The Governor Mark Sanford affair
Yes, he's a screwup for cheating on his wife, deserting his post, and failing to "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong" — both by his own Christian lights and my poly ones. But this isn't about another scummy politico getting nookie on the side. This is about a conservative, middle-aged man who was utterly blindsided by falling genuinely, life-changingly in love — while boxed inside an ideology of Christian monogamy that leaves him no basis to understand what happened to him, except maybe that the Devil attacked.
So, I seized on this as a teachable moment. I posted to the new Polyamory Leadership Network1 saying we ought to crank out a press release explaining that while dishonesty and cheating are never good, there are other ways to love more than one; that falling in love while partnered does not have to be a tragedy; and that some people are making it work wonderfully all around.
Robyn Trask, director of Loving More, grabbed the ball and ran with it. Within hours she wrote and sent out a press release to Loving More's list of 150 media contacts.
That was on June 25th. So far, no joy; I haven't seen a peep of mainstream-media interest in discussing the poly alternative. (However, keep an eye on Newsweek, a little bird tells us.)
Let's back up a bit. To grasp what's going on, read this Washington Post account of Sanford's incoherent, emotional press conference ("I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina so I could repeat it when I got here"). And read his leaked e-mails to Maria. Excerpts:
I remember [wife] Jenny, or someone close to me, once commenting that while my mom was pleasant and warm it was sad she had never accomplished anything of significance. I replied that they were wrong because she had the ultimate of all gifts — and that was the ability to love unconditionally. The rarest of all commodities in this world is love. It is that thing that we all yearn for at some level — to be simply loved unconditionally for nothing more than who we are — not what we can get, give or become....
How in the world this lightening [sic] strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure.... In all my life I have lived by a code of honor and at a variety of levels know I have crossed lines I would have never imagined. I wish I could wish it away, but this soul-mate feel I alluded too is real....
I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, “Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things”. In this regard it is action that goes well beyond the emotion of today or tomorrow and in this light I want to look for ways to show love in helping you to live a better — not more complicated life....
I also don’t want you walking away from some guy (I take it the younger guy you mentioned at dinner) because of me — and what we both have to see as an impossible situation. I better stop now least this really sound like the Thornbirds — wherein I was always upset with Richard Chamberlain for not dropping his ambitions and running into Maggie’s arms....
...In the meantime please sleep soundly knowing that despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul. I love you ... sleep tight. M
I have to respect that, no matter what the circumstances.
Here is Loving More's press release. Excerpts:
LOVING MORE® non-profit is all too familiar with Governor Mark Sanford’s challenging situation. We are an organization that helps and supports people in finding ethical, mutually agreed-upon ways for loving more than one person in honest multi-partnered relationships. We help partners consciously negotiate their relationship styles and agreements, whether monogamy or polyamory, with ethics and integrity.
Loving More Executive Director Robyn Trask issued the following statement.
"My heart goes out to Mr. Sanford, his wife and kids, and to his lover in Argentina. In my job I am contacted by people from all walks of life going through similar challenges of loving more than one.... We live in a culture that is in denial of the fact that many people are capable of, and do find themselves, loving more than one person, and we laden them with guilt for loving. People are calling Gov. Sanford's case a "sex scandal," but if you listen to Mr. Sanford and read his words, it is obvious this not about sex but about love and connection; it would be better described as a love scandal. Is he a hypocrite? Yes, but he is also human. The real scandal is denying the impossibility for some of monogamy. What would happen if in our culture, ethical, agreed-upon polyamory were as acceptable as monogamy?
Politics aside, this is a man in crisis because we as a society have decided there is only one right way to have a loving relationship....
And she quotes Michael Rios, a Loving More and Polyamory Leadership Network member:
“I'm no fan of Sanford, nor the hypocrites of either party, but the real story here is that monogamy is *not* the right choice for a lot of people. Even with such strong convictions and so much to lose, these 'family values' types keep stepping out of line. They aren't *that* weak — a weak person couldn't have gotten to where they are.
“...There are millions of Americans of both genders who have found a way to be honest and responsible while loving more than one romantic partner. The practice of this is called 'polyamory'. When many people first encounter this idea, they realize that their style of loving is not immoral, disturbed, or inferior. Many of these people have been living this way for decades, having long-term stable relationships, raising children, and being responsible members of society....
“I keep waiting for some politician to have the guts to say (as a number of European politicians have done), 'Yes, I love both of them, and intend to keep both of them in my life.' ”
Robyn continues with the example of former Colorado Governor Roy Romer:
Loving More is aware of one politician who did just that, Colorado Governor Roy Romer in 1998. When questioned about his relationship with former aide B. J. Thornberry, he admitted to a 16-year relationship. Denying that it was an affair, Governor Romer explained that he had a close and complex relationship with Thornberry, and he further clarified that his family and wife were aware of the relationship all along and that it would continue. Romer defined to the press that marital fidelity was about “openness” and “trust”. Although there was some shock at his statements, it is interesting to note that when he acknowledged the relationship openly the press quickly lost interest.
