Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Friday, August 8, 2008

When is a sex scandal a political story?

I don't feel the need to mention the names of any of the characters in these dramas because they are being portrayed as just that--characters. And apart from endorsing Coriolanus for Consul, TEP doesn't find theatre criticism to be our forte.

Generally, these sex scandals are political stories accidentally and not essentially. You Thomists and Aristotelians out there will get the distinction. But our media culture isn't very interested in questions of being, only questions of what a story can become. As a result, sex scandals involving politicians always become political. The story breaks and we wait for the political fallout. By God, if it's not a political question to begin with, we know how to make it one. We ask the following questions: Can the accused be a viable candidate again? Can she speak at a political event? Do other politicians have to distance themselves from him?

Here's when it is a political story--if the politician broke the law (prostitution) or used public funds or position to advance a love interest. Also, if the politician caught with his or her pants down has droned on and on about the sanctity of marriage and advances policy that restricts the definition of marriage and family, then that's probably a story. But even then, not in every case. Questions about hypocrisy as they relate to policy can be instructive, but they are not final. At some level, policy has to be advanced on its merits. Hypocritical personal rhetoric is only enough to throw the policy into question, not enough to stop the debate.

More than a few preachers and politicians fighting marriage equality have played around outside marriage. But exposing them all is never going to be enough to get legislatures around the country to adopt same-sex marriage. Lawmakers and the public are going to have to get comfortable with the idea and be convinced that it's the right thing to do. Putting your opponents in the penalty box gets you a few points and buys you time, but it doesn't win the game. Both sides in our public debates ought to consider well before they crow too loudly about these family matters.

I remember vividly when one former lawmaker in Tennessee who worked for the marriage amendment in the Legislature was having a marital crisis. Reporters wanted us to take his guts out. It wouldn't have gotten us anywhere with the amendment. We would have looked vengeful and become just another group of characters in a drama of destruction.

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