I saw New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey's revelation live on, of all networks, Fox News. I was shocked, as were Rupert Murdoch's commentators, since no one had an inkling what he was about to announce, except that he might resign "due to personal issues."
When his first words were "Throughout my life I have grappled with my own identity," my jaw dropped. I was watching Fox News to see how they would cover the California Supreme Court's decision that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had overstepped his bounds by allowing same-sex couples to marry. Little did I (or anyone else) know that it would be such a gay day for all.
To his credit, New Jersey's governor was not morbid while revealing his homosexuality, nor ashamed, as I feared he might be. In fact, he was quite clear that he was ashamed of the "adult consensual affair with another man," which violated his "bonds of matrimony." I think that such a nuance may be lost on most people.
What followed was a concise deconstruction of the rationale for denying gays entry into military and intelligence jobs for most of the last century: potential blackmail. "I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality, if kept secret, leaves me and, most importantly, the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure. So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality."
I am always happy when I witness someone come out. I can only describe watching McGreevey as a bittersweet experience for me. I could see, all too well, the pain that has brought this man to reveal this most private of secrets. His incongruous smile, the forced confidence in his voice, the measured pace of his delivery -- these elements allowed me into this stage of his journey. Certainly he had had some good advice, political and personal, and I could see from his wife's expression that she, too, has been on a painful journey. In fact, his mother and father were standing behind him at the podium, a symbolic gesture that likely meant a lot more to him than they might have realized. This was a portrait of an American family as well as a journey that many of us have traveled.
I was most proud of his next utterance: "It makes little difference that, as governor, I am gay. In fact, having the ability to truthfully set forth my identity might have enabled me to be more forthright in fulfilling and discharging my constitutional obligations." I was greatly disappointed, however, by his further conclusion: "Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign."
As every lawyer learns early in law school, it's best to get the skeletons out early to remove the sting of accusation. But why go to the extreme of resigning? I suspect that the next few days, weeks and months will bring more news of his affair. We do not know just how bad it might get. Perhaps he is trying to spare the Democratic Party the election-time distraction. Perhaps he will be formally accused of sexual harassment or worse. Perhaps it's just a matter of personal strength -- that he does not feel he can run the state government while emerging from his lifelong closet.
I disagree with the governor's musing that "in this, the 47th year of my life, it is arguably too late to have this conversation." It may be too late for his wife to accept his apology for the deception. It may be too late to rescue his political career. But I believe that it is never too late to speak your own truth.
I thought as I watched Fox News that, unfortunately, in this story as in the literature and TV miniseries of my youth, the gay character must die in the end. We as a nation cannot endure happy endings for those gay folk -- or can we? It's up to McGreevey to put his skills to work for change within his community and within his own party. "I do not believe that God tortures any person simply for its own sake," he said. "I believe that God enables all things to work for the greater good."
No doubt McGreevey's suffering is not over. If he really meant what he said, he has a tremendous opportunity to work for the greater good and to allow this experience to galvanize his resolve to fight for equality in our country. Maybe before his resignation takes effect Nov. 15, he could conduct a few gay marriages?
John Crabtree-Ireland is a writer living in Los Angeles. His marriage to his partner, Duncan, was among the nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages recently invalidated by the California Supreme Court.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle