Lack of integrity core of McGreevey case
My wife’s parents are from New Jersey. I know the state’s politics are never dull. But when their governor came out as a gay man and pledged to step down to avoid a scandal, that must have surprised even my in-laws.
Between the accusations of blackmail and harassment, we’ll probably never know the facts. But we can learn the truth. Truth about human nature, politics, and what we want from our elected officials.
If you want my vote, I don’t care whom you sleep with. I care about what you’ll do with the power I give you. Can you make hard choices? Can you act with integrity? By those standards, Governor McGreevey was a failure.
I believe that position is mistaken. But people who disagree with me have the right to say so at the ballot box. I cannot in good conscience suggest otherwise.
So even though it’s the harder path, gay men and women who seek public office shouldn’t pretend to be straight. Making hard choices and accepting the consequences is something that good, disciplined people do. It’s absolutely essential for politicians. That’s their job.
But being unable to make a hard choice wasn’t McGreevey’s only problem. He had an integrity issue. If you’re sexually attracted to men, how can you in good conscience marry a woman? Not once, but twice?
Few of us can get through life without making hard choices. Should I advance my career, or spend more time with my family? Should I follow my dreams, or do what’s sensible? And in McGreevey’s case, “Should I sleep with men, or have a career in politics?” The difference with McGreevey is that he didn’t think he had to choose.
McGreevey might be forgiven for thinking that life doesn’t require hard choices, because he’s a Democrat. Despite “pro-choice” rhetoric, much Democratic policy consists of protecting people from the harsh realities of personal choice.
Want to be a mom and have a successful career? We’ll mandate “family-friendly” policies in your workplace! Do you take drugs? We’ll spend millions on treatment! Are you overweight? We’ll bring the fast food industry to its knees! The list goes on and on.
My gay friends might reply that some people have to make harder choices than others. And of course they’re right. Some choices, after all, are just facts of life. I can spend Sunday afternoon writing this column or I can go hiking with my kids, but not both. I have to choose. That’s just the way things are.
Other times, people face tough choices because other people also choose. There’s no law of physics that says openly gay men can’t have successful political careers. It’s just a lot harder. That’s because many people believe that homosexuals should not serve in positions of public trust.
Perhaps McGreevey told his former and current wives about his homosexuality before he married them. Perhaps they had an “understanding”. I know a gay husband and father in a marriage like this, a retired officer who served his country with distinction. But even so, a marriage ceremony contains a public vow to “forsake all others”. Governor McGreevey, by his own admission, broke this promise.
Public vows matter. That’s why we make politicians take them. To my mind, the most disturbing part of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair wasn’t the sex Young, unattached women have always been interested in powerful, charismatic men. That’s human nature (which we’re supposed to rise above).
The worst thing about Clinton was that he defended himself with callous disregard for the very same Constitution he swore to uphold in his Presidential Oath of Office. By doing so, he betrayed all of America.
Public officials must take public promises seriously. It is one way we can hold them accountable.
That’s why gay public figures living double lives do not help create a more tolerant world. Once found out, they only add fuel to their opponents’ fire. “See? Gays are deceitful and promiscuous.” Conservative opposition to gay marriage makes this view painfully hypocritical, but hypocrisy seldom blunts the teeth of a sound bite.
Live your life with integrity, accept the consequences of your choices, and use the example of your life to change people’s minds. Governor McGreevey’s resignation should teach us, in the long run, that’s the only thing that works.
© 2004, Barry Fagin