It’s difficult to know how we should respond to such complicated matters. I think this story raises at least six distinct questions:
1: What should the public response be to political representatives who endorse homophobic legislation or refuse to challenge homophobia, but who are later found to be involved in same-sex activity? Is this simply hypocrisy, worthy only of condemnation and public ridicule, or could it be more complicated than that?
2: Sex in public restrooms is illegal; but shouldn’t we ask why such activities occur in the first place? Isn’t the obvious case that the existence of an ‘underground’ gay culture is the corollary of widespread societal homophobia?
3: The hidden behavior that well-known religious leaders and politicians have had recently exposed are more than simply a breach of the law or marital vows. They are probably also examples of lifelong struggle by these men to reconcile their sexuality. In the senator’s case, as a 62 year old man, he came of age in a time even more homophobic than ours. Whatever the realities of his sexual orientation; whether he is a repressed gay man, or a confused straight man, or if he is the victim of a smear campaign, along with the public critique warranted by those who allow homophobia to prevail unchecked, he (and his family) also deserve our empathy. Should those of us who were moved by ‘Brokeback Mountain’ not consider that the characters who earned our sympathy in that film have human faces; and that the faces of Ted Haggard or Larry Craig are human too?
4: If it is possible that the threat of outing a politician in 1995 may actually have killed him, why would it be safer to do so today?
5: We live in a society where it is still widely thought shameful or dysfunctional to be gay. For a public figure to acknowledge that their sexuality even has grey areas is to invite disaster. A few honorable and courageous people are prepared to speak up; but most are not able to. There is a long (old) history of positive engagement by some theologians with sexuality in general; but religious institutions today frequently discuss sexuality only in the context of the challenges it raises. What steps should we take to facilitate a substantive and well-resourced conversation about a positive theology of sexuality? How can we talk about sexuality without merely problematising it?
6: What’s your place in this discussion?