In the midst of an emerging scandal, Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) abruptly resigned from the House of Representatives on Friday. News leaked out this week that Foley had been sending suggestive emails and engaging in sexual online chat sessions with underage congressional pages. The story was made public by one of the former pages on an anti-Republican headhunter website CREW. It was then picked up and investigated by ABC News.
The story actually goes back almost a year, when the GOP leadership became aware that Foley had sent some pages inappropriate emails and took steps to limit his contact with pages. It's also likely that GOP leaders had been aware of Foley's sexual orientation for much longer. The pages involved were all male and, while they were under the age of majority (pages are normally high-school juniors and seniors), they were and are above the age of consent in DC. Transcripts of Foley's online chats with the former page who made the original complaint pretty clearly show that the sexual discussion was mutual and consensual. An ethics investigation has been initiated, but at this time there has been no suggestion that Foley's offenses went beyond inappropriate emails and sexual online chat. It's particularly ironic that Foley was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.
Like most gay Republicans, Foley kept his sexual orientation firmly under wraps. He flirted with honesty, but never committed. He attended the Log Cabin Republican convention, but at the same time commented that it's "revolting and unforgivable" for people to speculate he might be gay. Of course, it also would have been correct. Party insiders were almost certainly aware he was gay, but to all appearances he was a good Catholic and a champion of family values. He even voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. His exposure and resignation are reminiscent of the sudden outing and resignation of New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey in 2004. As with McGreevey, Foley's offenses went beyond just being in the closet to include potential ethics violations and perhaps minor criminal activity.
It's easy to say Foley is a liar and a creep and we're better off with him out of Congress, but that misses the big picture. Foley is just the tip of the iceberg. By all accounts, the GOP is loaded with closeted homosexuals, an invaluable 'gay mafia,' which has made great contributions to the success the party has enjoyed in recent years. The problem is that being in the closet makes you vulnerable, and forces you underground into an environment where repression makes excess attractive and exposure can turn pecadillos into a career-ending scandal. Unable to seek normal, public social outlets for their sexuality, these repressed individuals look for satisfaction in the office or with those they can control and manipulate. The fact they are living secret lives makes them more likely to express their homosexuality in the most immoral and exploitative ways.
This kind of scandal is not unique to the Republican Party. 20 years ago, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) got caught with his gigolo boyfriend running a male prostitution ring out of his apartment. Frank toughed it out, got a censure, and won reelection by a large margin. He's served 10 more terms in Congress since then and is widely regarded as one of the smarter and more influential figures on the Hill.
Barney Frank has balls. Apparently Mark Foley and a lot of other gay Republicans are endowed like Ken dolls. One of the things which gave Frank an edge was his willingness to be honest and be open about his mistakes and his sexuality. For most gay Republicans with political ambitions, that's not a realistic possibility. The infiltration of the party by powerful religiously-motivated groups has made it inadvisable for gay Republicans to be open about their sexuality and thereby protect themselves from scandalmongers and partisan witchhunts.
Maybe the Foley case is a sign that it's time for this attitude to change. A party facing constant, vicious, and unprincipled partisan assault can afford openly gay members far more than it can afford to lose seats in Congress because of scandal. What Foley did might earn him a censure, but if he handled it with the honesty of Barney Frank — whose offenses were as bad or worse — he could easily have survived and remained in office.
Foley's weakness was manifested not only in his bad behavior and poor judgment, but also in his unwillingness to admit and accept his sexuality and deal with it publicly and honestly. Remaining closeted made him vulnerable, but at least once he was outed, he could have been a man — a proud gay man — and had the balls to stand fast and not choose the coward's way out to the detriment of his party. It might have been a rough ride, but he owed that much to the voters, his party, and the rest of his gay brethren.
Other gay Republicans should take what happened to Foley as a sign and publicly admit their sexuality before unscrupulous elements on the left or homophobes in the religious right decide to target them for destruction. After November 7th, there will be some breathing space before the presidential campaign really gets rolling. What better time for gay Republicans in elected or appointive office to come out and deal with this issue openly, honestly, and in the safety provided by doing it as a group? It would protect their careers, improve their lives, and benefit the party enormously.