Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Had an Affair. Should We Judge Him For It?


Things are not looking great for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a conservative Republican and frequent defender of the sanctity of marriage, who was just busted for cheating on his wife. 

On Tuesday, Spencer Collier, a one-time friend of the governor and former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, claimed Bentley has been engaged in a relationship "of a sexual nature" with his chief advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, since at least 2014. The governor, whose wife of 50 years filed for divorce in 2015, has denied the affair with Mason, who is married. He did, however, admit to having had sexually explicit conversations with her after audio recordings of him doing exactly that were made public

"At times in the past, have I said things that I should not have said?" Bentley said at a press conference Wednesday. "Absolutely."

As calls for his resignation begin to mount, Bentley has maintained that his relationship with Mason was never physical, and that he did not abuse the power of his office to facilitate any sort of relationship. While it seems there are pieces missing from Bentley's story, it's inevitably resulted in an increasingly massive scandal. 

Brynn Anderson/AP

It is our place to care about one thing: Whether or not Bentley is lying about using state resources to commit infidelity. Because he is a public figure and leader, voters and taxpayers have the right to know if the governor has used the power with which he's been entrusted for anything but its intended purpose, be it an affair or some other activity. 

It also makes sense that people would get angry when someone like Bentley, whose political influence can meaningfully impact other people's lives, conducts himself in a way that seems to flagrantly disregard the standards he wants to impose on everyone else. It's hard not to feel outraged that someone who has been a fierce champion of "the Biblical definition of marriage" would engage in an extramarital affair. Same goes for similarly hypocritical politicians like former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Unfortunately for Bentley, his views on the sanctity of marriage have helped perpetuate the notion that we're entitled to know all of the details of other people's marriages and sexual relationships. In fact, for a long time, a key conservative argument against same-sex marriage has been that it's in our interest to care about romantic relationships that aren't our own. 

But Bentley's hypocrisy is only part of the reason why his alleged infidelity has piqued the public's interest.  We've begun to dissect the governor's personal life because we feel we have the right to do so — even though all things considered, we do not.

Steve Helber/AP

We're not qualified to insert ourselves into strangers' marriages or relationships, especially since many married people are in no position to judge in the first place. According to research from the Kinsey Institute, an estimated 10 to 15% of married women and 20 to 25% of married men engage in extramarital sex; some estimates for married men are as high as 72%. In other words, if we consider Bentley a hypocrite, then we should consider ourselves hypocrites too.

Just as we aren't entitled to know the circumstances of those spouses' infidelities, we're also not entitled to know the circumstances of Bentley's — at least outside what we're entitled to know about his role as a public servant. By publicly campaigning for respecting and enforcing a "biblical" definition of culture, Bentley has arguably contributed to a culture that takes it upon itself to regulate other people's personal lives. But that culture is bigger than him. 

As long as we insert ourselves into relationships we aren't part of, the dynamics of which we don't understand, we give others permission to insert themselves in our relationships, to judge us for how we lead our lives. Unfortunately, it's going to take more than one disgraced politician for us to realize that.