"This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story. A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."
-- Mark Sanford, June 30, 2009
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford knows a thing or two about forbidden love. In the summer of 2009, he told his wife and staff he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, disappeared, and was found days later coming off a flight from Argentina, where he had gone to visit the woman who was his "soul mate." Four years later, after a bitter divorce and a period of soul-searching on his family's farm, he is engaged to the woman he loves and staging a political comeback -- yesterday he won the Republican nomination for South Carolina's open House seat.
Sanford's own experience, you would think, would make him a natural ally of anyone whose unconventional love story has been the object of public scrutiny. Yet, when it comes to gays and lesbians, the former governor's allegiance lies with the Republican right wing rather than with his romantic, Appalachian-Trail hiking free spirit.
During his three terms in Congress, Sanford voted both to impeach President Bill Clinton over his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky and to approve the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. On his Clinton vote, he has since repented, saying, "I'm going to worry about the log in my own eye before I worry about the splinter in somebody else's." But on same-sex marriage, why has Sanford dug in his heels, saying this weekend that he opposes efforts to overturn DOMA and that he would support a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality?
Many anti-gay activists habitually compare homosexuality to adultery, but seem to have infinitely greater reserves of tolerance for the latter. Idaho Republican Larry Craig was laughed out of the Senate when he was caught in a Minneapolis airport gay sex sting. Louisiana Republican David Vitter is still going strong in the Senate six years after he admitted to patronizing female prostitutes.
To be sure, the comparison between homosexuality and adultery is offensive. But if the right is going to use it, they should at least be consistent.
Instead, Mark Sanford perfectly encapsulates the particular sanctimony the right reserves for homosexuality. Republican politicians perfected this selective intolerance back when gay people were a convenient political punching bag -- an unfamiliar other with whom the majority could not immediately identify. Since then, gay people have come out of the closet in droves and most Americans have come to embrace gay rights. But the GOP is sticking with its reflex condemnation of gay people.
Does it trouble Mark Sanford or give him any pause at all as he goes from being the ambassador of international love back to his embrace of a position that is now laughingly hypocritical? It appears that Sanford believes marriage should be between one man and one woman, then an Argentinian woman.
Perhaps he should revisit an interview he gave to CNN's Piers Morgan in 2011, in which he described a dark time after his affair came to light:
Sanford: [It was in] the middle of the storm where I thought I might be stoned to death if any woman saw me. And I was in Sumter, South Carolina. And this big black woman was walking down the street, and she put her arms out, and said do you need a hug. I had little choice in the matter, she was bigger than I was.
Morgan: How did that make you feel?
Sanford: It was fabulous. It was fabulous. I think we all need grace and we all need love. There's plenty of judgment to go around and there's certainly a role by folks in the media and others to be played in getting things uncovered and wrongs right, but I think that there is abiding need for human grace and love. I got it that day on the street and I've gotten many times since then with people across my state.
It is true that "we all need grace and we all need love." Another thing we could all use is a little bit of self-awareness and a lot less pious sanctimony and blatant hypocrisy.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article referenced Governor Sanford's resignation. Sanford resigned as head of the Republican Governors Association, but served out the remainder of his term as governor.