A straight support group fortifies the former spouses of gays

Wed Mar 13, 2013 6:22pm EDT
 
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Every October, a group of about 100 divorcees pack into a hotel on Treasure Island Beach, Florida, for the annual gathering of the Straight Spouse Network - bound together by their shared separation from former husbands and wives who are now openly gay.

The retreat culminates with the "letting go" tradition of gathering around a burning cauldron where marriage licenses, photographs, and feelings and memories recorded on pieces of paper are thrown into the flames.

As gays and lesbians win greater acceptance, an untold number of marriages have unraveled as once-closeted men and women have come out as gay or lesbian to their spouses and families. While much attention has been paid to the bravery involved in coming out, the ex-spouses say the difficulty of their own isolating passage goes unacknowledged.

This year could present a tipping point for gay marriage in America. Later this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that restricted federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. Meanwhile, nine states have legalized same-sex marriage, and advocates say Minnesota, Rhode Island and Illinois could go the same route this year.

In 1996, Kathy Callori confronted her husband of 28 years: "We both know something's wrong, and I want to know what it is." In the course of a long, tearful conversation, he said he was gay.

"It's devastating news to hear, but I wanted to believe that we could still work this out somehow," said Callori, who is now the director of the Straight Spouse Network.

She and her former husband remain close, and she still does bookkeeping at his small firm. He declined to be interviewed.

At first, Callori struggled to find a sympathetic ear. In group therapy, she resented being encouraged to cut off ties with a man she had known since she was a teenager and the father of her children.   Continued...