Tobi Hill-Meyer

If Sam Adams can lose his job for having sex, what about us?

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | January 25, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: beau breedlove, Oregon, Portland, Sam Adams, sex scandal, Sexual freedom

Sam Adams, the Mayor of Portland, OR, admitted this week that he engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with an 18 year old. Now he faces editorials and rallies calling for his resignation, and a few of each in his support.

While I believe that this is an absurd basis for an elected official to step down, it's been weighing heavily on my mind and only now have I realized why. In the same days that America is celebrating Obama's presidency as a fulfillment of the promise that any qualified candidate can occupy the highest office of the land, another official is being asked to step down based on a private and legal sexual relationship, which some find inherently objectionable.

If this is a case of "justifiable" discrimination based on sexual behavior that makes others uncomfortable, it has me wondering what in my sex life might make others uncomfortable, and what "justifiable" punishments I might face for it.

I grew up hearing about America's promise. Adults in my life would often comment on my insight and conflict resolution abilities with the suggestion that I should be president one day. When I was a youth commissioner on a county commission, another commissioner even offered to be my campaign manager when I first ran for office. With such encouragement, it was certainly something on my mind as an option.

America has it's first black president, and people are talking about how long it might be before a woman, or someone who's LGB, or even a trans person is president, yet I realized long ago that I will never see someone like myself in that office. As a trans woman of color who's openly poly, kinky, and involved in the sex industry, the highest office available to me is probably the water and electric board, and I can expect to face employment discrimination when people are aware of that. Sexuality is one area that is far too taboo.

So watching this scandal unfold, I take it personally. Most of his critics can't even name what they're upset about. Responding out of their own prejudicial disgust, they grasp at anything that might justify their emotional response.

Some claim that they might have began their relationship before Breedlove turned 18, but Adams brought a date to Breedlove's 18th birthday party - which would have been fairly rude if they had been involved. Some respond to the phrase "intern" and assume that Adams held an official position over Breedlove that he abused. Yet only a minor effort reveals that Breedlove was an intern for state legislator Kim Thatcher and was never employed by the city of Portland.

Those that are acting out of concern for Breedlove's safety don't seem to care about his own opinion. It's been three and a half years since their relationship ended including time Breedlove spent living out of the state. In his own public statement he says that "Sam Adams has always been a positive influence and friend to me." Without any reason to disbelieve him, continuing this violation of his privacy and can only be seen as a detriment to Breedlove's life and not a benefit.

Still others claim that there was nothing wrong about the relationship, but cite lying about his sex life as a breach of confidence with the public. Yet these critics seem to give a free pass to all the politicians who lie about policy matters, about legal matters, or even while under oath. Apparently this zero-tolerance policy about misleading the American people only applies to salacious details about personal sexual matters. This seems backwards to me. How many of us, if confronted publicly about embarrassing details of our sexuality, would similarly deny them.

Had he been honest, though, he likely would have gotten the exact same response he's getting now. The only difference is that his critics would have to come up with another rationalization for their discomfort. Because that's what it all comes down to - discomfort with someone else's sexuality.

When people are uncomfortable around someone's sexuality, it doesn't matter how honest or ethical they are around it. I've long given up hope of pursuing public office myself, but I would still really like to see representatives who represent me, who represent sex-positivity. Seeing the uproar around Sam Adams' personal sex life is a reminder of how far from that we are. I'm watching this issue carefully because if a politician cannot defend their own right to consensual sex with another adult that might make people uncomfortable, how will they ever be able to defend mine.


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My issue here is that he lied. If he would have been honest at the start and not lied than I would have no problem with him. He was asked about a possible relationship and he lied about it. If he would have looked at people and said point blank that it is a personal issue that does not have anything to do with his job and pointed out that the young man is of age then I could give this guy some support.
Instead he lied and that sends the message that there was something to lie about. That for some reason he felt that there was something so wrong in what he was doing that he had to hide it.
What he has done sets us all back a long ways by making it appear dirty and wrong.
I do think that the man should resign because he cannot be trusted and he has set us all back through his actions.

Lying is obviously bad. But it's pretty clear that this political storm doesn't exist because he lied. There have been many politicians in recent history who have lied -- about policy matters -- and not faced such a clamor for their resignation. How do you reconcile the fact that he may face serious repercussions and others won't, with the clear difference being that his lies were about sex? Are you going to go back over every other politician who lied in recent history and launch just as vociferous a campaign for their resignations?

