This editorial originally ran in the May 30, 2003 issue of the Boston Phoenix.REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN Mark Foley of Florida thinks it’s "revolting and unforgivable" that people are openly speculating that he is gay. Revolting? Unforgivable? Is Foley serious? What’s revolting about being thought gay? What’s unforgivable about asking the question?
The five-term congressman should familiarize himself with the cool-straight-guy response to such speculation: thank the questioner for the flattery but then own up to heterosexual misdeeds like bad haircuts and mismatched clothing. Did Foley miss Ben Affleck’s elegant handling of persistent gay rumors? "I’m not stylish enough to be gay," Affleck said. "I have trouble trying to pick out which shoes go with which pants."
But then, that would only work if the 48-year-old congressman were heterosexual. Which he is not. Foley is gay. It’s one of those open secrets that’s more open than secret. It first came up during his initial run for Congress in 1994. A right-wing opponent in the GOP primary sent out a mailing saying that Foley was gay. Foley answered the accusation — and in this context, it was an accusation — by telling the media: "I like women."
Two years later, after Foley voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Advocate outed him along with another closeted lawmaker, Congressman Jim Kolbe, who’d voted in favor of the anti-gay measure. Of Foley, Advocate reporter J. Jennings Moss wrote: "In interviews for this story, several people close to the 41-year-old from West Palm Beach described him as a gay man, although one also said he dated women." The magazine also spoke with former Navy lieutenant Tracy Thorne, who came out on national television during the gays-in-the-military debate. Thorne knew Foley because Thorne’s father was one of Foley’s staunchest supporters, dating back to Foley’s time in the Florida state legislature. Thorne matter-of-factly told the Advocate: "Mark Foley has spent his entire life in the closet."
Kolbe came out after being interviewed by the Advocate. But Foley declared the topic of his sexuality off-limits to the magazine and the public: "Frankly, I don’t think what kind of personal relationships I have in my private life is of any relevance to anyone else."
More recently, the question of Foley’s sexuality has been raised in his campaign for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bob Graham. Many political observers think Foley, who is popular with voters and campaign contributors alike, has an excellent chance to win the Democratic seat. His only weakness? Notwithstanding his vote in favor of DOMA, Foley is one of the most pro-gay Republicans in Congress. He has a long, consistent record of supporting gay issues like domestic-partnership benefits, anti-discrimination legislation, and AIDS funding. His office maintains a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. GOP strategists worry that this will make Foley vulnerable in the primary — so much so, in fact, that White House strategist Karl Rove tried to convince US housing secretary Mel Martinez to run for the seat.
Three weeks ago, New Times columnist Bob Norman described all the talk about Foley’s pro-gay voting record without mention of Foley’s homosexuality as the "giant, pink elephant in the room." He wrote: "Foley, the nine-year conservative Republican U.S. representative out of Lake Worth, is gay. That is no revelation to political and media types. Everyone knows it, though no newspaper outside the gay press has ever really touched the issue."