Jim McGreevey announces he is gay

Just two years ago, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey was a family man with a beautiful wife and two daughters by his side. He was also one of the most powerful governors in the country, with dreams of the White House. For decades he worked to shape his public image, all while hiding a secret he thought would destroy his career and his life—a secret he finally revealed to the world.

"I am a gay American. Shamefully, I engaged in an adult, consensual affair with another man. ... I have decided the right course of action is to resign," he said at a press conference two years ago, with his wife at his side.

In his brutally honest book, The Confession, Jim writes "the closet starves a man and when he gets a chance, he gorges 'til it sickens him."

For the first time, Jim talks exclusively about the private and agonizing story behind his very public fall from office.
Jim and his sisters

Jim was a young boy with enormous goals. In grammar school, he introduced himself as the future Secretary of State. "For me, politics was a passionate love affair. I just wasn't taken with politics, I was enraptured with politics," Jim says.

But even at the age of six, Jim sensed he was different. He feared his true nature would threaten his dreams.

"I couldn't achieve anything that I wanted professionally if people knew that I was gay. I could never be a mayor, I could never be elected governor," he says.

Growing up in a working class, Irish-Catholic family, Jim felt he couldn't divulge his secret to anyone. He knew other children who came from similar backgrounds as he did, but no other kids who were gay. Confused about his feelings, Jim sought answers anywhere he could get them—including the library.

"I remember reading books on homosexuality, and it [had words] like 'perversion.' 'Abomination.' 'Psychiatric disorder,'" Jim says. "And then also, as a strong Irish Catholic, the church talked about mortal sin and damnation. I'm like, I don't want to own this. This is horrific. I've got to do something about this."
Jim McGreevey

Throughout his school years, Jim continued to try to understand his feelings. "All of a sudden when I was in sixth, seventh grade, I'm, like, 'Uh-oh. Something's going on here,'" Jim says. "Because, you know, I'm not liking Mary and Sally."

It was at camp that Jim feared his secret might be revealed. After helping a friend take off his knapsack, the other campers starting making fun of him, even making homosexual slurs.

"So that night, when all the other kids are in bed and some of the older kids are out around the campfire ... I'm laying in my pup tent with my buddy and I start hearing 'faggot' and 'homo' and [the names] get worse and worse," Jim says.

The stress took its toll, and Jim says he even had thoughts of suicide. "I thought I had something that nobody else had and then [when] you read that you have this perversion, this 'psychiatric disorder,' you're like, 'Damn it. I've got to do something about it,'" he says. "And you become more and more weak, vulnerable. I thought, 'How am I going to deal with this?' And you begin to think..."
Adult book store

Around the time Jim entered law school, he says he began experimenting with his homosexuality, but not in ways that were healthy. Jim says he had sexual encounters with strange men in seedy book stores, city parks, highway rest stops and even in an open alley behind a Washington D.C. synagogue.

"There was no gay bar that I could go to without being discovered. So the only place that I could discover who I was, was, sadly, in places of anonymity, places in dark shadows where I could begin to experiment sexually," Jim says. "My sex was condemned to hellish places."

"I'd never been in a gay relationship that was loving, that was tender...that was anything more than a couple hours long," he says.
Jim and his first wife, Kari

As Jim struggled with his homosexuality, he created a family life for himself so that he could bury his true feelings and continue pursuing his political dreams.

After marrying his first wife Kari, Jim remembers thinking, "This is it." But after having one daughter, Jim and Kari divorced.

In October 2000, Jim married Dina in Washington, D.C. right across from the White House. So why did Jim marry another woman?

"To me, it was all tied together. The marriage ceremony, this beautiful wife, a career. It's all about pretending," Jim says. "You do it because you believe that being gay is wrong, is immoral, is a sin ... you want to be godly."

Jim says he wanted the "dream"—complete with a 50th wedding anniversary with parents, kids and grandkids. "You want Christmas. You want Easter. You want kids running around. And from when I grew up, being gay was something that was shameful, something that was an abomination, something that was ridiculed. Who the heck is running towards that?" Jim says.

"[Being gay] was something to be contained, something to be denied, something to be overcome, and eventually, something to be managed," he says.
Golan Cipel

It wasn't until he reached his 40s that Jim says he finally fell in love with a man. On a trip to Israel, Jim met Golan Cipel. Jim found himself immediately flirting with the Israeli sailor and believed that the "bright, articulate" man was flirting back.