I mean, you might be commenting here that he should resign because he lied, yet this post is here because of how much of an issue the media has made this, and that occurred because of the sexuality. Other politicians recently caught in lies haven't had this media storm, haven't had blog posts debating their resignation, and haven't given you the same opportunity to voice an opinion on their resignation.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 25, 2009 6:07 PM

He lied?! Almost every adult has lied at some point about sex. I wholeheartedly agree, Tobi, this sh*tstorm isn't about lying.

And I agree with Mercedes. Our society has such twisted, illogical, and internally inconsistent attitudes about sex and age. The love of my life to date was my daughter's age. She had just turned 21 when we started dating. There was nothing exploitative or harmful in our relationship--we remain close to this day despite the fact that we life on opposite coasts and broke up more than four years ago.

Her family almost disowned her when they found out we were dating. Yet they wholeheartedly endorsed her sister's marriage to a man as much her senior but who happened to be a multi-millionaire--which illustrates that, to this day, marriage is as much about property as about love.

I wish Americans would grow up and adopt a more European attitude toward sex and politics. I don't give a sh*t who gets blown by whom in the Oval Office. What I care about is that our heads of state promote peace, resource and energy conservation, justice, equality, separation of church and state, the rule of law, etc.

Tobi, I do agree with what you have said. I really don't think that the public needs to know who you are dating and what you do in the bedroom, especially if you are single. The oath for the office that you take is about whether or not you do the job not about your personal life. I know that looking at your personal life does bring about questions of character but dating and doing what everyone else does in the country is not out of line.

Tobi as far as I can tell, you haven't lied or mislead anyone. In the strictest sense who you are or how you arrange your sex life shouldn't qualify or disqualify you for public office or employment.

The thing is, character and temperament play a huge part in who we select to serve in pubic office or hire to work in our agencies or businesses. The question then becomes what do those things you listed say about your character and temperament and what should they say about your character and temperament?

How much of that is fair comment and how much results in unfair discrimination?

For example, the nature and degree of your involvement in the sexwork industry is way more than I want to know, but it does give me pause to wonder about your willingness to insure that the laws be faithfully executed if you were to stand for election to executive office.

I would agree with you if this were just about sex. If I'm not mistaken he ran as openly gay. I'd be with you if this were about old guys having sex with young guys. It is about a lie to cover up what may be illegal activity. The problem is there are no credible voices in all this. Adams lied, Beau was asked and agreed to lie. Taking a date to your underaged boyfriend's family birthday party is a perfect foil.

The saddest thing is that the fallout from this affair turns the mentoring relationship into another euphemism for tryst.

(for the record, your talent would be wasted on the water and electric board. On the other hand, you'd be a fine legislator)

Greg,

I haven't lied, but if my boss, or my parents, or the press started interrogating me about sensitive aspects of my sex life that I know others wouldn't fully understand, I might. And if my refusal to answer was met with "That means she has something to hide," then I would be even more motivated to give them the outright denial that they want.

I don't believe this is about illegal activity. But let me follow you for a moment in questioning what if it were?

We can all agree that statutory rape dates are arbitrary. When I was a teenager I was in a relationship that was legal in Oregon and illegal California. The ultimate goal, however, is to protect the minor. Even if their relationship began a month or two before Breedlove's birthday, where is the harm? It's been plenty of time for him to be able to look back on his relationship and decide that it was an abuse of power, yet he has come out saying precisely that it wasn't.

I really like the Netherlands approach to statutory rape, which creates a window (I can't recall, but perhaps 16-18), in which it is not automatically illegal to have sex but there is increased scrutiny. If a complaint is filed, then people investigate the relationship and attempt to determine whether or not there was an abusive dynamic. A healthy relationship is an adequate defense.

I expect your response will be, that we don't have that system, that a relationship between an adult and someone 17.9 years old is illegal, and it was his alleged willingness to break the law and cover it up that is the issue. But surely not all laws are worth following. It was not that long ago that sodomy was illegal.

If we were talking about two men of the same age, who lied about having a relationship because it would be assumed they were engaging in illegal sodomy, would you be responding the same way? If the news came out and they feebly defended their relationship as consisting of mutual masturbation and not oral sex, would you condemn their coverup and demand an investigation?

If you would, we might just have to acknowledge we have different viewpoints here. For me, the ultimate issue is harm. I don't believe anything illegal occurred, yet even if proof comes up that it has, I don't believe any harm has occurred. And that's the bottom line I care about.

Tobi,

I see your point. And as I wrote on Alex's post I'm torn. I'm fed up with Pols lying, and this is a witch hunt.

I admit that I hold elected officials (or candidates) to a higher standard. I do so because they are asking me to allow them to substitute their judgement on public policy for my own. I may be a little Frank Capra in this but there you have it.

