Democratic Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, 68, looked heartbroken, shocked and devastated during an impromptu press conference outside his office at the State House, where he publicly addressed allegations that his spouse, Bryon Hefner, 38, groped and assaulted four men who do business before the Senate.
“My heart goes out to anyone who may have been hurt, and I am committed to helping anyone who has been harmed,” Rosenberg read from his statement in front of reporters. “This has been the most difficult time in my political life, and in my personal life.”
Hefner’s accusers said that over a three-year period he’d grabbed their genitals, and one said Hefner kissed him against his will. Because Hefner boasted about his tremendous influence on Rosenberg, the men felt powerless to come forth until the recent rash of men and women stepping forward publicly saying “Me, too” in shedding light on the magnitude and pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual assault in our culture.
While three of the accusers allege the incidents happened with Rosenberg mere feet away, there is no evidence he knew of the assaults. Regrettably, Rosenberg has stepped down temporarily from his post while the Senate investigates if Hefner interfered with the State House’s internal affairs – which Rosenberg emphatically denies.
Many are asking, myself included, is it fair to hold Rosenberg responsible for the actions of his spouse?
“If it were him being accused, it would be different, but it’s against his husband,” Steve Chojnacki, 61, of Amherst, told The Boston Globe. “Should he really step down if he hasn’t committed a crime?”
Rosenberg is loved and respected by his colleagues as well as out in the community. He’s a policy wonk with decades of exemplary service, including as chairman of the Election Laws, Banking and Senate Ways and Means committees; as assistant majority leader; and as the Senate’s first president pro tempore when the post was created in the mid-2000s.
Rosenberg, who credits his coming out publicly to Hefner, is the first openly gay Senate president, making him the highest-ranking elected LGBTQ official in state history. He was one of the key voices in arguing in the State House for same-sex marriage.
Some years ago Rosenberg wrote a letter to his fellow Democratic senators that he had “enforced a firewall between my private life and the business of the Senate” when Hefner, his then-fiancé, purported to be involved with the internal affairs of Senate business.
Sadly, aspersions are always cast on spouses, mostly wives, for the misdeeds, infidelities and predatory behaviors of their husbands.
But cheating spouses behave the way they do for a sundry of reasons: insecurity, anger, revenge, jealously, lack of maturity, lack of impulse control, to end a marriage (referred to as an “exit affair”), in the belief sexting and flirting are harmless, because drugs and alcohol impair judgment, as a result of childhood abuse, or simply not knowing the difference between romantic intensity and long-term love, to name just a few.
So why is Rosenberg’s in the hot seat with the Senate for Hefner’s behavior?
Some argue for transparency in allowing victims to come forth without the fear of reprisal. Others argue for the integrity of the Senate to give a public display of zero tolerance for sexual harassment at the workplace and to restore public confidence. And many others simply want to know how Rosenberg could not know of Hefner’s egregious behavior.
“Even though, based on what little I have been told, these allegations do not involve members or employees of the Senate and did not occur in the State House, I take them seriously,” Rosenberg read from his statement. “To the best of my recollection I was not approached by anyone with complaints during or after the alleged incidents … or I would have tried to intervene.”
Trying to disentangle Rosenberg’s innocence from Hefner’s transgressions is a classic example of the shackles and double binds placed on spouses.
Rosenberg’s political career, legacy and legitimacy as an honest and trustworthy elected official are tarnished, if not tanked. And it’s not for any wrongdoings he did, but rather for the vile behavior of his spouse.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.