The Cycle
updated 3/28/2013 7:22:56 PM ET 2013-03-28T23:22:56

New Jersey’s former Governor Jim McGreevey discusses coming out and the fight for equal rights.

After two days of arguments in front of the Supreme Court, supporters of marriage equality wait to hear what the High Court will decide. One American who is watching closely is New Jersey’s former Governor Jim McGreevey. In 2004 he was exposed for his affair with another man. Disgraced and then divorced, he found a new path. Now he’s working as part of the Episcopal Church where he acts as a spiritual adviser to women  in prison.

“Obviously it’s a very interesting and exciting week and to go back eight years, one would never have expected to see such movement,” McGreevey said on Thursday’s show. “I think perhaps what will happen is that Justice Kennedy and there will be a 5 court majority to rule against DOMA standing and allow states to serve as incubators of change.”

“In the closet you are almost forced to create a parallel construction between who you are as an individual and your heart’s longings, and what you think you have to do to be publicly accepted,” McGreevey said. Coming out of the closet–even at the cost of his political career–liberated him, he said. What gay people want, he said, “is what all Americans want, and that is to be treated fairly and to be treated equitably.”

Video: Recounting Jim McGreevey's fall from grace and personal rebuilding

  1. Closed captioning of: Recounting Jim McGreevey's fall from grace and personal rebuilding

    >>> supporters of marriage equality have their fingers crossed following two days at the supreme court . it is now up to the nine justices. we already know where the court of public opinion stands for the first time ever. the majority of americans support gay marriage . it is up 21% since 2004 . and remember that year, 2004 ? president george w. bush was reelected, the summer olympics were held in athens and the golden boy of american politics fell from grace after his affair with another man was exposed. was the day the house of cards collapsed on jim mcgreevey .

    >> i engaged in adult consensual affair with another man which violates my bonds of matrimony. it was wrong. it was foolish. it was inexcusable. and for this, i ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

    >> his path took him from the governor's mansion to the episcopal church where he acts as an openly gay spiritual adviser to women in prison while working toward the priest hood. the governor's fascinating journey is featured in the hbo documentary film , fall to grace which debuts on hbo tonight. take a look.

    >> from being in the closet is a prison of sorts.

    >> for a gay man, there were so many times in my life where i felt filled with shame and guilt and ugliness and now to move through this. i hope to do that for these women .

    >> joining us now, our form he governor jim mcgreevey and the filmmaker behind that documentary, thank you both for being here. and governor, i want to start with you on the news of the week. what is your take on the supreme court 's taking up doma and proposition 8 this week?

    >> well, obviously, it is a very interesting and exciting week. and to go back eight years, one would have never expected to see such movement. but while i'm hopeful that at some point in american jurisprudence will recognize that gay rights and marriage between same sex couples ought to be a matter of equal protection from the questions of justice kennedy , i think perhaps what will happen is that justice kennedy and there will be a five-court majority to rule against doma standing, and allow the states to serve as incubators of change. but ultimately, i think what gay persons want is what all americans want. that is to be treated fairly, to be treated equitably.

    >> we just played a little bit of your famous coming out moment. i want to play a little more of that.

    >> do you have to?

    >> it makes little difference that as governor, i am gay. in fact, having the ability to truthfully set forth my i'd everybody might have enabled me to be more forthright in fulfilling and discharging my constitutional obligations.

    >> governor, i look at that as a great moment. i watched that press conference as it happened. i was very proud for and you the way you handled that. can you talk about your emotions in that moment and if you felt liberated in that very unique national coming out moment?

    >> there was a certain amount of obvious liberation. that's what the danger of the closet is. because in the closet, you're almost forced to create this parallel construction between who you are as an individual, your heart's longings, and what you think you have to do to be publicly accepted. and so after knowing that i was different when i was at the age of 5 or 6 and knowing that i was gay at 8 or 9, and if i can, so many people recognize that coming to the understanding that you're gay happens one person at a time. whether you grow up italian american or african-american, your race, your religion, that is handed down by narrative and stories from generation to generation. but each person basically themselves figures out whether or not they're gay. and so when i came to that recognition, my church said it was an abomination, and at the time i was labeled as a psychiatric illness . it was something that obviously, i didn't want to he will brace and so i spent the better part of my life denying it. so at one point, there was a moment of great liberation and truth telling and authenticity. but it was obviously also a very painful moment for a lot of other reasons.