If this was John Q Citizen I'd be thinking like you, "where's the harm". If I was sitting on even this guy's jury I'd never vote to convict.

While I'm not happy with the way he's behaved in all of this I don't think it is something he should resign over. It is ultimately up to the citizens of Portland the next time his name appears on a ballot.

If we lived in a sex-positive society, I might be less likely to forgive this guy. But in my view, he has responded the same way millions of other Queer folk have responded when their livelihood was threatened by inquiries into their personal lives.

The appropriate answer, perhaps, "My sex life is none of you damned business", may have served him better, but like so many others, FEAR was likely part of the equation.

He has committed no crime. He does not even stand accused of misconduct, criminal or otherwise. In short, he's no Blago.

If it were a crime for a politician to lie to the press, only compulsive truth-tellers like Larry Flynt, Kate Clinton and Lewis Black could aspire to high office.

Mr. Adams should NOT resign, he should serve out his term, do a heckuva job, and be true to himself and his community.

Michael Reis | January 25, 2009 2:12 PM

We are not alone. Many other people can lose their jobs for other things.

If high school principals and teachers have DWI records or police records, they can lose their jobs.

If municipal employees run up parking tickets and stall to pay them up (in the same city where they work), they can lose their jobs.

Remember Mayor Barry of Washington D.C. and his cocaine habit?

So it is not only gay people that can be fired. Sex is not the only reason to get fired.

The higher in the hierarchy you go up, the more importance placed upon leadership quality, credibility and responsibility. I agree with GregC.

Other gay politicians in Congress and state offices have partners and that does not raise any media attention. In Congress, Barney Frank was accused more than ten years ago of going out with Congressional pages - the issues were underage boys and abuse of power. He has been censured and he has survived this old episode.

About working in the sex trade and running for the electric utilities board, that would be a gray area. The utility board assumes that its members are serious to serve the public interest and intelligent to make crucial decisions about setting utility rates and policy. However, I think that a prostitute was elected to one board a long time ago and she served her term well. That was the exception, not the rule.

Michael,

All of the things that you mention, though, are illegal. I definitely understand how those who break the law might not be fit to serve in leadership positions. In this case, though, we're not talking about any laws being broken. There's no investigation into whether or not laws were broken. That's what makes this situation more upsetting to me.

About sex work, I'll remind you that a significant portion of the sex industry is legal work. There's nothing incompatible between having worked in the sex industry and having the public interest at heart. Yet even those who do break those laws, I personally would have no reservations voting for as I see them as unjust laws. Just as I would have no reservations voting for someone who was arrested at a sit in back from the civil rights movement.

Oops, let me clarify, I saw an article that said that the police are not launching an investigation, but another article I read says that the attorney general will be.

I completely agree with you. If their is no evidence of wrong doing such as age of consent issues or miss use of authority. Then I see no real reason for this to even be a issue.

If a heterosexual had been in this situation I doubt it would be much more than a local media scandal and over in a week.

It seems that everyone is blaming Adams for being so dumb to have an affair with an 18yo guy. Many forget that it takes two to tango and unless Breedlove was raped then it was a consensual LEGAL relationship between 2 adults. No law was broken. Also most states feel that a 16 or 17yo is old enough to make a consensual decision on sex.

Howcome a 15yo can be tried as an adult for murder but a 17yo (in a few states) isn't mature enough to make a decision who he/she can have sex with? Our legal system is screwed up.

We seem to be a nation filled prudish people basking in their so-called morals based on draconian principles with a Bible in hand. Give me a break!!

I remind you that congressman Vitter from Lousiana cheated on his wife, broke the law by having sex with a whore and is still in office. He refused to resign. Why isn't he being thrown out of office for breaking the law?

Why the hell should Adams resign for having consensual sex with an adult and lying about it?

It seems that everyone is blaming Adams for being so dumb to have an affair with an 18yo guy. Many forget that it takes two to tango and unless Breedlove was raped then it was a consensual LEGAL relationship between 2 adults. No law was broken. Also most states feel that a 16 or 17yo is old enough to make a consensual decision on sex. Oregon's consent law is draconian. Hell most of Europe thinks a 14 or 15yo is plenty old enough to make a judgment of whether to have sex or not.

Howcome a 15yo can be tried as an adult for murder but a 17yo (in a few states) isn't mature enough to make a decision who he/she can have sex with? Our legal system is screwed up.

We seem to be a nation filled prudish people basking in their so-called morals based on fictional and unproven religious beliefs. Give me a break!!

