Straight ex-spouses offer quiet voice for gay marriage

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 8, 2009

If anyone could have talked himself out of being gay, Kimberly Brooks said, it was her husband.

He wanted to be straight; she wanted him to be straight. She once followed his gaze across the beach to another man but quickly dismissed the thought. No, he couldn't be. Then he started spending more time with one particular friend, and an unease pushed Brooks to ask the question that ultimately confirmed her fears: Was that friend gay?

"He said, 'I don't know.' And in that moment, I knew," said Brooks, who is a therapist in Falls Church. "That day, the marriage was over."

As the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage in the District grows louder and more polarized, there are people whose support for the proposal is personal but not often talked about. They are federal workers and professionals, men and women who share little except that their former spouses tried to live as heterosexuals but at some point realized they could not.

Many of these former spouses -- from those who still feel raw resentment toward their exes to those who have reached a mutual understanding -- see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a step toward protecting not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. If homosexuality was more accepted, they say, they might have been spared doomed marriages followed by years of self-doubt.

"It's like you hit a brick wall when they come out," Brooks said. "You think everything is fine and then, boom!"

Carolyn Sega Lowengart calls it "retroactive humiliation." It's that embarrassment that washes over her when she looks back at photographs or is struck by a memory and wonders what, if anything, from that time was real. Did he ever love her?

"I'm 61 years old," said Lowengart, who lives in Chevy Chase. "Will I ever know what it's like to be loved passionately? Probably not."

Discovering the truth

She gave her husband 31 years, just a little less than she gave the State Department. Because of her job, she bought a home computer, and on that computer she got the first hints that her husband was gay. Once, she said, she glimpsed gay pornography on the screen; another time, she found a printout of an e-mail about a rendezvous.

In 2002, she said, she asked her husband for the truth. He told her. They separated that year.

"I said, 'When did you know?' " Lowengart recalled. "He said, 'When I was a teenager.' I said, 'Why did you marry me?' He said, 'Because I didn't want to be.' "

For her, devastation blended with relief. The devastation: Raised Catholic, she believed marriage was forever. The relief: For three decades, while she struggled with her weight, she thought it was her fault that they weren't intimate.

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