Eliot Spitzer Fawns Over Openly-Gay Fmr. New Jersey Governor's Take on NY Same-Sex Marriage Bill

One disgraced former governor hosted another disgraced former governor Monday night to praise New York's same-sex marriage bill. CNN's In the Arena host Eliot Spitzer brought on former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey to discuss the bill in what turned out to be love-fest in honor of McGreevey's pro-gay sentiments.

McGreevey, a Democrat, announced he was gay in 2004 while he was in office as governor of New Jersey. The announcement came as he resigned from office revealing that he had an gay affair with another man while married to his wife.

Spitzer was more than willing to accommodate and extol his views on same-sex marriage, however. He served up such sympathetic questions as "Do you think that politicians still are behind the American public on this issue?" and gave credence to the belief that certain people are born gay.

"You just stated it in such a way that it's hard not to feel that that is absolutely the case," an enchanted Spitzer gushed after McGreevey explained that "if this is how God makes one, we need to understand that within the ark of American liberties."

The former New Jersey governor then indirectly criticized the state's present governor Chris Christie, who opposes legalizing same-sex marriage, saying of Christie and others that eventually "they will catch up with the decency of the American public." The American people are apparently ahead of the politicians on this issue and hold the "decent" position of legalizing same-sex marriage, and opponents will have to come around eventually.

Even President Obama didn't escape the scrutiny of the two Democrats, as Spitzer asked his guest if he was "disappointed" that the president is hesitant to "go beyond where he is" on the issue. "If only he could listen to Michelle more often," McGreevey quipped.

However, it wouldn't be a CNN pro-gay segment without the pundits bashing the Catholic Church and socially-conservative Christians and Jews. "You were raised a Catholic," Spitzer posed to McGreevey. "Does it bother you that the Catholic Church institutionally has been so recalcitrant on this issue?"

The two then went on a spree "interpreting" the Bible's teaching on homosexuality, where McGreevey's education at Yale Divinity School apparently gives him authority to launch typical liberal pointers on scripture. "And the purpose of scripture was not to engage in the prohibition of what I consider to be, as a Christian, of love," McGreevey preached.

"And so I think the bulwark of the Judeo-Christian ethic is to have an understanding of a transcendent god. Not a god that engages in religious-based bigotry," he added

A transcript of the segment, which aired on June 27 at 8:01 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

ELIOT SPITZER: Now for tonight's "American Issue." He shocked America in 2004. Jim McGreevey was governor of New Jersey when he grabbed headlines for being the highest-ranking elected official in the country to announce he was gay. Remember this?

(Video Clip)

Former New Jersey Gov. JIM MCGREEVEY (D): And so my truth is that I am a gay American. And I am blessed to live in the greatest nation with a tradition of civil liberties, the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world, and a country which provides so much to its people.

(End Video Clip)

SPITZER: McGreevey resigned the office later that year following revelations of a gay affair. Former Governor Jim McGreevey joins me now. Jim, thank you for being here.

MCGREEVEY: Thanks, Eliot.

SPITZER: So here it is seven years later. Attitudes have fundamentally shifted. Could you have predicted that we would get to this tipping point?

MCGREEVEY: No. I could not have predicted. And neither would I have thought necessarily we would have had an African-American as president of the United States. But one thing I think so many of us believe in is that is the basic decency of the American people. And that in the narrative of civil liberties expansion, the American public is typically ahead of the political class, as they were most recently.

SPITZER: And so you're saying something fascinating. Do you think that politicians still are behind the American public on this issue?

MCGREEVEY: Yes, I think both – Eliot, both in terms of culturally, on television programming, on people as they become more and more public, they come out of the closet. You understand a nephew, a son, a father is gay, a mother. And that begins to make it very personal. People understand – people have a personal connection with someone who is a member of the LGBT community, and it profoundly changes the dynamic.

SPITZER: Well, I don't think there's any question anybody who has a relative, a friend, and suddenly has that connection suddenly says, wait a minute – my preconceived views have to be wrong. But you make such a deep point, Jim. And it wasn't just about same-sex marriage or gay issues. It is about women's rights, labor rights, the environment. All of these critical movements began in the public. Politicians only catch up much later.

MCGREEVEY: Exactly. You look at Rachel Carlson, you look at civil rights movement. You look at the battle for feminism. You look at – and all of these movements – I mean there was a wellspring from the community. And people recognized the importance of advancing the public agenda.

SPITZER: But to come back to gay issues for the moment. It has crystallized in the last couple of years. I mean the movement for same-sex marriage, somehow the acceptance, the military's perspective, all of these things have reached a critical mass. What explains that?

MCGREEVEY: Well I think activists. I mean people like David Mixner, David Rothienberg. You know people – Evan Wolfson, they were in the vineyard for years and years and years and moving the agenda. And I think –

SPITZER: Let me just clarify. By "the vineyard" you don't mean Martha's Vineyard?

MCGREEVEY: No, I –

SPITZER: Toiling in the vineyard.

MCGREEVEY: Toiling in the vineyard.

SPITZER: Leading the movement out there in the grassroots.

MCGREEVEY: And beginning to understand that being – at least let me speak for myself. Being gay isn't an option. It isn't a matter –

SPITZER: Right.

MCGREEVEY: It isn't a discretion. It is who and what I am. And so when people began to understand that this is intrinsically who and what we are and that I don't have the ability to change, and God knows as an 8-year-old child on the playground had I had the ability I would have, then I think people understand, well, if this is how God makes one, we need to understand that within the ark of American liberties.

