Anti-Gay Ugliness

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Former representative Mark Foley's behavior toward young pages was deplorable, inexcusable and possibly criminal. That can't be said enough. But the ugly undertone of homophobia surrounding the uproar over Mr. Foley's conduct also cries out for comment and condemnation.

Some anti-gay conservatives who have anointed themselves protectors of family values have been peddling the misguided notion that Mr. Foley's sexual orientation made him more likely to prey on children. "It has been known for many years that Congressman Foley was a homosexual. Homosexuals tend to be preoccupied with sex," Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, told National Public Radio. "While pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two," the Family Research Council's president, Tony Perkins, said in a statement. In fact, the research on this topic, though small-scale and not recent, does not show that gay men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children.

In remarks almost as offensive, some have argued that party leaders' desire to avoid offending gay sensibilities contributed to their negligent response to reports about Mr. Foley's questionable behavior. "I think, had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would have also been accused of gay bashing," former speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Sounding a similar theme, the Arlington Group, a consortium of conservative organizations, said in a statement that the "early warnings of Mr. Foley's odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr. Foley's sexual orientation." Given the GOP's public push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages, it's ridiculous to imagine that some politically correct desire to avoid offending gay sensitivities restrained it from aggressively investigating the Foley matter.

Mr. Foley himself also brought his sexual orientation into the discussion. His earlier reluctance to be open about his sexual orientation may be understandable, but there's something unsettling about the way in which he seems to be asking for tolerance on this basis -- in addition to asserting alcoholism and a history of being abused as a teenager.

"Mark Foley wants you to know he's a gay man," the former congressman's lawyer said Tuesday, a comment that evoked former New Jersey governor James E. McGreevey's "I am a gay American" resignation statement. But why, exactly, does Mr. Foley want us to know this now? Why is it relevant? If being gay isn't a cause of his misconduct, neither is it an excuse.

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