Ensign Scandal Reminds Us of the Double Standard Placed on Gays and Lesbians

The John Ensign scandal, like all those that have come before it, has been framed by the perpetrator and their defenders, as personal matters requiring respect for privacy from public scrutiny. They talk of their personal misgivings, the task ahead of rebuilding their relationship with their wife, children, constituents, staff, and Jesus. And that we, as understanding citizens, should give them the freedom and the privacy to do this.

The problem is that rarely have these affairs been private matters. They fall short of the narrowest definition, of legal activity between two consenting adults, ignoring larger culturally accepted but not legally stipulated aspects of their position such as maintaining the public trust or honoring their elected office. The crimes committed by David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton and now John Ensign include perjury, bribery, extortion, and using prostitutes. Although these crimes are not seriously denied and largely accepted in the consensus of conventional wisdom, only one so far left office.

My issue here is not that we do not prosecute our politicians adequately - we can save that for another day - but the double standard that is placed on heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The anti-equality argument rests upon the premise that the private relationships between two consenting adults when they are of the same gender has major and profound public implications for society at large. In particular, the legal recognition of such relationships as marriage poses a threat to all marriages and therefore the fabric of society. But, according to Vitter and Ensign and their defenders in the Republican party, when they are of "opposite" genders and have broken a litany of laws in the process of their extra-marital activities, we should close off questions of their public implications.

So all homosexual relationships are public problems and all heterosexual relationships are private matters - regardless of the laws or even moral behavior - of the individuals concerned.

Remember that Republican moral warriors David Vitter and John Ensign have been 'proud' obstacles in the way of advancing civil rights for gay and lesbians, and Bill Clinton, despite starting off with good intentions, signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. This is more than a double standard imposed on homosexual relationships, but the worst combination of personal hypocrisy with political expediency that has become the means by which millions of Americans are disenfranchised from their full access to civil rights.