But the lawyer who reviewed the letter, James Roosevelt Jr., said the party’s involvement had been overstated. As the party’s counsel, he offered the same help he would to any affiliated organization, which in this case involved advising the students to change “two or three words” that he said were “too inflammatory or accusatory” in the draft.
He said he also advised the group not to make the letter public, as it told him it planned to do.
“In a case of libel and slander, truth is a defense,” Mr. Roosevelt said he advised them, adding: “I don’t know what the truth is and you don’t either. So make it a private letter.” The students sent the letter to Mr. Morse privately, but soon The Daily Collegian had a copy and published its article.
Experts who study questions of sex and power in politics said that Mr. Morse would most likely not be the last L.G.B.T.Q. politician thrown on the defensive about his sex life, and that we have most likely only seen the beginning of those attacks as more people who are open about their sexual orientation and gender identity run for office.
Even though the presidential candidacy of Pete Buttigieg broke barriers, his sexual history was never much of an issue because he came out relatively late in adulthood and has been with his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, for much of that time.
But for younger, single men like Mr. Morse, their dating history is often subject to a troubling level of scrutiny, said Joseph Fischel, who teaches a class at Yale University called “Theory and Politics of Sexual Consent” and has written extensively on the subject of sex and power dynamics.
“Americans are OK with gay politicians as long as they’re sexless,” Mr. Fischel said. That thinking, combined with the quick judgment people often make about political sex scandals, he added, could be especially dangerous for L.G.B.T.Q. candidates.
“There are other things we can fabricate or make up that would sink someone’s career. But suggestions of sexual impropriety take on a life of their own and so often lead to quick and sloppy thought,” Mr. Fischel added.