GOPen Marriage

Newt Gingrich and the Continuing Crusade to Ruin Free Love

Illustration by Paku Daoust-Cloutier

It’s really unfortunate that Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has suddenly become the gross, 68-year-old poster boy for open marriage.

Last week, his second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, revealed in an ABC News interview that Newt had requested to open up the marriage after she discovered he was having a six-year affair with a political aide—who later became his third and current wife.

“I refused,” Marianne told ABC about the alleged conversation. “And I said no, that is not a marriage.”

There are many things wrong with this entire scenario and how it’s being played out in the public consciousness, but let’s start with that reaction: As uncomfortable as you may personally feel about it, Marianne, an open marriage is still a marriage and it’s a real blow to those practicing responsible non-monogamy that you freely declared otherwise.

But open marriage, whatever Newt’s attempts, should never be a loophole to negate infidelity. Despite being relegated to the fringes of society due to conservative and reactionary comments like these, open marriages are a legitimate lifestyle choice of committed couples that recognize the confines of sexual monogamy doesn’t work for their particular partnership.

It should be personal—but now it’s political.

Evidently, this arrangement doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly didn’t work for Mrs. Gingrich the Second at the time, but writing off alternative sexual unions because Newt Gingrich is a lying cheat sets us back light-years in terms of sexual evolution and understanding.

It doesn’t help that her statement is dripping with an undeserved sense of superiority. One form of marriage here is “right,” and the other is set up as profane, perverse—and apparently un-presidential.
But the public reaction to this revelation is, sadly, predictable—with some exceptions actually opening up a discussion about the plurality of ways to engage in romantic and civil partnerships.

British newspaper The Guardian, for example, published an excellent feature called “I could teach Newt Gingrich a thing or two about open marriage” on Jan. 20.

The article outlined how “polyfamily values” force those within the relationship to discuss their behaviour and expectations, negotiating partnerships and freedom in an ethical, open way—rather than going down the Newt path, hoping not to be found out and back-pedaling like crazy when they are.

While it’s understandable people are raising hell about the subject—considering the request for an open marriage was coming from the same man who was hell-bent to impeach Bill Clinton over that famous blowjob, and who hypocritically seeks to moralize and impose laws on sex and love—there is something very disingenuous about associating Newt with this model of marriage.

The pillars of an open marriage, as described in the bestselling 1972 book Open Marriage, are arguably the ideals of any loving partnership: they include trust, flexibility, communication and equality.

Clearly, these were not the things Newt was asking for or aiming to give to his former wife. He played the open marriage card because he was imploring her to turn a blind eye towards his years of philandering and messing around.
It was, as many pundits have stated over the weekend, “retroactive permission.”

If we are to believe what has been alleged about his personal lives and previous wives, the ethics of an open marriage were nowhere to be found.

At this juncture, it’s worth mentioning how super convenient it is that Newt has since publicly stated to have been reformed through the church and recognized the errors of his ways. Apparently, a little God as an afterthought is a good enough cheating cleanse, and makes his transgressions excusable for those Republicans in Camp Newt.

Please, someone, ­make it stop.
At the base of it, the entire debacle has given responsible non-monogamy—which really does have the potential to create more loving and realistic partnerships in a world where divorce rates and depression rates are at all-time-highs—a really ugly and undeserving rap. It’s also what keeps people who are having open marriages from “coming out” about them.

Open marriages are a valid lifestyle choice—maybe not for the Gingriches, but for the estimated two to six per cent of wedded folks who are actively making it work.

If anything, maybe there is hope that Newt’s marriage “bomb” creates some public wiggle room to think critically about social and sexual prohibitions and prescriptions, and why there is still a huge significance placed on sexual exclusivity as the only way for a partnership to work.