Thursday, July 09, 2009

How the ’Family Values’ Political Scandals May Benefit Gay Marriage

by Peter Cassels
EDGE National News Editor
Sunday Jul 5, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wipes away a tear at (another) press conference.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wipes away a tear at (another) press conference.    (Source:AP/Mary Ann Chastain)
One by one, the so-called "family values" Republicans--including those considered potential 2012 presidential candidates--are falling like dominoes. 

They preach about the sanctity of marriage and the importance of a man and a woman raising children, then get caught with their pants down (literally). Like TV evangelists tearily confessing to marital infidelities, they parade before the cameras to admit breaking their vows.

Here's the good (better?) news: These political promoters of fundamentalist Christian principles who apparently don't bother to practice what they preach could prove to be a windfall for advocates of marriage equality and same-sex family adoptions.

GOP South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is only the latest. Deserting his spouse and statehouse responsibilities on Father's Day no less, he secretly flew off to Argentina to see his "soul-mate." Pundits believe that every time Sanford opens his mouth he digs himself into a deeper hole. 

Just this week he told AP the relationship existed longer than he initially acknowledged and included some allegedly non-sexual trysts in New York. And, despite his amorous feelings for his Argentine amore, he said in the interview that he wants to make up with his wife. He also reported he had had lust in his heart for other women, but never bedded them.

Before Sanford's startling admissions, U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada) confessed to an affair and resigned as chair of the Senate's Republican Policy Committee, but plans to hold onto his seat. 

Then there's married Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), who a while back was caught in the D.C. Madam sting. According to some news blogs, he asked hookers in New Orleans to make him wear diapers. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), famous for his "wide stance" in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport. 

Ater admitting there's something about him "I find really creepy," Gail Collins wrote, in a New York Times op-ed, that Mitt Romney "secretly believes the tide of sex scandals is going to continue to roll through the ranks of the Republican presidential hopefuls until by 2011 he's the only one left bobbing."

Maybe. Attorney Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, said of "family values" politicians like Sanford, "These people run around the country denying encouragement and support for gay people. That's the hypocrisy of their position."

Part of the purpose of marriage is to bring the support of friends, family and community to people, added the head of the partnership of gays and straight allies working to win marriage equality nationwide, Gays and lesbians who are married or want to do so "need that support and it turns out so does Mark Sanford," he added in an interview with EDGE. 

Wolfson--a pioneer in the marriage equality movement going back to his time at Lambda Legal, the nation's preeminent LGBT advocacy legal group--pointed out that there should be a boundary between what's done in the name of government and society and people's personal lives. 

Conservative politicians with marital infidelities, he said, "don't respect that boundary when it comes to gay people but it turns out they want that boundary honored when they let down the people and show themselves to be hypocrites. But they really shouldn't be able to have it both ways."

Wolfson doesn't believe the central issue is Sanford's infidelity. "It's his abuse of power, his hypocrisy and his dereliction of public duty." He paints all the "family values" politicians who commit marital infidelities with the same brush. 

"They are all self-proclaimed moral crusaders who demonize and discriminate against some of their constituents because they're gay and then turn around and flout the so-called morality that they invoked against gay people," he said. "To me, the really unpardonable part is not their personal failings; it's their political and policy choices that turn out to be so hypocritical and destructive." 

So, then, why do social conservatives insist on linking marriage and religion when same-sex marriage advocates are not asking that religious institutions must marry lesbians and gays, Wolfson says there are really two different groups at play: 

He believes that there are some among the opposition who are truly "theocratic" and would like to impose on others their biblically derived laws in defiance of the U.S. Constitution. But others use religion as an excuse because they are still uncomfortable with gay people and conflicted about the freedom to marry. 

"They can invoke religion as a way of shutting down the conversation," he noted. Those folks are more than willing to respect the boundaries between church and state in other contexts when given the opportunity.

Wolfson told EDGE that those who believe in the Golden Rule would naturally support marriage equality. 

How, then can marriage equality advocates use the "family values" politicians committing marital indiscretions to their advantage? "I think that their hypocrisy speaks for itself and helps move the case for legalization forward," Wolson said. "Because many of them have been the bomb-throwing leaders of the anti-gay campaign, every time one of them is taken out it allows for the fair-minded to think anew and move in the right direction." 

Advocates aren't just sitting by watching the conservative hypocrites self-destruct. They are reaching out to those who are religious and remain on the fence about supporting same-sex marriage. 

Harry Knox is director of the Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program and used to work with Wolfson at Freedom to Marry. "We have to promote our own positive view of what the world would look like when we achieve marriage equality," he told EDGE. "It would be a better place--safer, healthier and more stable for everyone."

One of the program's strategies is "to give a big megaphone," as Knox puts it, to clergy and other people of faith who support the cause.

As part of the efforts to overturn Prop.8, HRC is working with the grassroots organization California Faith for Equality to train clergy on how to be effective in the media and give the public a broader view of the need for marriage equality. 

HRC also promotes "For the Bible Tells Me So," a 2007 documentary featuring five Christian families with gay or lesbian children. A thesis of the film is that much of Christianity's homophobia represents a misreading of scripture, a denial of science and an embrace of quack psychology. HRC offers a study guide and sells the DVD at a steep discount for screenings by groups throughout the U.S.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is

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