    >> why do you think americans are so interested in the family lives and the sex lives of our politicians?

    >> god, i wish i knew the answer to that. i'm sorry. i thought i had all the answers. i'm realizing, let's go back to jim . jim , why do you think people are obsessed with their sex lives ?

    >> this is what she always does to me.

    >> you know what, this is what she does to me. i just asked her the question.

    >> exactly. but you haven't been traveling -- yes. did you just join the panel?

    >> i want to know why you think people are obsessed with it.

    >> you know, i just think that humans, the women that i work with in jail. i think we all yearn for the same things. we yearn for love, for purpose in our lives. the difficulty about politics for me is that you're trying to prong, you're trying to prong a view, trying to project if you will, something that will resonate with the voters. and there was, obviously for me a difference between who i was author authentically and what that pronjection was. so that is what people are interested in.

    >> governor, you also talked about the sense of ego that you had to sort of reconcile with. maybe being somewhat addicted to adoration. you said you thought therapy for that. i'm wondering how that's going. you're here today. you're a part of this movie. i watched you on bill maher recently. you did a great job. do you still have this feeling, this need to be loved?

    >> obviously, on this show right now, i am having a serious relapse. no.

    >> we love you though.

    >> glad you're here, by the way.

    >> when alexandra came to my partner mark and i, it was something that we didn't readily embrace. we have a wonderful life . wave good life. and i have a great sense of purpose in working with a woman and frankly, next week, that's what i'll be doing. so this will be very much in the past. but what i loved about what alexandra did, she spent time with women . and if i can, if jim mcgreevey , if my broken story has any good to come from it. if we can focus on the women and the men behind bars , it would have been worth it. america is 5% of the world's population and we're 25% of the incarcerated population in the world. we're first followed by russia and then rwanda. and 70% of the people behind bars are addicts. that's the reason why they engage in criminal behavior . there was a great study but not in columbia. only 11% of those people get treated. so the sad reality is in american prisons is that two-thirds of people after they're released will commit another serious felony within three years of release. so we're engaging respectfully in a stupid system. it is a 66% failure rate . and this is something that republicans, people like chuck colson , democrats, democrats can rally around. we're spending a prohibitive amount of money, $74 billion on our incarceration system. we have a two-thirds failure rate . and we're not treating the addictions which is the approximate cause of the women i work with, their criminal behavior .

    >> so the answer to the question of why are you allowing people to shine the light out is because you want to talk about the women . you don't want to talk about the train wreck that was your life. you want to talk about how the criminal justice system is broken.

    >> see, it works that she answers my questions and i answer hers.

    >> is it working?

    >> delayed but --

    >> i do want to say having watched the film that i do think that is one of the powerful takeaways from it. both that you see yourself in the women that you're helping and there is a scene that really moved me as a mother and also an expectant mother, where the women are with their children. and you recognize that it is not just these individuals who are impacted. there is community impact. it is a heart breaking moment.

    >> if i can, that was a heart -- when i first, when alexandra , when i first saw the film and i remember that. when my dear friend ashley, a woman with whom i worked for two years, and her daughters there, and she had just told her daughter that she was in jail. so this was one of the first visits. her daughter is hugging her and the lieutenant comes, says well, it's time for count. that means you have to go back to lockup.

    >> don't give away the whole movie. it is so painful when the daughter leaves and she doesn't want to let go of her mother. this is what we have to understand. children of felons are six time as likely themselves to become felons. what we're doing is we're creating this ever increasing burgeoning prison population. we're not educating people. we're not asking them to work. and so there is something, i believe, morally wrong with how we do prisons. you look at how the israelis do it. how the norwegians do it. where countries are innovative, teaching people employment benefits, how to be productive. what do we do? we just lock people up.

    >> i really appreciate you both being here and governor, in particular, you being willing to share your story and the story of these women . thank you so much.

    >> they've also given me such a great source of strength.

    >> and thank you for the intervention for jim right now. i think it is really helping.

    >>> up next, the president's last stand for gun control and


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