Cory Booker and the Upside of Out

The speculation about Cory Booker's sexuality is all wrong—an openly gay politician on the national stage would be at a great advantage

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Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker speaks to the media after casting his ballot during the Senate primary election in Newark, N.J., Aug. 13, 2013.

“I don’t intend to answer.” “So what does it matter if I am?” “Why should that matter?”

These are the answers Cory Booker has been giving the media about questions as to whether he is gay. The fact is, whether it’s fair or not, the mystery surrounding Booker’s personal life, fed by his puckishly elusive non-denials, has led to speculation over the years about his orientation. While only Booker can speak to the personal part of the equation, the political part should be clear: An openly gay politician on the national stage would not suffer for his disclosure—he would almost certainly benefit.

(Read more: Michael Scherer, “Cory Booker’s Opponent Takes Republican Macho Too Far.”)

Now, first off, for those arguing that gay public figures have a responsibility to come out to help normalize homosexuality in everyday people’s minds, they should be able to understand this: If Booker is gay, that would have been as impossible to present to Newark as a blonde girlfriend.

While the gap between blacks’ and whites’ acceptance of gay marriage has been shrinking of late, black American culture is, nonetheless, still deeply Christian. It isn’t for nothing that so many of its key leaders have been ministers and preachers. Besides that, it is still a culture in which Tracy Morgan has felt comfortable joking that if a son of his revealed he was gay he’d “pull out a knife and stab that little n—-r” and so on. To become Newark’s mayor, Booker even had to face gay-baiting from incumbent opponent Sharpe James, a Democrat.

In our time, one could not be openly gay and hope to take the reins in Newark (any more than one could be a gay mayor of Allentown). In fact, he’d be best advised not to make any announcement, if he has one, until he is no longer mayor of that town.

But after that?

Some will say it’s too soon. But some always do, and some are always saying it too late. Remember how smugly certain so many smart people were, as late as the early evening of November 4, 2008, that America just wasn’t ready for a black president? Acceptance of homosexuality in America has advanced by leaps and bounds over just the past few years in this country. The case that America isn’t ready to elect an openly gay U.S. senator is no more self-evident than the now antique-seeming one against Obama in 2008; and in seven more years, it could be even more plausible for America to elect a gay president.

But wait—it “doesn’t matter” who Booker sleeps with, right? Well, maybe it won’t in about 2030. But in our times, it does, though not in the way you might think: It could help him reach the highest heights.

Especially by 2020, it might well even be a plus factor among a certain stratum of voters if Booker were gay—i.e. exactly the stratum that reveled in the enlightenment of cheering for a black presidential candidate. Booker is neither a comedian, larger than life, nor a preacher, and being “Supermayor” only goes so far—he could use a hook. With Obama now the new normal, blackness alone won’t do it anymore. Being gay would. And how about gay and black?

One assumes that if Booker is gay, he knows all of this and would come clean once he’s in Washington.

Or, of course, he very well may not be gay—despite this guessing game, which is at least partly his creation. But it’s to his advantage if he is.