November 5, 2006

Law, Morality and Private Policy

by PG

Mike Jones, the prostitute who outed the Rev. Ted Haggard for methamphetamine use and paid homosexual encounters, says that he did so because "it made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex." Yet this isn't even hypocrisy; Haggard was not having a secret same-sex union, merely same-sex sex. When I remarked upon this, it was immediately seen as a weak and technical point, because Haggard of course objects to same-sex sex as well (though I don't know if he lobbies for it to be re-criminalized, in contrast to his lobbying for same-sex marriage to remain legally unrecognized). But some conservatives see no impropriety in publicly condemning an act that one privately enjoys, nor in keeping such acts illegal or socially unacceptable. Florence King, who at least had the virtue* of being quite honest in her books about her cheerfully swinging both ways with multiple partners whom she never married, stopped writing for Cosmopolitan because

I was brooding over the mass canoodling I was helping to promote. A few hussies add spice to society's soup, provided they are rich in their own right, like George Sand, or well kept, like Lillie Langtry, but too many hussies bring the house down. Female chastity (or at least the pretense of it) keeps us civilized, but Cosmo had aroused in men the ancient dread of the insatiable female. I decided rapists were saying, in effect: "Here's some sex you won't enjoy."
King herself was neither rich nor kept -- simply a moderately popular author -- but she enjoyed being a hussy during her youth and set up rules against it only in her senior years. She also managed to write in opposition to same-sex marriage despite her most serious relationship having been with a woman who was killed in a car accident while they were in college. Yet none of this need be seen as irrational, illogical or indicative of lacking inner peace.

Indeed, if one thinks that an activity is improved by the spice of sinfulness, and that one individually can get away with the activity even if others cannot, then maintaining its sinfulness in the eyes of others makes the activity all the more fun for oneself. Certainly there may be some unfortunate slobs like Lawrence and Garner -- and now Haggard himself -- who will be arrested or outed, but people who deliberately and repeatedly engage in activities they sincerely think are wrong tend to believe themselves the exceptional beings who are too clever or lucky to fall prey to negative consequences. King put it bluntly: "A passion for social change was not part of my rebelliousness; I was content to let the world stay exactly as it was, provided I could have special privileges. I wanted to be a token. I saw the situation in individual terms, and I was the individual who mattered." My concern is about the negative effects such people create for others. For example, if one is happy to support the prosecution of pornographers while secretly buying their wares, that is a hypocrisy dangerous to the pornographers. At least if one were consistently either prudish or perverted, the pornographers would know where they stood: either they wouldn't have a market for the product, or they wouldn't get prosecuted for purveying it.

* King's more important virtue is being an excellent writer -- she came out of retirement briefly to assess Ann Coulter.

November 5, 2006 1:16 AM | TrackBack

Brilliant. I think you're exactly right about the distinction. And, of course if true, paints him with an even more disturbing brush.

But, in Haggard's case, the distinction reveals another, if worse, hypocrisy. Here is a man who purports to care about his fellow man -- to the point of being an evangelical preacher. Yet, unlike some of us against whom he preaches, his first concern is self gratifcation.

I wonder how many people voted against the same-sex benefits law on the ballot in CO as a result of Rev. Haggard's indiscretions.

Posted by: Denise at November 14, 2006 7:21 AM

I have trouble assessing what effect things like the Catholic priest abuse scandal, or Mark Foley's harassment of teenage pages, or Ted Haggard's solicitation of a prostitute, have on voters with a pre-existing bias against queer folks. Do you think there are any who look at these occurrences and realize that being in the closet fosters unhealthy behavior, and that greater acceptance of homosexuality might prevent some of it, or at least make it easier to shine a light on it? Or do they all assume that it's the homosexuality, and not the closet, that makes people behave badly, and therefore we had better make homosexuality as socially-disapproved as possible?

In the mindset of many conservatives, there's nothing incompatible with preaching to others on Sundays and sinning on Saturdays. Liberals like you, I and Dan Savage say, "today it is arguably more shameful and damaging to be a hypocritical closet case than it is to be a sex worker," but that's only true among non-conservatives. What really would interest me is whether Haggard genuinely tried to fight his impulses toward meth and prostitutes, or whether he enjoyed reducing himself to a druggie and a john. The former would put him among the religious conservatives who see being a fallen human being as no reason not to preach about how wrong sin is (without, of course, admitting that one commits those sins against which one preaches the most). The latter would put him among what I call the "cool cons" who would get bored with their sinning if it ceased to be regarded by others as sin.

Posted by: PG at November 15, 2006 12:59 AM

Hah -- a friend who doesn't read this blog spontaneously remarked, in response to my saying that I sometimes thought about doing things that were inconsistent with my values, "oh my god, you little closet republican."

Posted by: PG at November 15, 2006 3:24 AM

More Savage: The religious conservatives in the GOP's base don't seriously believe that gay men can become straight. (Want to stop a straight person from making the ex-gay argument? Ask him if he'd let his daughter marry one.) What they believe in -- what they demand -- are closeted homos, homos like Foley, a single man who refused to answer direct questions about his sexual orientation. (Has any straight man ever refused to reveal his sexual orientation?) The religious conservatives in the GOP's base want all gays to be like Foley: deny who we are, live our lives alone, refuse to answer any questions about our sexuality. To them, Foley was a good, closeted homo, deserving of every consideration.

The GOP was willing to cover for Foley because Foley, by being closeted, covered for them for years. So what if closet cases act out in sexually inappropriate ways? A few raped altar boys and skeeved-out pages are a price the gay haters are only too willing to pay if it means fewer out homos.

Posted by: PG at November 17, 2006 12:38 AM

"You little closet republican", you! LOL!

No, I don't think people like Foley or Haggard affect the votes of people with pre-determined biases. I do, however, think they may affect the votes of people who, in their ignorance (and already right(wrong)-leaning - "assume that it's the homosexuality, and not the closet, that makes people behave badly, and therefore we had better make homosexuality as socially-disapproved as possible?"

I love Savage. :)

Posted by: Denise at November 19, 2006 7:30 AM
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