SPITZER: OK. You just stated it in such a way that it's hard not to feel that that is absolutely the case. So why are so many politicians still hesitant to accept it, and why I assume you know politicians who are gay who still don't publicly acknowledge it?

MCGREEVEY: Well, I mean, part of it is how we grew up. And part of it is the messages unfortunately from certain religious leadership that have a condemnatory attitude towards the LGBT community. But I think that is gradually – I think it's inevitable. And you look at young people and – you know, at the gay pride, I mean there's no sense of shame, there's no sense of recrimination, there's no sense of sackcloth and ashes. We are who we are. Let's move on.

SPITZER: But there's no question there's a generational demarcation point. I think you speak to the folks who are under 30 of almost –

MCGREEVEY: And they don't care.

SPITZER: That's right. Not only do they care, they say of course same-sex marriage should be (Unintelligible) –

MCGREEVEY: Yes.

SPITZER: I mean do you counsel elected officials who are gay but unwilling to admit it publicly that they should come out? Do you speak to them and have these conversations?

MCGREEVEY: I have talked to individuals. But I'm not so presumptuous as to say you should come out, you should not come out.

SPITZER: Right.

MCGREEVEY: Every individual has his or her own journey and I respect that.

SPITZER: How about President Obama? Are you disappointed in the hesitancy that he has shown to go beyond where he is?

MCGREEVEY: If he could only listen to Michelle more often. I think the president is moving. And you know for many elected officials they all started in the same place. You know marriage is between a man and a woman, but they understand that they're moving inevitably, catching up to the American public.

SPITZER: Are you tempted to get married?

MCGREEVEY: Yes. And when it comes to New Jersey, which I believe that it inevitably will, I think that time will come.

SPITZER: Now you're – subsequent success. I guess there have been a few in between. Governor Christie said the other day that he – he didn't say unalterably. But he's opposed to it. Let's listen to a quick sound bite from Chris Christie.

(Video Clip)

New Jersey Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R): My view on it is, in our state we're going to continue to pursue civil unions. I am not a fan of same-sex marriage. It's not something that I support. I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. That's my view. And that'll be the view of our state because I wouldn't sign a bill that, like the one that was in New York.

(End Video Clip)

SPITZER: All right. You have said that you would like to get married in New Jersey. Move to New York, you can get married here. But would you try to persuade Governor Christie that he's wrong about that? Will you try to persuade the legislature to override his veto and then pass a bill?

MCGREEVEY: Well, I think 10 years ago what Governor Christie said was the norm -- was the normative statement by Democrats and Republicans. And I think that will change. And I think Governor Christie or whomever is governor across this nation, they will catch up with the decency of the American public.

SPITZER: Now you referred to one of the factors holding back a larger movement among the general public is certain religious leaders who have attitudes that they claim are based in the bible or they have religious treatises that they look to.

MCGREEVEY: Yes –

SPITZER: You've studied. You're now in divinity school. You were raised a Catholic. Does it bother you that the Catholic Church institutionally has been so recalcitrant on this issue?

MCGREEVEY: Well, on one hand I mean, the church was a beacon of light on questions on civil rights, on social justice. But unfortunately, the bible has been used – I would argue, has been manipulated, whether to support racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and in this case, homophobia. And so we can manipulate the language of the bible as we will. I would argue the bible should be a source of transcending suffering and arguing for better angels. But unfortunately there are those who ignore a whole swath of what the Leviticus says from everything from touching a pigskin on Monday Night Football, but they still uphold certain prohibitions that are focused on Leviticus. So it's selective interpretation.

SPITZER: That's what I wanted to ask you. You have studied the text in a way that is certainly deeper than I have. And so when you look at what is presented as argument by religious leaders, do you think they are simply flat out wrong? You use the word "manipulate." Are they distorting the text or is this – do you have to acknowledge, OK, maybe it's a fair reading we just disagree with it and it's susceptible to multiple interpretations.

MCGREEVEY: Eliot, what they're doing is they're taking a literal translation – and some would argue whether or not it's an accurate literal translation of a certain segment – but then ignoring whole swaths of other segments of scripture that would prohibit them from doing things that we typically do today in American society. So we have to understand when we have to look at scripture through the prism of a modernist society. And the purpose of scripture was not to engage in the prohibition of what I consider it to be as a Christian, of love. And so I think the bulwark of the Judeo Christian ethic is to have an understanding of a transcendant god. Not a god that engages in religious-based bigotry.

SPITZER: Look, I certainly agree with you. The argument you just made is identical to the argument I as a lawyer make frequently about the Constitution.

MCGREEVEY: Yes.

SPITZER: There are multiple ways to interpret any document, whether it's the bible, the Constitution. I'm with you in that camp. This is a debate that will no doubt go on forever. Do you think there's progress within the church hierarchy on this issue?

MCGREEVEY: I think there's progress. And you know the reality is I have friends who are gay priests and I have friends of mine that are gay rabbis and they wrestle with these questions. And I'm proud to belong to an organization called Faith in America that tries to put these issues on front in the religious agenda to have a constructive dialogue, to move the religious community forward. The religious community can be such a source – a progressive voice – and God willing that's where it ought to be.

SPITZER: Are you going to run for public office again?

MCGREEVEY: No.

SPITZER: OK.

MCGREEVEY: I'm working with women in prison and that's where my heart is in prison advocacy. And I'd love to come back to talk about what's not happening in America's prisons.

SPITZER: And we will make sure that happens.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014