A defense of infidelity, put forward by gay-rights activist and explicit sex-advice columnist Dan Savage and penned by Mark Oppenheimer, “Married, With Infidelities,” served as the cover of the latest New York Times Sunday Magazine. The subhead to the banner headline in the print edition described Savage as a “devoted husband, proud father, sex columnist.” Left off the resume: Doorknob licker and conservative presidential campaign saboteur.
Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes….Savage says a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.
Savage, who is 46, has been writing Savage Love since 1991 for The Stranger, an alternative weekly paper in Seattle that syndicates it to more than 50 other newspapers. Savage’s sex advice puts me in mind of a smart, tough old grandmother, randy yet stern. It’s Dr. Ruth if she were interested in bondage and threesomes. And if she were Catholic: Savage was raised in ethnic-Irish Chicago, one of four children of a cop and a homemaker. He did some time in Catholic school, and his writing bears traces of the church’s stark moral clarity, most notable in his impatience with postmodern or queer theorizing or anything that might overturn the centrality of the stable nuclear family.
While omitting Savage's history of unsavory activism, Oppenheimer praised the “It Gets Better project, Savage’s great contribution to family values.” Spurred by incidents of antigay bullying, it’s a collection of clips from celebrities and others, including President Obama, encouraging gay teens that things will get better.
Spring and Doyle both hint at a larger truth about men and women, which is that, generally speaking, they view sex differently. While there are plenty of women who can separate sex from love, can be happily promiscuous or could have a meaningless, one-time fling, there are -- let’s face it -- more men like that. The world of Savage Love will always appeal more to men, even men who truly love their partners. Cheating men are often telling the truth when they say, “She meant nothing to me.” It really was just sex. And Savage tells us that, with proper disclosure and consent, just sex can be O.K.
Oppenheimer insisted on describing Savage, whose syndicated sex-advice column is notoriously explicit, as an “old-fashioned” moralist.
Savage is old-fashioned, as bitterly hilarious as that might sound to gay-marriage opponents. After the news of the Arnold Schwarzenegger love child broke, I received an e-mail from Savage in which he expressed concern about the article I was writing. As I would expect, he framed his position in terms of respect for the family.
On The 6th Floor, the paper’s magazine blog, Oppenheimer, a contributing writer to the magazine, hinted at facts about Savage that didn’t make his glowing magazine report. The writer didn’t seem to have a problem with Savage’s anti-Santorum sabotage:
I read this amazing piece in Mother Jones magazine, about how Dan Savage has pretty much destroyed the presidential chances of the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. (Quick synopsis: angry about Santorum’s antigay comments, Savage held a contest among his blog readers to coin a definition for the word “santorum”; the winning definition is very, very dirty, and it resides at santorum.com, a URL that Savage squatted on. People who hear nice things about Santorum and think, Let me check him out, Google the man’s name, and this no-good, dirty, obscene Web site pops up first in the search results.)
Oppenheimer admits he “did not consider religious objections to Savage’s ideas, and I should have” and called Savage “a serious idea man.”
Completely omitted from Savage's history was the infamous activity (including doorknob licking) Savage proudly documented in a February 2000 column -- his attempt to infect Gary Bauer, then-Republican presidential candidate and social conservative, with a flu virus as revenge for Bauer's opposition to the Vermont Supreme Court unilaterally approving gay marriage.
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