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Ex-Foley aide says he told on his boss before 2004
The gay issue: GOP split between those who see homosexuality as a sin and those who want party to make room for all
- Edward Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle Washington Bureau
Thursday, October 5, 2006
(10-05) 04:00 PDT Washington -- The resignation of Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida focuses anew a long-running fissure in the Republican Party between those on the right who view homosexuality as a sin that endangers the country and those who want the party to find a place in the GOP for all Americans.
Republicans are unanimous in their condemnation of Foley's behavior, but leaders of social and religious groups that are influential in the party have been repeating their anti-gay messages since the release of sexually explicit e-mails and text messages between the lawmaker and underage congressional pages.
Several of those conservatives say they believe House leaders decided last spring not to severely discipline Foley when they first learned of his contacts with a teenage former page because they were afraid of being accused of gay-bashing.
The six-term, 52-year-old former congressman had never acknowledged his homosexuality until Tuesday, when his lawyer disclosed the fact, although rumors about his sexual orientation had swirled for years.
House officials led by embattled Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "discounted or downplayed earlier reports concerning Foley's behavior -- probably because they did not want to appear 'homophobic.' The Foley scandal shows what happens when political correctness is put ahead of protecting children,'' said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Hastert, however, has denied the contention and has refrained from commenting on Foley's sexuality. Instead, the Republican speaker has stressed his disgust for improper conduct by any adult with minors such as the teenage pages.
But social conservatives, including Perkins' powerful group and its allies, tie Foley's conduct directly to his homosexuality.
"The fact that Americans find former Representative Foley's alleged conduct reprehensible shows we have not bought into the false ideology that 'all sex should be celebrated' or that age of consent laws should be reduced as some special interest groups demand,'' said Wendy Wright, president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America. "Not all diversity should be accepted, and not all conduct or beliefs should be tolerated."
Some of the social conservatives say studies show there is an overlap between pedophilia and homosexuality, a charge gay groups dispute vigorously.
Perkins said that by brushing the Foley matter under the rug, the House has courted disaster, just as the Roman Catholic Church has done in scandals involving priests. "Ignoring this reality got the Catholic Church into trouble over abusive priests, and now it is doing the same to the House GOP leadership,'' he said.
Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a 20,000-member national group of gay and lesbian Republicans, scoffed at the notion that Hastert and other GOP House leaders dragged their feet on the Foley case because of the gay-bashing issue.
"These anti-gay groups should be ashamed. They're trying to use this horrible situation to advance their own agenda. It's despicable,'' said Sammon, who decried Foley's conduct. "This is a personal and political scandal. It should not be used to denigrate gay and lesbian Americans.''
In San Francisco, Supervisor Tom Ammiano -- a Democrat -- said there was a practical reason behind the anti-gay rhetoric. "The gay issue for lots of Republicans is a cash cow,'' he said, referring to the fundraising generated by anti-gay rhetoric.
Sammon said he wouldn't predict the outcome of the Nov. 7 midterm congressional elections, although polls and many political analysts say the Foley affair boosts the chances for significant Republican losses.
He said he hoped the gay and lesbian communities wouldn't be blamed for any losses.
"Anyone who tries to use gay people as an excuse for what happens is just ridiculous,'' Sammon added.
Denis Dison, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute, a group that supports gay and lesbian candidates from all political parties, said the charge of a coverup because Republicans didn't want to bash gays makes no sense, given the debate over same-sex marriage and a proposed federal constitutional amendment to ban such unions.
"It's an absurd notion to say the leadership is so afraid of offending gay people that they'd let a child predator stay in office, while they aren't afraid of trying to amend the Constitution,'' Dison said.
San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty said Republican leaders apparently weren't afraid of using Foley's then-hidden sexuality against him in 2003 when the congressman considered a U.S. Senate run in Florida.
"They bashed him (behind the scenes). They made it clear it would be ugly for him if he ran,'' Dufty said.
Foley dropped out of that race, saying he had to care for his ailing father.
Dufty, who worked as a Capitol Hill aide for two Democratic House members before moving to San Francisco, said he thought politics was the main reason House leaders didn't move early against Foley. "Political considerations trumped everything. They just wanted to ensure their incumbents' seats,'' he said.
E-mail Edward Epstein at email@example.com.
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