Outside of all the gloating Democrats have been doing about the perfect timing of Representative Mark Foley’s scandal, there is the very real question of what exactly that scandal consists of.
Here’s the thing: Foley flirted online with boys who were above the age of consent in Washington, DC, and who were not working directly for him. So what Foley did wasn’t attempted statutory rape or sexual harrassment. Nor did he cheat on his wife or lie under oath about his actions. The only law he seems to have violated was one he himself sponsored, which goes after Internet sexual predators.
None of this quite excuses Foley’s behavior. He is a middle-aged man in what is clearly a paternal role towards the young pages with whom he flirted. Had they been 19 and female, it would also have been deeply troubling.
But as troubling? In the first days of the unfolding scandal, I couldn’t help wondering whether we were all grossed out because it was gay May-December sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if the religious conservatives found the homosexuality particularly troubling, but liberals also seemed to react with a revulsion far stronger than we have felt towards older politicians who have messed around with younger women.
Andrew Sullivan, a gay conservative commentator, seems to have gotten to the root of the issue in this New Republic article. In his view, it is not the homosexuality in itself so much as the pathology of the closet that is so creepy about the Foley case. If Foley had been an openly gay politician who hooked up with a couple of young but legal hotties during spring break in Key West, it might’ve been splashed all over the news, but it wouldn’t have been nearly so disturbing to me, or I think to most people who consider themselves sex-positive or pro-gay. It’s the weird secrecy of it — the lurking-uncle, secret-touching-game quality — that is the problem.
Well, that and the fact that the Republican leadership seems to believe that homosexuality is best kept in the closet. Because they label all homosexuality as deviant and wrong, it’s harder for them to make distinctions between the good kinds and the bad kinds.
For another gay perspective from a very different part of the political spectrum, here’s Dan Savage’s view.