Newt's private life is his business, but hypocrisy is everyone's affair
Danny Westneat says Newt Gingrich's, or anyone else's, love life is no one's concern — it's the preachiness and hypocrisy that rankle.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Newt is right. His swinging ways shouldn't be any of our business.
Now if only he — and his party — felt that way toward the rest of us.
The coverage last week of Newt Gingrich's adultery — the notion he sought an open marriage in which he would be shared, alternately, by two women — sure casts the marriage debate in a whole new light.
New slogan: Marriage is between one man, and one woman ... at a time.
Seriously, who knew a top Republican for the presidency would turn out to be "monogamish" — Stranger sex columnist Dan Savage's term for allowing, even encouraging, some straying into your relationship.
Savage argues, counterintuitively, that going monogamish can be a way to save your marriage. The theory being that we're not all hard-wired for one partner for life, so we ought to be more forgiving of "the reality of desire for others."
I suspect Gingrich saw it mostly as a way to save his political hide. I was there covering Congress as a reporter, in the late 1990s, when Gingrich led the impeachment pursuit of President Clinton. It was a rabid point in our politics when a sort of sexual McCarthyism took hold.
I wrote a story at the time about how Republicans had developed "a new sexual purity test for leadership."
"Issues of Political Power and Sex Become Muddled," was the headline. It featured GOP congressmen saying what, to me, was startling: that scrutiny of their private sex lives had indeed become fair game. Otherwise, how could anyone be sure that when it comes to family values, they practice what they preach?
Imagine you're Gingrich, the leader of this crowd. You're flawed. You want the mistress, but you need the marriage, too — at least for appearance's sake. You don't have to be a man of a million ideas like Newt to think: Why not try to keep both?
Personally, I'm OK with that. Savage, who is monogamish himself, wrote last week that Gingrich's error is he went at it backward. Had he proposed an open marriage before starting the affair, rather than years after, his wife probably wouldn't have been so irked (and might not be dishing on him now).
It's all the preaching that's the real problem. Yet that only gets shriller.
As The Washington Post reported last week, Gingrich was having an affair and apparently petitioning his wife for an open marriage even as he was going about the country lecturing the rest of us about religious and family values. That lecture has gone on ever since, from Gingrich and others.
Is there a way out of this mess?
Last week, a local politician pointed the way. Rep. Glenn Anderson, a state House Republican from Fall City, made the crucial point that's usually missing from the marriage debate. It ought to be front and center, but probably won't be, on Monday when the Legislature holds hearings about allowing gays to marry.
Anderson noted there are two kinds of marriage, with separate histories and rationales.
Civil marriage — a union licensed by government — is "to provide a neutral and secular foundation for social order and an orderly transfer of property rights for the collective good," Anderson said. That's it. It has nothing to do with God. Or even necessarily with love.
Religious marriage, though, is between you, your spouse and your church. It has little to do with the state. Nor the state with it.
"Civil same-sex marriage does not undermine the right of individuals to freely associate with religious organizations that seek to encourage traditional marriage values," Anderson wrote. "Neither does it obstruct the ability to practice the values of religious marriage."
A perfect explanation of why it's also none of the public's business if someone like Gingrich wants an open, monogamish marriage. Anymore than it's Gingrich's concern if Dan Savage does.
Now Gingrich's church doubtless doesn't see it that way. But we can all thank God he's not running for national priest.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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