All In: Marriage, Rights and Hypocrisy, The Case of David Petraeus

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As many now know, CIA Director and retired four-star Army General David Petraeus has resigned his post at the CIA on account of newly emerging information that he had what the media calls an “extra-marital” affair with Paula Broadwell, who is also married.  Broadwell is the author of the flattering Petraeus biography All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.

Others have pointed out the irony that Petraeus’ career ended in humiliation on account of adultery, not the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the U.S. government in the Petraeus-led military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the expansion of the CIA’s Predator campaign in Yemen, or his role behind a recent push to expand the agency’s drone fleet. He played a key role in decisions to carry out controversial strikes, including the Predator attacks last year that killed two U.S. citizens: the alleged al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son.  The Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit charging senior CIA and military officials, including Petraeus, with violating the Constitution and international law when they authorized and directed drone strikes that resulted in these deaths as part of a broader practice of extrajudicial “targeted killing” by the United States outside the context of armed conflict.

But no, it was adultery that brought down Petraeus.  Other facts will no doubt emerge in the coming days that may implicate additional c0mplications connected to his affair with Paula Broadwell, and/or with Broadwell’s behavior toward others, but the official story of his resignation, acknowledged by the Obama administration, was that his “marital infidelity” was what rendered him no longer fit to serve as the country’s top spy.

Gay men and lesbians were vulnerable to this kind of take down from public service until recently on the theory that illegal and shameful behavior such as being gay or having an extra marital affair could render you susceptible to blackmail, thus jeopardizing national security.

What a moment this is that on the heels of having won enormous victories in electing openly gay candidates such as Tammy Baldwin and securing marriage rights for same sex couples in four more states, marriage remains an institution whose mores, morals, and social standing can bring down someone as powerful as David Petraeus when he violates them.  It seems that we live in a time when it’s safer to be gay than to be an adulterer.

Yet gay people continue to clamor to be included in the venerated institution of marriage so that we, just like straight people, can get in trouble, lose our jobs and be publicly ridiculed when we have sex with someone who isn’t our spouse.

Oh, and just as a reminder, adultery remains a crime in 27 states including the states that Petreaus claims as his residence: New Hampshire and Virginia.  And of perhaps greater importance, the Uniform Code of Military Justice treats adultery very seriously:  Adultery is punishable under Article 134, with a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year.

And lest we forget, the military is an institution gay people have been clamoring to get into as well, rendering us subject to its morality code a few short years after we escaped the surveillance of civilian sodomy laws in the Lawrence v. Texas case.

All In.

Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School

Cross-posted from the Gender & Sexuality Law Blog

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