‘All In’: Marriage, rights and hypocrisy in the case of David Petraeus

US Politics
on 22 Comments

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.

This post originally appeared on the Gender & Sexuality Law blog.

About Katherine Franke

Katherine Franke, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director of the Gender and Sexuality Program at Columbia Law School. Franke is a well-known scholar of feminism, sexuality and race. She has just completed a book entitled "Emancipation Proclamation." In addition to her Gender Justice course, she co-directs the Feminist Theory Workshop and teaches Civil Rights Law and Critical Legal Thought.

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22 Responses

  1. Stephen Shenfield
    November 12, 2012, 8:17 pm

    Sex scandals come in handy as a way of entertaining the public and distracting people from anything that matters. Wouldn’t the best response be simply to ignore them?

    • Mooser
      November 13, 2012, 1:23 pm

      “Wouldn’t the best response be simply to ignore them?”

      How about if we re-educate ourselves, and make a public apology?

      But if you feel, Stephen, that breaking a holy sacred promise to a woman (not to mention a contract) is a trivial thing, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of chance to make your case. Does it work out better for you when people ignore your….no, no point being nasty. At any rate, I’m sure Petreaus appreciates you doing sentry duty. Those war-criminal Generals like good gate-keepers.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        November 13, 2012, 6:32 pm

        You misunderstand me. I was not talking about the actual behavior of Petraeus and Broadwell, which is as selfish and ruthless in the private as in the public sphere. I was talking about the scandal as such — that is, the media exploitation of the affair to provide cheap entertainment for a prurient and hypocritical public (consider the photo).

        On second thoughts, I should not have said that this business doesn’t matter. I’m sure it matters to the people concerned. But for the rest of the world it matters very little compared to the evil these people do in their public capacities.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        November 14, 2012, 1:31 pm

        I do feel that your offensive personal comments merit a protest. The new comments policy doesn’t seem to be working very effectively.

        I am strongly anti-religious, so I do not regard anything as “holy” or “sacred” — I can’t even grasp what the words mean except in anthropological terms. Nor do I think it is helpful to think of personal relationships as contracts. If you care for someone, you will naturally want to avoid doing things that may cause them distress. That is all.

      • Citizen
        November 15, 2012, 11:22 am

        @ Shenfield
        I tend to agree, and besides any remnant of caring, there is that some of us cannot stifle our sense of fairness and truth.

    • Ellen
      November 13, 2012, 7:34 pm

      How would you feel if you lost a child or any loved one in Afghanistan while the generals in charge were busy with their mistress and/or sending hundreds of juvenile flirtatious emails to their social liaisons in Tampa.

      It is a freak show.

      • Citizen
        November 15, 2012, 11:20 am

        It is hard to wrap my head around the quantity of emails that one general send out to a woman. How did he have time for anything else?

  2. DICKERSON3870
    November 12, 2012, 10:40 pm

    RE: “hypocrisy in the case of David Petraeus”

    MY REPLY: Well, after all, this is America – the “(shining) city upon a hill”. And our much ballyhooed “American exceptionalism” inevitably necessitates unprecedented levels of hypocrisy!

    • City upon a Hill – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_upon_a_Hill

    P.S. “FREE DON” SIEGELMAN PETITION – http://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-please-restore-justice-and-pardon-my-dad

  3. mcohen
    November 13, 2012, 4:27 am

    Petraeus: Did a great man have to fall?
    11/12/2012 22:51
    The lesson for the rest of us mere mortals is that if someone with the iron discipline of General Petraeus can err this big, we all need to be on our guard.

    anyone spot the glee or is it losing mind,again

  4. Mooser
    November 13, 2012, 12:10 pm

    By the way, a much more plausible explanation of the origin of the Petreaus scandal is here:


  5. John Smithson
    November 13, 2012, 12:31 pm

    “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.”

