Conduct Unbecoming

Conduct Unbecoming
Love, Heartbreak

Yesterday I wrote, “Despite being open with my husband, I am closed by necessity to the rest of the world.” I want to explain that necessity.

I would love to be open about being open. It would take work and guts to explain my marriage to parents, siblings, and friends; chances are that my family would judge me harshly, and many of my friends would abandon me (I live in a conservative community). But this is not what necessitates our almost paranoid sense of discretion.

My husband is in the military. I won’t go into what branch, or where we are stationed, or what he does, because we are that concerned about being traced and exposed. (Even posting this blog is making me a bit nervous.) Perhaps our concern is over the top, but I’d rather err on the side of safety when his career is on the line.

While there are outdated adultery laws on the books of many states, no one gets prosecuted these days for having sex with someone outside of marriage. But the armed forces are subject to their own set of laws, and nobody wants the Uniform Code of Military Justice coming down on them. Simply put, if my husband were to get caught in bed with anyone other than myself, his career would be swiftly killed.

The UCMJ does not say that we cannot have an open marriage; instead, it outlaws a number of things (everything from rape and murder to sodomy) and then relies on a few catch-all clauses to account for anything else someone might feel like prosecuting on a somewhat subjective basis.

The first article to keep us in the closet:

: Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Rather subjective, no? The “conduct unbecoming of an officer” line has wildly different interpretations, and is enforced entirely on individual ideas of what becomes an officer and what does not. When that fails, there’s this article:

934. ART. 134. GENERAL ARTICLE: Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.

All this means is that he can get in very deep trouble, if someone wanted to get him into trouble. So, to conduct an open marriage, we are excessively discrete; we avoid other military members (well, he does, but  I’m not that smart); and we worry that we will be found out, and kicked out.

In a realistic sense, to get into trouble, someone would need to document his activities, obtain proof of penetration, and demonstrate a detrimental effect on the military environment—and all three are fairly difficult tasks (more here). The truth is that it’s almost impossible to prove anything and highly unlikely that an investigation would amount to anything—and the military, frankly, has better things to do with its time than seek out people having sanctioned romantic relationships outside their marital boundaries.

Still, it is best not to invite trouble or encourage scrutiny of our private lives, so we keep quiet. But it drags on the soul a little bit. To create these rigid boundaries out of fear—it’s against the complete honesty we otherwise embody. It’s against everything our marriage has come to mean, and the irony just burns.