THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 4, 2007
There was a fair amount of discussion last week of the double standard conservatives exhibited regarding prostitute-using Senator David Vitter (whom very few on the right pressed to resign) and bathroom-cruising Senator Larry Craig (who was encouraged not to let the stall-door hit him on the way out). Some argued that the disparity was strategic: Vitter represents a state with a Democratic governor; Craig represented one with a Republican. Some explained that there's far greater tolerance of sexual scandal in Louisiana than in Idaho. And some chalked it up to simple homophobia. I suspect there was truth to all three explanations.
It does occur to me, though, that the disparate response undermines, at least somewhat, the common claim in social conservative circles that homosexuality is a "choice" rather than an innate orientation. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" is an adage that was in far greater evidence with Vitter than with Craig, and I can't help but think that this is in part because people widely believe that, while it should be relatively easy for Vitter to stop hiring hookers, there's little or nothing Craig can plausibly do to change who he is. As Ramesh Ponnuru put it over at the Corner: "Craig's colleagues probably think that his compulsion is so strong that he may well act up again...I don't think they're as worried that Vitter will be frequenting prostitutes."
It may be worth noting here, too, that Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart both managed to have post-sex-scandal careers as broadcast preachers (albeit on a vastly reduced scale). Ted Haggard, by contrast, despite claims that he's "completely heterosexual," is pursuing a degree in psychology and is unlikely ever to minister again.
Now, obviously, social conservatives aren't monolithic in their view of homosexuality, and there's a considerable gray area between viewing sexual orientation as genetically predetermined and considering it a superficial preference. That said, it seems to me that an awful lot of social conservatives who ostensibly consider homosexuality a "choice," recognize on some level that it's really not, at least not in the same sense that adultery is.