Love, Trust, Marriage and HIV

March 1, 2013 in General

So all things being equal, it looks like we’re going to get the right to get married, if we’re all reading the tea-leaves in the right way. It seems like it’s going to get through.

Marriage. Love. Intimacy. Trust.
If the point of marriage is a public, legally binding declaration of love in front of all who we love and recorded officially by the power of the State, then is it ok for the married couple to stop using condoms?
After all, if you’ve decided to make that commitment to another guy and maybe you’re going as far as buying a house together, merging your finances, getting a mortgage, sharing a credit-card, all the things you see in so many straight marriages – surely if you’re doing all that with each other, you can consider whether you need to still follow the old rule of  ”Use a condom every time!”
Looking at the NZAF’s latest condom campaign, they seem to be saying  ”No!”
And it’s not just here in New Zealand. I think the issue sits there as a point of contradiction, a place of tension, everywhere marriage between two men is becoming accepted.
What does it mean for safe-sex programmes? What does it mean for HIV prevention?
If you look at this image from their new campaign, it looks like two men who know each other are getting ready to fuck,this doesn’t look like a casual Grindr or Scruff hook-up. They seem comfortable and relaxed with each other, they seem loving as well as horny. They look like a couple. And that’s a wonderful image.
And there is no doubt that in a lot of situations like this guys will choose to use condoms, and that’s a good thing. Especially in the first months or years of a relationship – but it is entirely natural that at some stage you’d think about being able to simply make love to the man you love with no interventions.
If you are going all out, and getting married, making a promise to love and trust each other for life, then I think it’s totally understandable that men will stop using condoms within their relationship, after they’ve both tested and checked they’re both either negative or positive.
In fact that strategy is already wide-spread. Most of the guys I know in New Zealand in long-term loving relationships who have the same HIV status don’t use condoms at home. Typically if they have sex with others they have an arrangement to use them outside the relationship – this isn’t new. And I’ve certainly talked with men who work for the NZAF who follow that pattern. And I can think of couples who have successfully done this for over 20 years.
If we are moving to a stage where we stand up in front of all our family and friends and the state and say “I love you, you are the one for me, now and forever.” but still insist on putting out a public health message that even married loving male couples should use condoms, then part of what is being said is “You might be married but you can never really trust him!”
It carries a sub-text that gay men can never truly love each other, because without trust, there is no love.
I don’t accept or believe that. I am confident that we can love and trust our partners, our husbands, just as much as heterosexual husbands and wives can. And yes, some guys will be hurt, let down, lied to, and possibly even infected with HIV by trusting the wrong man. But that could also happen to straights. Do all the straight men who work at the NZAF always and automatically use condoms with their wives or girlfriends? After all, who knows what they’ve been getting up to behind their backs. Straight women can be as slutty as gay men. Or do they accept that they love and trust each other, and there are some things you simply assume when you’re married?
Because without trust in a marriage there is no love, and surely then there is no point in all this work we’ve been doing to get our relationships recognised as marriage?
To insist that we must all use condoms everywhere every time made complete sense back in the bad old days, but it doesn’t seem to fit as neatly into our changing circumstances. I can remember being told years ago by a guy I was gong home with that I didn’t need to tell him I had HIV, in fact I shouldn’t have told him, not because it put him off, but he just assumed every gay man did and always had safe sex. Those days are gone.
And this is not to criticise the NZAF. I think it’s a difficult issue and one that no-one around the world has really engaged with yet as far as I can see. It will be a tricky job figuring it out and I don’t envy them that task. NZAF likes to claim it’s ground-breaking in so much of what it does – perhaps dealing with this is a topic they can lead the world on.
No, love won’t protect you from HIV. But saying that you can never fully trust the man you’ve married, the man you’re paying the mortgage with, the man you plan on getting old with, means saying you can never really love each other. It’s supporting the old oppressive message that gay men are just sex-mad cock-fiends, that we don’t have “real” relationships, that in fact, we’ll never be truly “married”.
And I think that’s problematic in all sorts of ways.