Guest Blogger

Vitter’s Values or Crime & Punishment

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 24, 2007 9:56 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: David Vitter, DC Madam, Eric Marcus, Frank Rich, prostitution, punishment

(This guest post comes to us from Eric Marcus, an NYC-based author who wrote Making Gay History, Breaking the Surface, Is It A Choice?, and several other books on gay issues. He blogs at Up & Out. ~a.b.)

David Vitter, the Republican Senator from Louisiana, is not your average John. He’s a family values John. No mere defender of traditional marriage, he declared, as Frank Rich wrote in his July 22 New York Times column, “that there is no ‘more important’ issue facing America than altering the constitution to defend marriage.”

And just because he was caught up in the DC Madam scandal and was forced to acknowledge his transgressions before the cameras while holding his wife’s hand (she had once threatened to use that hand to Bobbitt him if she caught him doing what he’s now admitted he’s done, so I’m surprised he wasn’t holding both her hands) that doesn’t make him any less a believer in the sanctity of marriage. It does, however, make him a hypocrite and a law-breaker. And for these crimes he must be punished.

I propose a two-part punishment: removal from the Senate and restitution to the women whose services he paid for. If Vitter had the values most of us value, he would have used his recent press conference to announce his resignation. But he doesn’t and he didn’t, so the Senator’s Republican colleagues, at least the righteous ones among them, should persuade him to resign. Failing that, the full Senate should vote to expel him.

Regarding restitution, some might argue that this was a victimless crime and that Vitter doesn’t owe the women with whom he sex anything more than he’s already paid. I disagree. So I propose that Vitter pay for first-class health insurance—like the plan that all members of Congress have voted to give themselves—for all of the women he slept with. And their children. For life. (Family values Republicans are no fans of condoms, so we can only speculate what the good Senator might have exposed these women to.)

Maybe good Christians can find it in their hearts to forgive this serial sinner and let him work out his public shame in private. But I’m no Christian and I have no doubt that this hard-charging, upstanding straight guy who campaigned to screw us gay folks out of the legal right to marry—while he paid to screw someone other than his wife—must be punished. Let’s put old-fashioned American values to work. Send him home. Make him pay.


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Thanks for this post Alex -- it has given me much to think about and I will try to pull all of these ideas together for a response.

First thing that comes to my head is that this post sounds very anti-sex work/er to me. Vitter may have broken the law, but since laws banning prostitution are alienating, anti-queer, oppressive, and violent I'm not sure why you'd be so willing to punish him for it.

And the comment about the condoms and ‘exposing’ the women was just like – come on, Alex. You’re just promoting this idea that prostitutes are passive and inherently diseased, rather than women (or men or non gender conforming people) who can make decisions about their own bodies and who they will or will not have sex with and under what conditions.

Also, when you say you disagree that this is a victimless crime what are you talking about? Is sex work somehow more oppressive than work in the agriculture or garment industry or any other work in this capitalist system? If the prostitutes Vitter hired deserve full health insurance, then don’t the day laborers that provide Vitter the food he eats deserve the same? I mean, obviously they do, but you never mentioned that -- which makes it sound like sex workers are greater victims of capitalism simply because their job involves sex.

So that is what I am thinking of first. Then oh right, you're making a point about hypocrisy and family values. Your objection really doesn’t seem to be that he used a prostitution service after all, but rather 1) that this act was somehow anti-family 2) that he is therefore a hypocrite because of his pro-family values political stance that includes opposition to same-sex marriage. This is where everything for me gets really complicated and interesting. You said:

But I’m no Christian and I have no doubt that this hard-charging, upstanding straight guy who campaigned to screw us gay folks out of the legal right to marry—while he paid to screw someone other than his wife—must be punished.

What have we learned from Mattilda and her writing? Families aren’t necessarily safe, and gay couples fighting for the ‘dominant signs of straight conformity’ such as marriage (participatory patriarchy) is one aspect of the violence of gay assimilation. So there is this incredible intersection in your post:

A single act, a single exchange of sex for money -- which may exist in a larger sexist/racist/queerphobic/imperialist context, but as a single act is at least no more violent than putting on a pair of sweatshop produced pants in the morning - is juxtaposed with the much larger institutional violence of US government sponsored marriage and gay assimilation.

It's a lot to think about.

Nick:

A) I didn't write this, Eric Marcus did. It seems as though every time I guest post something from Eric everyone thinks it's mine. I suppose I should be flattered - he's an incredibly talented writer who's had a profound effect on my relationship with queerness and developing a positive sense of non-heterosexual identity. But I still think that the credit for this post should go to the person who wrote it.

B) I think you're taking it way too literally. Is he saying that only those women Vitter slept with should have health care? Um, no. He's just talking about Vitter's participation in a larger patriarchal system that devalues women's health, especially poor women's health, and found a creative way to make that point.

C) On marriage - I'll agree (wait, I don't think you ever say this, so it isn't all that much "agreeing", but I'll just say it anyway) that marriage has taken too central of a position in gay movements lately, and I'll say that that positioning needs to be rethought (is the movement towards health care/sexual autonomy/elder care/child care/etc., or are those just being thrown around to make people feel better about something that we're driving towards just to expand the field of normalized sexuality to include "good queers"?), hell, I'll even say that a better way to equality is just to get rid of government-sponsored marriage and have a few rights set up for not-necessarily-conjugal couples (hospital visitation, etc.) with the material benefits like health care being guaranteed to all.

But I'm absolutely not going to criticize any gay or lesbian couple who wants to get married under this current system because change doesn't start by denying things to the people already on the outskirts/side of an institution, and because there are already hundreds of million people out there who'd do whatever they could to delegitimize queer sexual decisions and I can't see a movement against marriage that obsesses over same-sex nuptials and ignores everything else as being based on much besides an attempt to pathologize and control non-normative sexuality.

Don't believe me? Your last paragraph where you take prostitution out of the "sexist/racist/queerphobic/imperialist context" it resides in (where's the magic wand that did that?) and then say that the violence of gay marriage is somehow "much larger" than the violence of that context shows a complete distortion of value. I'm usually not one to compare oppression, but my God, imperialism has hurt more people than gay marriage ever will.

Eric Marcus | July 24, 2007 9:27 PM

For God’s sake, Vitter is a flaming hypocrite. I’m not writing about whether marriage is good or bad or whether marriage should be the focus of the gay rights movement or whether people have the right to choose to sell their bodies. I'm writing about a Senator who has built his career on a families values platform, who pays for sex with someone other than his wife, and at the same time campaigns against the right of gay people to legally marry (and plenty of gay people want that right). Vitter shouldn’t be allowed to simply publicly repent for his sin and go on like nothing has happened. Maybe next time I’ll write about the pros and cons of marriage or prostitution. This is about hypocrisy. Plain and simple.

Steve Ralls | July 25, 2007 9:45 AM

David Vitter has no shame. A check of his Senate website this morning shows that he's still proudly proclaiming his allegiance to abstinence-only education.

Check out his June letter exhalting the virtues of the program:

http://www.vitter.senate.gov/forms/abstinenceLetter.pdf

"These funds help communities implement quality abstinence education programs," he writes, "and teach their children important lessons about health and character that will impact them their entire lives."

Apparently, those are lessons Vitter's parents never gave him. HE is going to lecture the rest of the country about 'character' and 'absitenence?' Give me a break.