Ask Dave-We disagree on gay rights issues

Same-sex marriage rights are top priority for him—but not for his boyfriend. Is it a deal-breaker? Read on for advice.

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I have been seeing my boyfriend for several months. We are in our early thirties and have been very connected since we met through friends. I like spending as much time with him as possible, and recently I mentioned how much I support gay marriage.

I am very outspoken on this issue for two reasons: I want to be married, and I think it’s a matter of our civil rights. He is blasé about it, which is driving
I want to be married, and I think it’s a matter of our civil rights.
me crazy. It’s not like he’s uncaring in general; he cares passionately about people, the world, and many other issues…just not this. He thinks gays should instead focus on fighting for workplace rights (years ago, he was fired for being gay from his job as a teacher). This issue has become a big deal for me. If he doesn’t feel strongly about marriage rights, does that mean he doesn’t really care about making a commitment? He has said that he doesn’t think a piece of paper should matter if people are in love, and we are dating exclusively. But we haven’t talked about the long term.

Dave, we agree on most things, but this issue is causing the only fights we’ve ever had. Is it possible for us to have a good relationship even though we disagree on this issue, or are we wasting our time?
– Marriage Advocate

Dear MA,
It’s easy to see why this has become a lightning-rod issue for you. It’s both a personal and a political conflict. It might help to start by looking at these two separately.

Personally, you question whether his stance on gay marriage signals apathy towards a committed relationship in general and possibly towards you?

After several months, you have every right to know how he feels about commitment. What are his dating goals? Take the word marriage out of the equation for a moment and ask some key questions. Does he want a committed
You have to accept each other, warts and all, as is.
relationship in the traditional sense, or is he interested in some other variation—whether it’s casual, committed-but-open, or possibly neither? Maybe he just has no clue what he wants.

What about you? Assuming you could get married, is it “I do” or bust? Could you be happy with someone who is committed but not concerned with formalizing your love? Gay and straight people alike sometimes shy away from public expressions of what they feel are private matters. That doesn’t mean they are against committed relationships or unwilling to honor them.

I wrote in my book The Mandates: 25 Real Rules for Successful Gay Dating that the key to a lasting relationship isn’t just finding a guy with most of the traits you like. It’s drawing a line in the sand for what’s totally unacceptable. Decide what you absolutely cannot abide, then pray like hell that you’ll get over the rest. This is called having standards.

Decide what your commitment standard is, and then make a decision whether to continue seeing your guy. The term marriage aside, does he want the same things in a relationship that you do? If not, you have your answer. Wanting different levels of commitment is usually a deal-breaker. If he’s unsure but you’re willing to give him more time to figure it out, at least make it clear now what you want.

Politically, you have different priorities. While millions of gays and lesbians and our allies share the view that legalizing gay marriage is a matter of civil rights, not all see it as “the” hot-button issue. Your boyfriend has his own gay-rights crusade: workplace discrimination. It’s not like there’s some universal rainbow of agreement among gays and lesbians about our community’s priorities. That he passionately cares about people and issues important to him should calm your concern that he’s apathetic. Now you need to figure out whether you can be happy with the common ground you share. Can you focus on that a little more and his resistance to being a gay-marriage activist a little less?

Aretha Franklin might have been talking about couples at odds over important beliefs when she sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Every couple faces differences. Successful ones manage them through mutual respect, willingness to compromise, and, when you need to, agreeing to disagree. You need to respect each other’s opinions and beliefs. That doesn’t mean you must always agree.

Once you’ve had the talks you need to have together — hopefully separating and clarifying the personal vs. political aspects of your concerns — then take this deal-breaker test by answering yes or no to each question:
  1. Do your personalities mesh? Do you have shared interests, values, and goals? You can’t always agree on everything, but you must share some priorities and let respect fill in the gaps.
  2. Are you able to watch your words when you disagree? As Fran Lebowitz said, “Spilling your guts is as attractive as it sounds.” So heed Fran’s warning: Be careful what you say and how impassioned you are when you say it.
  3. Is your bickering ratio (i.e., the amount of time you argue over the same old issues divided by the amount of time you spend together) at a reasonable level? If you can’t stop scratching at that same sore spot, it won’t heal. More relationships are beaten to death by repetitive whips than felled by a single, crushing blow.
  4. Can you each be happy without requiring the other to fundamentally change? Remember this: If and when people change, they do so only on their own schedules. You have to accept each other, warts and all, as is.
Bottom line: If, after careful discussions, you decide that your personal (and political) goals and beliefs are just too dissonant for you to mesh as a couple, let him down easily and stop seeing each other. Don’t act in haste when there’s doubt, but don’t waste time — yours or his — if you’re sure there’s no satisfactory middle ground.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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