I remind you that congressman Vitter from Lousiana cheated on his wife, broke the law by having sex with a whore and is still in office. He refused to resign. Why isn't he being thrown out of office for breaking the law? He admitted to breaking the law. Adams broke no laws.

Why the hell should Adams resign for having consensual sex with an adult and lying about it? He was screwed no matter if he answered the question or not answered it. The question should have never been asked in the first place. If he refused to answer the question then people would think he is hiding something anyway. If he said "none of your business" most prudes would think he is stand-offish and arrogant and wouldn't vote for him. So the guy did the next best thing and lied.

Something that may be an element and that I don't konw the full story on (how old is Sam Adams?) is a possible age difference. I've seen it happen where someone in his 40s connects with someone who's 18ish, and 20 years later, they're still together. So things aren't always as seemy as they look, and I don't have issue with that, but I do know that many do. Is that a factor here?

I don't buy the "he lied so he shouldn't be in office" argument for a lot of the same reasons that you point out. It's a definite discrepancy when lies pertaining to personal matters are relevant and lies pertaining to one's governance aren't. Which President was it who got impeached again?

Scandal is simply an easy, effective and popular tool used to sabotage people.

I am a gay man but don't take this one personally. It's about trust and credability. If I were living in Portland, I would call for his resignation as well. If he lies about his personal affairs, how can I trust him to be honest and above board in all his other duties as Mayor? None of this would have happened if he was honest from the outset about his affair with the younger man. A perfect example of what I mean happened last year in baseball. Both Andy Pettite and Jason Giambi admitted they took steroids and apologized. They were forgiven. On he other hand, Roger Clemons lied under oath about taking steroids and now he is in trouble with the federal government. He can kiss the Baseball Hall of Fame goodby.

That the media only picks on salacious sex lies to call for resignations is obvious. They're completely biased and they prove it every day.

What I like even less is the haughty moral tone they take towards those who criticize them, as if we're somehow approving of lying by saying that Sam Adams should not resign. They see themselves as the guardians of the public's morality and they know that they need to cast themselves as the nation's ruler-wielding nuns every now and then so people don't see how much in bed with politicians they are.

This is as much about their power as it is about Adams's, and they probably legitimately think that this is what counts as "holding" a politician's "feet to the fire." All other substantive issues, well, lies are just a difference of opinion.

Still waiting for those WMD's to appear in Iraq, though.... And yet we can't even get the same sort of circus nationally to call for prosecution of Bush.

If we put all these statements together, one would have to come to the conclusion that fornication and sodomy are worse than genocide.

The answer to the article title is "Yes". If I kissed a 17 yo in the bathroom of the place I work I'd probably get fired. If I lied about it and then later got caught not only would I probably be fired, nobody would trust me. Even if I told my friends I was only grooming him for sex and we were waiting till he was 18.

I said nothing about approving of the media circus being made of it. And yes for all of those who lied I would like to see them resign.
Simple really: If you do not wish to air a personal issue then when you are asked about it you should refuse to answer on the grounds that it has nothing to do with your job and is a personal matter.

I've just seen a statement by Adams' boyfriend quoted in The Oregonian that they did kiss and move towards romance when he was 17. So Breedlove is now evidently telling a different story than Adams told
http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/01/breedlove.html

Because of these revelations by Breedlove, the issue is no longer about consensual sex between two adults. I would not be surprised to see prosecutors launch a criminal investigation on whether the two males' relationship went all the way when Breedlove was a minor. Adams is already on record as lying about this whole matter, so he may have lied when he stated that the two didn't have sex till Breedlove turned 18.

So Adams' lie is an issue, but it isn't the biggest issue.

Some commenters are missing that biggest issue, which is this: sex with minors is a criminal offense, whether you're gay or straight. The age of consent in Oregon is 18, not 17. We can all argue till the cows come home, as Tobi and others are arguing, about whether age-of-consent sex laws are unreasonable. But the fact is -- that is the law, and it can be enforced.

The lies (if that's what they are) would constitute "obstruction of justice," for sure. Lies by a public official certainly damage that official's credibility, as they did in Bill Clinton's case. But let's not go farther in comparing Adams' situation with that of Bill Clinton, because there was no question of Clinton having sex with minors when he told his now-famous lie.

I think that this suspicion that Adams might have broken the law is the main thing driving Adams' critics, and their demands for his resignation, even those coming from a portion of the local LGBT community...the ones who get what the real issue may be here. Because if Adams did break the law, the consequences won't be a mere question of "being fired because you had sex."

If he is charged, Adams will get his day in court, where he can fight to prove himself innocent. But if he is convicted, he will likely go to prison, and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. And his political career will be toast.

