Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu may or may not have threatened to deport his former boyfriend back to Mexico, but the scandal that erupted over the weekend, and which forced the GOP Congressional candidate to resign as Mitt Romney's campaign co-chair in Arizona, does underscore one salient fact: closeted gay public figures are compromised, always harboring a secret they fear may get out. That often inspires them to go to great lengths in deceiving the public.
This is especially true in the Republican Party, where being an openly gay politician is still, largely, a political death sentence. There was Babeu, just days ago, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington -- before the world knew he was gay -- being heralded by conservative leaders for right-wing border patrol policies that put him in league with "America's toughest sheriff" Joe Arpaio (who is now distancing himself from Babeu). This was the same CPAC that had banned the gay group GOProud.
Babeu spent years covering up his sexual orientation, often supporting politicians who've pushed anti-gay policies. A frequent guest on Fox News, he'd appeared in a John McCain for President ad -- a veteran of the war in Iraq supporting a candidate who was a driving force against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Babeu is now trying to portray himself as the victim, someone under attack by the media and others for his sexual orientation. But LGBT Arizonans have been under attack from GOP-inspired anti-gay ballot measures for years, and Babeu hadn't thought it important enough to talk about.
But suddenly we're learning of his positions on gay rights. He now says he supports same-sex marriage and repeal of DADT. When was this GOP Congressional candidate going to tell voters about these positions, which put him with a tiny minority of House members (only 15 GOP House members voted for DADT repeal, while the GOP House leadership is defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court)?
The Phoenix New Times reporter who broke the story, Monica Alonzo, told me that Babeu has dodged questions about these issues at every turn so far. Was he going to espouse his enlightened positions on these issues before November, or was he going to eventually offer hardline anti-gay positions to get elected in his very conservative district?
Now that he's been outed, it would be ludicrous of Bebeu, a military veteran, to say he favors DADT or, as a gay man, to have any other anti-gay position. Trying to save his political career, he's mentioned Congressman Ron Paul and his brand of libertarian Republicanism in several of his press appearances in the past few days while espousing his positions on gay marriage and gays in the military.
But Ron Paul wasn't the man Babeu was backing for president while in the closet. Up until a few days ago he was campaigning for Romney as Romney's Arizona campaign co-chair. Romney wants a federal marriage amendment -- one of the most anti-libertarian policies in this election campaign and something to which Ron Paul is staunchly opposed. And Romney was opposed to repealing DADT (even though he's now content to let it be). Battling Santorum's surge, Romney has been pushing a thoroughly anti-gay line, attacking gay marriage at every turn and talking about "traditional" values.
It's amazing how coming out of the closet has propelled Sheriff Babeu to publicly espouse a whole other brand of Republicanism than the one he was embracing just days ago.
It's just one example of how the closet corrupts -- and how coming out liberates.
Because he was hiding his sexual orientation, Babeu wasn't out in the gay community, meeting people publicly and being comfortable with who he is. He was online looking for secret hook-ups and putting his career at risk by sending his naked photos to strangers. Nothing at all wrong with looking for sex online, but you have to wonder how much of it Babeu would be doing if he was simply able to be open about being gay.
And then there's the alleged threat of deportation of Jose Orozco, the former boyfriend, if he spoke about their gay relationship. If true, this would not be the first time a politician with a secret tried to silence someone through intimidation.
The closet does a lot of damage to an individual's self-esteem, living a lie and feeling less than others. But the combination of the closet and power is dangerous -- not just to the individual, but to many others.