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He Quit -- What's Gay Got to Do With It?

August 15, 2004|Daniel Zingale

While I was trying to get up the nerve to be honest about being gay in my early 20s, I was temporarily intimidated by a headline in the local newspaper: "Gay Sex Sparks Hotel Fire." I was relieved to read that the story beneath the headline was about a couple smoking in bed who just happened to be gay.

On Friday, people all over the nation saw headlines like "New Jersey Governor Resigns Over Gay Affair." I'm wondering if there are young people out there now, feeling as I did when I read that other headline back in the early 1980s.

To paraphrase Tina Turner, "What's gay got to do with it?"

In the case of New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's abrupt resignation, there are several things going on at once. Some of them may justify the extraordinary act of a governor resigning. At least one of them certainly does not.

First, let's consider adultery. The governor admits to it, regrets it and accepts responsibility for it. Beyond that, I think most voters in his state or any state would agree, it's between McGreevey and his wife. Similarly, a majority of us here in California don't think our own Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should be disqualified from office for having admitted to sexual misconduct while married.

It helps that Schwarzenegger never tried to score political points by self-righteously condemning anyone else's adult consensual sex. So he passes the hypocrisy test. So does McGreevey. Some of my compatriots in the struggle for gay equality will say McGreevey's closeted refusal to push for gay marriage justifies his losing his job. That's nonsense. He did push for New Jersey's domestic partnership law that took effect this year. That makes him a pragmatist, not a hypocrite.

McGreevey referred to circumstances around his affair that may explain his resignation, and the media have focused on reports of a sexual harassment suit threatened by a man on the governor's staff. But based on what we know for a fact at this point, there was only one revelation left to justify the governor's resignation. In his press conference Thursday, McGreevey said, "My truth is that I am a gay American."

Can that really be the reason he resigned? Surely not. He said those words without a trace of shame. At that moment he appeared more honest and a lot more gutsy than the politicians we keep in office.

His simple statement illuminated an unspoken truth, that gay and lesbian Americans are running state governments, running big corporations and running in the Olympics, although usually we don't know about it.

But based on the headlines, and even the content of his speech, it would be easy to conclude that McGreevey is resigning because he is gay. That conclusion might have particular power if you live in one of the 36 states in the nation where you can still be fired legally from less exalted jobs simply for being lesbian or gay. I hope no young American struggling with his or her sexual orientation interprets McGreevey's resignation as limiting his or her own potential to rise to any job.

The McGreevey affair may or may not turn out to be a case of where there's smoke there's fire. But even so, the fact that the sex happened to be gay shouldn't spark the flames.

Daniel Zingale, secretary of the Cabinet in Gov. Gray Davis' administration, advised McGreevey's staff on the preparation of the New Jersey governor's statement on Thursday.

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