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Published: Sunday, 8/22/2004

Governor's sex claim misleading

All the headlines were alike.

New Jersey governor resigns over gay affair.

N.J. governor resigns, citing affair with man.

N.J. governor quit over gay affair.

Yes, those headlines said it all. Or did they?

Well, let's go easy on beleaguered headline writers everywhere, who labor daily against unforgiving deadlines.

Besides, it was Gov. Jim McGreevey himself who wrapped the surprise package of his resignation with the matter of his sexual orientation.

"Throughout my life," he said as he began his headline-making revelation, "I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused."

If I had a dollar for every gay person who's ever expressed that essentially identical sentiment, I'd be richer than Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Governor McGreevey said that as far back as his early school days right up "until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, 'good things,' and all the, quote, 'right things' of typical adolescent and adult behavior."

Yes, it was a poignant announcement by the governor, who was surrounded at the news conference by his wife and parents. Trouble is, too many people still interpret this as a "gay" news story.

And it is not.

The head of New Jersey state government (and the nation's first governor to come out) did not resign from office because his sexual orientation hampered him from serving out his term.

For Governor McGreevey to play identity politics is misleading, to say nothing of being unfair to the community he so publicly joined. He resigned not because he was (his words) a "gay American," but because he was a "foolish American."

The head of a gay advocacy group, describing his reaction to the governor's speech, said: "I nearly had to turn away from the agony and pain that radiated from his face, all caused, I thought, by his decision to live a lie in order to attain political power."

To that, I would only retort: Barney Frank. That Massachusetts politician didn't "live a lie," and moreover, he also endured a juicy sex scandal of his own reckless making - and survived.

Although Governor McGreevey maintained that "it makes little difference that as governor I am gay," he also said: "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."

OK, threats hereby removed. Why resign?

Oh, Jim McGreevey's statehouse troubles are big, all right. But it's not because there's suddenly a rainbow flag flying atop the state capitol.



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