it's at the core of the success or failure of these types of unions.

More on this subject next week -- tune in for Part 2.

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