Opponents of same-sex marriage have applauded President Bush in his declaration of October 12-18 as Marriage Protection Week, but a major gay rights group is putting a different spin on the occasion by recruiting long-term gay couples to offer online relationship advice to married heterosexuals. Called "Queer Eye for the Straight Couple," the forum is using the trendy title to make a serious point, according to Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Same-sex couples face all of the same challenges and joys that heterosexual couples do, but we're left navigating through them without the protections marriage provides," said Lambda Legal's Michael Adams. "We've brought together some fantastic lesbian and gay couples who are kind enough to lend their relationship experience to their heterosexual peers."
Marriage Protection Week, endorsed by a proclamation from President Bush, was organized by a coalition of two dozen conservative groups. Worried that some state courts might legalize gay marriage, the coalition is seeking to build support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would specify that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America, one of the groups in the coalition, called the Lambda Legal initiative a "silly, sad game.... They really, truly want to equate homosexual marriage with heterosexual marriage. The sad reality is that it's never going to be the same.... The American people know marriage is not something to be messed with."
The counseling couples recruited by Lambda Legal include Brenda and Wanda Henson, who have been together 19 years and run a retreat in rural Mississippi; Bob McDiarmid and Jon Marcotte, who have been together eight years and run a potluck supper program for gay couples in Boise, Ida.; and Carolyn Conrad and Kathleen Peterson, who have been together eight years and were the first couple
to enter into a civil union in Vermont. On the Lambda Legal Web site, Conrad offered advice to a Jersey City, N.J., man who worried that his romance was losing its spark after three years. "It is the little things that make the difference," Conrad said. "I'm a Diet Coke fiend, and if I'm working late, K.P. [Peterson] will often drop by with an ice-cold jumbo-sized one for me. It never fails to make my heart beat a little faster." A wife from Tucson reported that she and her husband, who both work full-time, were arguing too often about money. "Be fair to one another," replied the Hensons. "Do not keep accounts on who spends more. Share and be friends."
In addition to seven same-sex couples, Lambda Legal also recruited University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, an expert on relationships, to answer some of the questions sent to the forum. "Studying gay and lesbian couples has helped me not only understand them but also all the heterosexual couples I look at," Schwartz said in a telephone interview. "There's a lot that's different, and there is so much that is alike."