CHELSEA — After Albany legalized gay marriage in New York, gay couples suddenly had a whole new question to grapple with — should they get married just because it's legal?
That's been a central issue for Mark Strong, a Chelsea-based Gay Life Coach who now spends more than half his time helping clients deal with the question of whether to tie the knot. It used to be a fraction of that.
"A lot of moms are calling them up and saying 'When are you and John getting married?'" said Strong, who deals with about 25 active clients a week. "That pressure is a key reason why people hire me. They want to get to an answer."
Strong describes himself as a life, career, and executive coach who helps gay men to enhance and explore their lives. He's been coaching since 2004, though it's only recently that the marriage question has taken up so much of his time.
He tells most of his clients that it's not something to rush into lightly, even though some felt the urge to as they watched hundreds of New York couples getting married as soon as the law went into effect.
It's more complicated than who's going to ask who, he said. Aside from the outside pressure, Strong helps couples decide if marriage is even right for them. That often involves role-playing with couples, discussing commitment, even coming to a common definition of what marriage is. For some, that doesn't necessarily include monogamy.
"Some people don't want to follow the heterosexual model," he said. "I mean, we've grown up our whole lives thinking we wouldn't be getting married."
Strong said others are shocked to find out that even though New York recognizes their vows, the federal government doesn't — which denies newly-wedded couples immigration and social security benefits.
It can get even more complicated. Some clients in decades-long relationships want to get married, but their other half doesn't see the need to change what they already have.
"If it's important to one partner, usually it's important to the other," said Strong. "But that comes up when I'm coaching people and sometimes you may need to say, 'maybe this person isn't right.'"
Despite the recent surge in gay-marriage-related business, Strong believes things will settle down within a year or two — after people get more used to gay marriage, and (he hopes) after a federal gay marriage bill passes. For the foreseeable future, though, he's got a backlog of clients.
"For now, it's 80 percent of my calls, at least" he said.
Strong, who also has some straight clients, said that while the questions gay couples ask are new, they're not that different from the ones he hears from heterosexual couples.
"There's questions of commitment, compatibility, emotional connections. It's a big event," he said.
"Coaching is most helpful around life's biggest events."