With these latest developments involving a high-level politician who has a longstanding rhetoric of “traditional family values”, Loving More is even further committed to educating people from all walks of life about open, honest loving alternatives to monogamy. There is no one-size-fits-all model of relationship.
Read the whole press release (as it appears on the Practical Polyamory blog of Anita Wagner, one of Loving More's three-member board of trustees).
Update: On July 1st, a dumb marriage therapist on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" compared Sanford's situation to polyamory. Keith B. on the Yahoo PolyGeezers group responds,
Find the video clip at http://abcnews.go.com/gma labeled "Can Gov. Sanford Save His Marriage?" After the news clip, there's a little Q&A with 2 "experts". The woman compares the governor cheating on his wife for 8 years to polyamory. The video timer counts down, so go to about 3 minutes left and you'll get the full remark.
Her name is Dr. Bethany Marshall from Los Angeles, CA:
Apparently the video clip is now down, but flaming is still in order.
P. S.: Here's a noteworthy essay at OpEdNews.com about the Sanford affair by Federico Moramarco, a retired English professor at San Diego State University. Excerpt:
Isn't it time that we stop talking about the sanctity of marriage in this country and start talking about the sanctity of truth?
...The data on U.S. sexual behavior is notoriously unreliable. Studies over the past several decades have produced diverse estimates of male infidelity, ranging from 25 percent to 75 percent of men cheating on their wives.... According to a recent survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 25 percent of men have had extramarital affairs, while 17 percent of women have committed adultery.... [But} why would anyone ever tell the truth about having fallen in love with someone other than one's spouse, when virtually all his fellow citizens, including the pollster taking the information, would see him/her as immoral?
I purposely used the phrase "fallen in love" rather than "cheated" because I was struck by a recent poll... among 20-29 year olds, in which 48% of respondents told an AOL Personals Survey that they believe you can be in love with more than one person at the same time....
...The reason the Sanford and Ensign affairs have aroused such enmity is not only that these men were unfaithful, but that they were also hypocritical.... But shouldn't we consider our own hypocrisy as a nation on this particular issue as well?
...The word "polyamory" has come into fashion over the last few years, although the concept has been around for a very long time....
And see nleseul's essay at Daily Kos:
...Because love isn't clean. It doesn't organize itself for our convenience into neat little social breeding units. It's terribly messy. ...Affairs, impossible choices, unrequited wishes, unfulfilled fantasies, lovers who should never have become life partners, life partners who would be better platonic, friends who might as well be lovers, temptation, surrender, guilt, loss, regret, anger, compersion, jealousy, and sometimes even happiness.... The Greeks were right in imagining it as a blind youth with a bow, firing haphazardly into crowds and laughing maniacally at the chaos that results....
More and more ordinary people... are questioning that framework. They are loving as they will and choosing paths through life that acknowledge their loves, and as a result concepts like same-sex relationships, transgenderism, polyamory, BDSM, sex work, swinging, platonic relationships, and casual hookups have come almost into the mainstream of cultural discourse....
But the culturally conservative political and cultural elite continue to lag behind the values of the broader culture. ...They simply follow the scripted rituals and hope that love will conform itself into the paths that have been chosen for them. And until one of them stands up and refuses to mouth along with the ritual, the pain will continue — for themselves, for their families, for all the people who look to them for moral leadership.
1 The Polyamory Leadership Network is a collection of poly-awareness activists who decided to get together to share ideas and resources. Its members make no claim to represent anyone but themselves; "leadership" here means "doing good stuff off your own bat without waiting for someone else."
The PLN started in October 2008 with a meeting of 34 activists in New York right after Poly Pride Weekend. The second "summit" meeting brought 64 activists to the Philadelphia area at the end of February 2009; it was held right after Loving More's Poly Living Conference in the same hotel. At this meeting, many volunteer committees and working groups were set up — for such projects as media advocacy, recruitment and training of public spokespeople, creating a speakers bureau, collecting legal resources for polyfamilies and their lawyers, outreach to and support of monogamous partners, college and TNG ("The Next Generation") outreach, creating materials for health/sex educators and therapists, fundraising, obtaining tax-exempt educational status, and other brainstorms. However, followup action has frankly been slow.
Work is done mostly through collaborative Google Groups. Membership is by invitation, and by filling out an application about yourself and your poly work. The best way to get invited is to accomplish good stuff in public that gets you noticed. Or write to me; I'm on the membership committee.