    When you marry someone, you take a vow/make a promise. When you cheat on your spouse it marks you as a moral defective, an oath-breaker. Argue away, but my advice is: ‘Never go into business with/trust a man that cheats on his wife (or husband, in the gay case) because he’ll lie to anyone’. I am assuming gay people will take marriage as seriously as heterosexuals – should I not?

    The specifics of this case will come out over time, but yes you really should NOT trust those people that cheat on their spouses – there really is something wrong with them morally. and you’ll know that after they violate your trust too.

    God I’m old fashioned aren’t I. I even plan to pay off my mortgage – what a cad I am.

    • Woody Tanaka
      November 13, 2012, 1:13 pm

      John Smithson, this is a foolish and short-sighted view. Businesses aren’t built on oaths, they’re built on contracts. And the business world fully recognizes the theory of efficient breach: that is, there are circumstances where the better choice is to breach a contract and aborb the loss that the breach entails, rather than being in a worse position by fulfilling the contract but doing it anyway because you view it as some moral matter. The simple fact that someone cheated on a spouse does not give you any insight into whether the person would be a good buisiness partner. Indeed, I would say that a horrible business partner would be one who makes an economically dumb move because he thinks he has to “protect his word.” (A prime example is people who are in non-recourse states who are underwater on their mortgages, but are destroying their person economies trying to live up to the terms of their mortgage contracts instead of simply walking away and letting the bank take the loss because “they gave their words.”) So you can trust your business partner, but protect yourself.

      And unless you are privy to all the intimate details of a marriage, you’re not in any position to say whether that cheating was a moral failure at all. It very well could be that it was merely the end result in the other partners’ moral failures, or simply the fact that the marriage has long ago broken down.

      • Citizen
        November 15, 2012, 11:30 am

        Well, yeah, Woody, but then, are there any lines that can’t be crossed?

    • Mooser
      November 13, 2012, 1:28 pm

      “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.”

      Wait a minute, that’s what happens to me when I have sex with the person who is my spouse!

  6. seafoid
    November 13, 2012, 12:56 pm

    “When you marry someone, you take a vow/make a promise”

    Never to torture anyone. Never to destroy their homes. Or to murder anyone.

    Petraeus is a sociopath. Big deal if he slept with someone else. I’m sure they really care in Kandahar and Fallujah. Especially the widows.

  7. Mooser
    November 13, 2012, 1:05 pm

    “I even plan to pay off my mortgage”

    Don’t do that. I haven’t had a peaceful night since that awful day. What kind of a person lives without paying rent or a mortgage? Only two, a house sitter, or a squatter. I’ve been waiting for the real owners of the house to come back, throw me out, and bill me for the damage and wear! (since the house consists of two refrigerator-freezer boxes, it won’t be much)
    And what the hell will you have to talk about with people anymore? You want to alienate people? Just mention your house is paid off. Remember: “You are what you owe”!

    • Citizen
      November 15, 2012, 11:32 am

      Well, you could take a middle approach and pay off your condo, but still have to pay ever increasing assessment fees every month, not to mention those fearsome special assessments that seem to pop up too much.

  8. mcohen
    November 13, 2012, 7:30 pm

    Mooser here is the link on betraeus


  9. Citizen
    November 15, 2012, 2:29 pm

    We all know Petraeus is a whore for Israel from the accidental emails he sent out showing his groveling to Max Boot, AIPAC, not to mention before Congress he left his concern that the US one-sided Israel policy as harming US best interests–in his briefcase, when he was questioned orally. Latest I heard was he was going to testify about what he knew about the terrorist attack on the Libya embassy as it happened (as, though he stepped down, he was the CIA head at the time).

    I get this terrible, sinking feeling, the Obama regime was more concerned about Obama PR than the Americans at the embassy when it was attacked, and that it therefore called off US ready response to said attack at the time of the attack–for the same reason Johnson did when the USS Liberty was attacked and US ready response was also called off.

    I wanna puke.

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