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Gay partners offer romantic advice to hetero couples

October 17, 2003

'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' team (AFP) NEW YORK — Opponents of same-sex marriage have declared this Marriage Protection Week, but a major gay-rights group is putting a different spin on the occasion - 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 the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. It's a takeoff on a highly popular U.S. TV show in which five gay men offer grooming, fashion, dining and redecorating advice to a nearly hopeless straight man, called "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

"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 George W. Bush, was organized by 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," she said. "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, Idaho; and Carolyn Conrad and Kathleen Peterson, who have been together eight years and were the first couple to enter a civil union in Vermont.

On the Lambda Legal Web site, Conrad offered advice to a Jersey City, New Jersey, man who worried 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, KP (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, Arizona, 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."

Genevieve Wood of the conservative Family Research Council coalition said she laughed after learning of "Queer Eye for the Straight Couple." "It's almost hard to take it seriously, considering that the majority of homosexual couples don't stay together more than a year and half," she said. "It's ludicrous that they would even suggest that two men or two women could have advice for a married man and woman."

Conrad, who shares a home with Peterson in Brattleboro, Vermont, said the conservatives' Marriage Protection campaign is misguided.

"The gay couples that want to get married have taken this decision so much more seriously than many of their straight counterparts, because they have to fight harder to do it," she said. "Allowing them to get married is the best protection of marriage there could be." –Sapa-AP

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