Conservative Activists Considering Role of Gay Lawmakers

Conservative activists are beginning to discuss the Mark Foley scandal as indicative of a GOP that has become too tolerant of gays in their midst.

Regardless of the party's efforts against gay marriage, the argument goes, the fact that Republican officials accept gay congressmen, such as Foley, and staffers will mean the party will have problems.

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"As a society, we've made diversity and tolerance the guidepost of public life," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council told ABC News. "Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that we have congressmen chasing after 16-year-old boys."

While to many this point of view will smack of sheer bigotry, the Foley scandal has indubitably brought one issue into the light: For generations, Washington, D.C., has been home to a community of gay and lesbian politicians and staffers who live in the closet, hiding their private lives for fear of ostracism if not persecution.

A question now being debated is whether Foley's homosexuality is part of the problem of what led to his inappropriate behavior with pages -- or, conversely, whether it stemmed at all from the fact that Foley felt forced to hide his orientation.

As former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, showed during his 2004 scandal, being a closeted gay politico is not exclusively a Republican affliction, though the Democratic Party is certainly considered a more hospitable place for gays and lesbians to work openly.

Many are uncomfortable with any discussion of Foley's predatory life being connected to his being gay.

Preying on teens is hardly an exclusively gay affliction, of course, and gay rights organizations have distanced themselves from Foley's behavior, saying the scandal is about inappropriate contact with minors, period, regardless of the sexual orientation of the players.

Closet Life

But interestingly, it isn't only social conservatives discussing a possible tie between sexual orientation and Foley's predatory behavior with pages.

Richard Isay, a Weisll Cornell Medical College professor of psychiatry and author who has studied gay men and women, says his psychiatric studies show that closeted gays who work for organizations that are inhospitable to them may be more prone to "doing things that are going to get themselves into trouble."

"If the atmosphere of the Republican Party is not hospitable to gay people … you're going to have more problems," Isay said.

In his academic opinion, Isay believes that Foley's pathology includes "much more than just this kind of behavior -- hitting on pages," but likely includes other kind of secretive behavior.

He also believes that Foley "had an enormous need to be caught and punished. You don't send e-mails to underage pages unless you want to be caught, and that's directly related to impoverished self-esteem and the need to be punished."

Gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog this week that the Foley scandal wasn't about pedophilia or homosexuality.

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