Seven Articles In Seven Days – 1: That Newt Gingrich Open Marriage Scandal

 

Okay, since everyone else seems to be writing about it and I’ve just read yet another news article on this, it seems like a topic I should address.

For anyone who doesn’t know – Marianne Gingrich, the now-ex wife of American politician and Republican party presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has claimed that when he was caught having an affair, he asked for an open marriage – which she refused. He divorced her to marry his mistress. [1]

Okay. Whatever. In and of itself, I don’t care much about the personal lives of famous figures, whether they’re celebrities or politicians or what. Just like anyone else, consenting adults in the public eye can do whatever they like with other consenting adults. Although, the first thing that this proves, which has already been pointed out multiple times is that this man is a huge hypocrite. (Anyone surprised? No? Me neither.) This is the man who has vocally opposed equal rights for LGBT people and marriage equality, spouting the usual oh-so-tired rhetoric about ‘the sanctity of marriage’ and ‘one-man-one-woman,'[2] but cheated on his first wife with a younger woman while she was seriously ill in hospital. And yet likes to think of himself as a champion for ‘family values.’ The idea of somebody like this having the potential to become one of the most powerful people on earth is…. a little terrifying, no?

What’s most interesting to me about all this, however, is the way that this whole scandal has brought a boatload of attention to the polyamory and open relationship movements.[3][4] I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, polyamory so rarely gets any real airtime in mainstream media that almost any representation or even acknowledgement that we exist could be seen as a good thing. On the flip side, Newt Gingrich is probably not the kind of person most of us want to be associated or lumped into a category with!

The kind of attention this seems to have garnered is leading to debates opening up in mainstream media about whether happy, successful open marriages/relationships are even possible. Any of us who are or have ever been in one are likely to answer this question with a resounding ‘YES of course!’ It’s giving polyamorous people the chance to tell their stories and to show that we live a valid lifestyle which makes a lot of people happy. And it’s giving people who might not have even heard of polyamory the opportunity to question their notions about what love, relationships and commitment are about, and to realise that there is an alternative option.

On the other hand, having polyamory suddenly becoming the ‘hot topic of the week’ because of something like this promotes an idea that is potentially very problematic – that is, the idea that opening up one’s relationship is a get-out-clause for the unfaithful. As Minx writes on Polyamory Weekly, ‘what Gingrich offered his wife Marianne wasn’t an option, it was an ultimatum: share me or get lost.’ This sadly rather pervasive theme of ‘poly/open because one felt compelled to cheat’ is packed with issues. My belief has always been that the opposite is true – only when a person can be committed and faithful to one partner should they try having two or more. Polyamory, after all, isn’t a license to sleep with anybody you like with no consequences. It’s navigating a complex system of negotiation, boundaries and commitments with multiple people, all of whom have their own feelings and needs which must be taken into consideration. It’s hard work, not an easy alternative option for the commitment-phobic.

We desperately need more stories of ethical, responsible and successful non-monogamy to be told. I dream of the day when what we do is seen as a viable alternative option that is actually talked about and presented as such, instead of something that only comes up when some clueless celebrity makes a freak-show or a politician is caught with their trousers down.

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/marianne-gingrich-newt-gingrich-ex-wife_n_1216106.html

[2] http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/01/19/407002/despite-publicly-backing-one-man-one-woman-marriage-newt-asked-ex-wife-to-share-me-with-other-women/?mobile=nc

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/20/newt-gingrich-open-marriage-polyamory

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16657620

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