The other day I explored the ethics of outing closeted gay and lesbian politicians who vocally and hypocritically oppose gay rights legislation. Wherever you stand on this issue (and I myself am ambivalent,) I think that in the current political and media climate, such outings are inevitable. There is at least one WA legislator for whom the rumors appear well supported and widely known, and it should come as no surprise if some blogger or gay rights activist — or even a fellow legislator — were to publicly reveal his or her secret life.
Under these circumstances, I do not think the MSM could resist covering the ensuing controversy. Any hint of scandal is good for the business, and once the story breaks, extended coverage can easily be rationalized, if not entirely justified. After all, when a politician makes a career out of appealing to family values conservatives, it is hard to argue that his or her non-traditional lifestyle is not germane to the public debate. Voters have a right to know when their elected officials fail to walk the talk, and journalists have the responsibility to inform them.
Indeed, there seems to be growing media interest in the issue. The day after I addressed the subject, Danny Westneat devoted his Seattle Times column to Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s letter to The Ethicist. I have since been contacted by other journalists, interested in discussing the broader ethical issues, and/or the specific rumors themselves. I refused to name names, but my sense is that I don’t have to. The Legislature is likely to have another openly gay member by the start of the next session… if reluctantly so.
For those of you who strongly believe that a person’s private life should remain private, and that sexual orientation should not leave one vulnerable at the polls, I absolutely agree. But then, neither should sexual orientation leave one vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, finance and insurance. One would think that politicians who find it necessary to hide their sexual orientation in order to win public office, would be more sensitive to the need to protect others from similar discrimination.