Thanks for posting this breaking news. I suppose to those who think that even as Breedlove comes clean he must still be lying, the possibility of sex before his birthday brings the specter of crossing the line from legal to illegal.

But if the arbitrary line of legal or illegal is the one thing that matters to you, this new information doesn't mean that it has been crossed. Lips are generally not considered "sexual" or "intimate" parts of the body. The legislature has a phobia of saying words like "penis" and "vagina," it's pretty clear that this phrasing is a euphemism for body parts like those. If they had meant to include lips, I doubt they would have balked at using the word. Even the oregonlive article seems to see the kissing as legal, if perhaps suggestive.

If there's an investigation that turns up actual illegal behavior, that will be different. Considering the fact that Breedlove always wanted to come clean, however, I have my doubts that he wanted to come clean about something that could land Adams in jail, or that his coming clean right now is still a deception. But for right now, an adult kissing someone 17.9 years old is just as legal as having sex with someone 18.0 years old.

Some might claim that even if this is legal, it must be wrong. But I'd say such people are cherry picking Breedlove's statement. He makes it clear that the events of this week have been more trying on him than his relationship with Adams.

If harm to Breedlove is the ultimate issue, regardless of following the law, then it's the Willamette Week editors who we should be calling to resign. If following the rule of law is the ultimate issue, then no action other than further investigation is necessary. But that's just it, the vast majority of the calls for his resignation have been based in neither the rule of law nor his having abused someone. They've been about the salacious details of a sordid sexual affair.

Tobi, the real point is this: If there is an investigation of whether an illegal act was committed, the opinions of "pro and con" that you and I have, and all the rest of us in the LGBT world have, are not going to matter. What will matter is the opinion of pertinent people in the justice system as to whether Adams is innocent or not.

“sex with minors is a criminal offense, whether you're gay or straight. The age of consent in Oregon is 18, not 17.”

I totally agree with Patricia about this.

“State law says third-degree sexual abuse, which is a misdemeanor, can occur when someone subjects another person to "sexual contact" when the person either does not consent to the advance or is younger than 18. The law defines sexual contact as "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person ... for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either party." (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/01/breedlove.html)

From my point of view, Adam’s twice kissing Breedlove broke this law even if they did not have sexual intercourse.

“Breedlove said he believed the kissing was indeed romantic. He hoped for -- but didn't see much chance of -- a relationship with Adams.”

To me the Oregon state law is very direct – an adult having sex with someone under the age of 18 is a criminal offense. Be that a heterosexual or homosexual relationship. It is no different than a 30 year-old teacher having sex with one of her/his students.

As for Adams, from my reading of the Oregonlive article, he has possibly lied twice about his affair with Breedlove. If he had been truthful when asked about this, in my mind he would have had grounds to remain as mayor. At this point he gave up his right to be mayor when he lied so that he could get elected.

“Adams last week admitted that he lied in the fall of 2007 during the early days of his campaign for mayor when he denied having a sexual relationship with Breedlove. Adams said he lied -- and asked Breedlove to lie -- to protect his chances of winning the mayor's race because he didn't think anyone would believe he didn't have sex with an underage Breedlove.”

There is a def "Oh my Gosh!" factor, considering the age gap and the bit of ambiguity surrounding Breedlove's age at the beginning of their relationship. If he 'happened to be' under 18, the law is pretty clear in Oregon:


163.415 Sexual abuse in the third degree.
(1) A person commits the crime of sexual abuse in the third degree if the person subjects another person to sexual contact and:

(a) The victim does not consent to the sexual contact; or

(b) The victim is incapable of consent by reason of being under 18 years of age.

So my sense is that Adams cut his trip to the Inauguration short because he wanted be home to contain the PR damage, as well as try do douse any fires that might move in the direction of questions surrounding the initial encounters.

Adams admitted he asked the boy to lie:
(Huffington Post)

And he admitted he asked the teen initially to deny the relationship. "I am deeply sorry that I asked him to lie for me," he said.

Adams made sure that the focus shifted to the fact that he lied to the public about the affair because of the "inappropriateness of the age gap", and even had his Chief Of Staff weigh in on the same factor:
(Huffington Post again)

Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, voiced concern about Adams' decision to ask the teen to lie.

"It reveals a much more strategic and planned effort to mislead people," Kovatch said.

This seems like an intentional attempt to shift media focus. I might be over-analyzing it though.

The bottom line is that to me it feels like he was somehow 'out of control' in the relationship. The way he apologized seemed to confirm that, and having someone in that position who can lose control with sexual desires and take fairly big risks, makes me immediately question what other kinds of shenanigans might be going on. I think it'll blow over though.