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A mixed-orientation marriage is a marriage between partners of differing sexual orientations: one person is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual while the other is of a different orientation. The broader term is mixed-orientation relationship and both terms are often shortened to MOM and MOR respectively.
The people involved in such a marriage may or may not be romantically or sexually compatible, for example if the marriage is between a heterosexual person and a homosexual person. If one of the partners is asexual, the marriage may involve romantic love but not sexual activity.
A mixed-orientation marriage in which the sexual orientation of the partners is not compatible can serve to cover up one's sexual orientation, sometimes for purposes of maintaining or advancing one's career, especially a highly public career. In this case, it is sometimes called a lavender marriage in popular writing. The heterosexual companion is in this case sometimes called a beard in slang.
Marriage between homosexual and heterosexual partners
A study on 26 gay men (which also included research on bisexual men) found that internalized homophobia is a factor that leads such men into mixed-orientation marriages. Marriages between a homosexual man and a heterosexual woman have a high probability of failure.
Joe Kort, a counselor specializing in mixed-orientation marriages, said "These men genuinely love their wives. They fall in love with their wives, they have children, they're on a chemical, romantic high, and then after about seven years, the high falls away and their gay identity starts emerging. They don't mean any harm." While many hide their orientation from their spouse, others tell their spouse before marriage. Research indicates that some people identify as exclusively heterosexual in behavior and fantasies before marriage, but grow toward a more homosexual orientation during marriage.
One study states that heterosexual women in mixed-orientation marriages may be attracted to homosexual men and proceed to marry them. Kort said that "straight individuals rarely marry gay people accidentally." He theorized that some heterosexual women find homosexual men less judgmental and more flexible, while others unconsciously seek partnerships that are not sexually passionate.
Heterosexual wives of homosexual men who did not know of their husband's sexual orientation may feel deceived or blame themselves for not having known. Fear of encountering social disapproval or ostracism often makes it difficult for them to seek support from family and friends. Findings suggest that heterosexual wives struggled less with the homosexuality itself than with problems of isolation, stigma, loss, cognitive confusion and dissonance, and lack of knowledgeable, empathic support or help in problem solving.
Sexual relationship disorder
If a change in sexual orientation after a period of relative stability in sexual orientation causes anxiety or depression, especially if the person is involved in a relationship, the person may have a sexual maturation disorder.
A person who is either in a mixed-orientation marriage or wishes to enter into one may go to therapy or support groups to deal with issues involved in that type of marriage. A significant number of men and women experience conflict surrounding homosexual expression within marriage. Although a strong homosexual identity was associated with difficulties in marital satisfaction, viewing the same-sex activities as compulsive facilitated commitment to the marriage and to monogamy. Research by Coleman suggest that some develop a positive homosexual identity while maintaining a successful marriage. Therapy may include helping the client feel more comfortable and accepting of same-sex feelings and to explore ways of incorporating same-sex and opposite-sex feelings into life patterns. Peers provide the most support, while therapists are often unfamiliar with sexual orientation, mixed orientation couples, or societal attitudes that impact mixed orientation families.
Approximately one third of marriages end immediately when the bisexual or homosexual spouse reveals his or her sexual orientation, whereas another third end after a short period of time. The remaining third attempt to continue the marriage successfully. In this case, the most successful marriages reassess their relationship in light of the sexual orientation.
Some bisexual men express with minimal conflict their homosexual and heterosexual impulses within the framework of a mixed-orientation marriage. with openness and communication being a key factor.
Support groups are available for those involved in a mixed-orientation marriage. The New York Times states "Although precise numbers are impossible to come by, 10,000 to 20,000 wives of gay husbands have contacted online support groups, and increasing numbers of them are women in their 20s or 30s."
Divorce is one possible resolution for the homosexual partner, potentially with remarriage to person of the same sex. Gay and lesbian people who come out late in life may have children from a previous heterosexual marriage.
The theme of mixed-orientation marriages in literature dates back at least to 1889 with the publication of A Marriage Below Zero by Alfred J. Cohen (writing under the pseudonym Chester Allan Dale). Cohen's heterosexual female narrator was married to a homosexual man. Cohen believed that women should be aware of the sexual orientation of a potential husband so they would avoid marrying a homosexual man. Lesbian pulp fiction sometimes included married women exploring their attraction to other women. Other examples of the theme include Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, which features two married cowboys in love with each other.
The filmed version of Brokeback Mountain helped bring the issue of mixed-orientation marriages to public attention, but several other movies had already dealt with the issue. Talk shows, such as Oprah, have also addressed this situation. Some of the movies that deal with mixed-orientation marriages include:
- American Beauty
- Brokeback Mountain - The story between protagonists, two cowboys, both married fall in love with each other.
- De-Lovely - The story of Cole Porter, a bisexual man, and his wife, Linda Lee Thomas.
- Far From Heaven - The story of a woman whose husband has an affair with another man.
- Imagine Me & You - Story of a straight woman who falls in love with a lesbian at her wedding.
- Mulligans - The story of a gay man who spends the summer with his best friend's family and begins an affair with the father.
- The Wedding Banquet - Story of a gay Taiwanese immigrant man who marries a mainland Chinese woman to placate his parents and get her a green card.
- The 1996 episode of The Simpsons titled "A Fish Called Selma" parodies the notion of a lavender marriage. Troy McClure marries Selma Bouvier to conceal his unusual sexual desire for fish/aquatic animals.
- In the television show Degrassi: The Next Generation, the character Ashley Kerwin was raised by parents in a lavender marriage.
- In the Japanese manga series and film "Love My Life", the main character's parents have been in a lavender marriage for the purposes of silencing their relatives and becoming parents.
- In the television show Samantha Who? (2007-2009), the character Andrea Belladonna agrees to marry gay basketball player Tony Dane.
- The Playboy Club, a 2011 television series on NBC, includes the marriage of a lesbian and a gay man who are members of the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society.
- In James Frey's 2008 novel Bright Shiny Morning, the homosexual actor Amberton Parker and lesbian actress Casey Parker wed to conceal their sexual orientations.
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