Support groups offer help
Not all marriages dissolve when a partner comes out.
By SUSAN CAMPBELL
All eyes were on New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey last week as he told a stunned audience, "I am a gay American." And then eyes shifted swiftly to Dina Matos McGreevey, his wife and the mother of his daughter, as she stood by his side while he admitted to a homosexual affair with a state employee.
What happens when your husband is homosexual? Or your wife?
And how could you not know?
The political fallout is immense; the administration of McGreevey, who says he'll resign effective Nov. 15, has been plagued by scandal beyond his providing a state job for his alleged partner.
The human fallout is even more so.
What happens next
Amity Pierce Buxton, executive director of the California-based Straight Spouse Network, said about a third of such couples separate immediately. Another third stay together for a few years to work things out and then separate, and the last third try to make it work.
Buxton falls into the middle category. In the mid-'80s, after 25 years of marriage and two children, Buxton and her husband divorced after he told her he was gay.
McGreevey has two children, one with his second wife and another with his first wife, a Canadian librarian.
Buxton, who has devoted the ensuing years to researching straight-gay unions, said about 2 million couples have gone through the coming-out of one partner. Of every five situations, three are men coming out, she said.
"It's a tragedy, and everybody gets hurt," Buxton said, "the person imprisoned in the marriage, the one who didn't know, the kids. Most of these people marry their straight spouse because they loved them, they wanted a family, and some of them thought that love would change them. Not many of them deliberately deceived."
To questions of how a straight spouse could ignore something as basic as sexual orientation, Buxton said, "Why would you think your spouse is gay?"
As April Masini, creator of AskApril.com, says, "In fact, gay men may look like 'perfect gentlemen,' more interested in a woman's mind than her body, and that can be both appealing and confusing to women seeking male companionship. That's especially true because society's heterosexism causes people to naively assume that everyone we meet is straight until proven otherwise."
Entertainer Liza Minnelli married two gay men. As portrayed in the recent movie, "De-Lovely," Linda Lee married American composer Cole Porter. Renate Blauel married entertainer Elton John.
On a less public stage, 10 years ago, Jane Harris' husband of 21 years told her he was gay and had been having an affair with a man for six months.
"At first I was devastated, believing we would have to separate," said Harris, who lives in western Massachusetts. But over the next few years, Harris and her husband decided to stay together in an open marriage.
"This took counseling, support groups and the desire to see if it could work," Harris said. She originally sought help from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and then moved on to Buxton's Straight Spouse Network. Harris started a monthly support group that meets in West Hartford, Conn., and the group has been meeting for 41/2 years.
Finding your way
The group does not tell people to leave their marriages or to stay.
"We have found there is no set way," Harris said. "The couple must decide what is best for themselves and their families. We encourage spouses to go slowly, not make any rash decisions, seek nonhomophobic therapists, seek support from each other and non-judgmental friends and educate themselves about the coming-out process."
Abigail Garner's father came out when she was 5. At age 32, Garner wrote "Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is." She said the McGreeveys most likely will take their time to sort things out.
"In my interviews with children with a gay parent and a straight parent, many report that their parents remain close friends even after they divorce," Garner said. "I believe this has to do with the fact that their relationship was built on a solid foundation, such as core values or a shared vision for the future, which made sexual attraction a lower priority in their marriage."