"My attraction to him was immediate and intense," Jim writes in his book. "From the minute I walked into the building, I felt it. Our eyes met over and over before we were introduced."

Golan knew about Jim's first bid for governor, and Jim admits that ego and flattery played a big role in their instant attraction.

"I felt when I met Golan, my earth shifted," Jim says.

Even though Jim started a life with Dina, he decided to finalize plans to move Golan to the United States—and to get him a job as an employee of his campaign for governor.
Jim McGreevey

In 2002, Jim's public persona was nearly picture perfect. He was elected governor, had a beautiful wife and new baby daughter. Despite having the "ideal" life, Jim says that he maintained a secret relationship.

As Dina recovered in the hospital after a difficult pregnancy, Jim says Golan repeatedly called him looking for a new job in his administration.

"The election was in November. Dina's in the hospital with a terrible C-section. Golan's calling and calling and calling, and he wants to get together. And so I say, come over," Jim says.

Jim says he thought the meeting would be strictly professional but that it soon turned sexual. In his book, Jim writes, "I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed. We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean. It sent me through the roof."

Still, Jim admits that what he did that night was a betrayal to his marriage.

"What I did in that instance was terribly wrong, was morally an abomination. But I thought I could contain these two universes. And that's what I tried to do," Jim says.
Jim McGreevey and Oprah

Jim says that his and Golan's relationship had some turbulent times in the past and that he didn't want to see the warning signs that something was very wrong. Golan could be demanding, Jim says.

Although he once questioned his plan to bring Golan to the United States, Jim says he never wavered. After Golan came aboard Jim's campaign, other workers complained about working with him. "There weren't many who liked him," Jim says.

It wasn't until later that Jim says he came to believe that Golan loved power more than he loved Jim. "I wanted to believe in my core sense that he loved me for being me," Jim says.

Jim admits that had it not been for an alleged blackmail plot by Golan to reveal his secret life, he probably would have never confessed.

"I don't think I would have ever had the courage to come out of the closet," Jim says. "This was a major course correction in my life."

Oprah Show producers attempted to contact Golan Cipel through his attorney for comment. Their calls and emails were not returned.

It's important to note that Golan has stated publicly that he was sexually harassed. He has also denied that he ever attempted to blackmail Jim and he also says he never filed any lawsuits against Jim. Golan was investigated for extortion, but he hasn't been charged. He's insisted publicly that he is not gay and he contends that he had a non-consensual sexual relationship with Jim.

When asked how Jim feels about Golan's statements, he says, "It is what it is. I know in my heart what the truth was."
Jim McGreevey and Oprah

For years, New Jersey newspapers and radio shows speculated about Jim's sexuality, but inside the McGreevey household, Jim says the topic was never discussed.

Finally, days before Jim revealed his secret to the world, he sat his wife Dina down in the governor's mansion and made a painful admission. "I just said to her that I had done something very wrong. I had been involved in another relationship...a relationship with a man," Jim says.

At first, Jim says that Dina was stunned and very hurt. "There was anger subsequent to that—legitimate anger."

As New Jersey's first lady, Dina stood by Jim's side as he resigned from office. In photos, she looks calm and composed, but Jim says she collapsed a few days later. "I think the stress, the pressure, the pain of it all became almost unbearable for her to manage," he says. Dina and Jim are currently separated and a divorce is pending.
Jim McGreevey

The day Jim told Dina the truth, he also stopped lying to himself. "Part of the hell of being in the closet is you're denying your own existence," he says. "You try to maintain this public existence of a husband ... then you're also in the closet saying, 'This is my authentic self.'"

As a politician, Jim struggled to keep his secret both personally and professionally. Once as governor, Jim addressed a gay rights organization while holding his daughter to make people think he wasn't gay.

"I remember saying 'How sick is this?' ... I want to be authentic," Jim says. "I thought to myself that I belong there with these people because this happens to be my tribe, and I'm up here pretending to be something I'm not."

On the day of his infamous resignation speech—August 12, 2004—Jim says he took prayer cards into the bathroom and prayed to his grandmother. "I said to her, 'This is it. This is who I am. It's sort of crazy to be doing this at 47 years of age, but damn it, it's here, it's now, and I'm doing it,'" he says.

Since coming out of the closet, Jim's goals have shifted away from politics and turned inward. "I want to be who it is that God wants me to be," he says.
Jim McGreevey and Oprah

Jim's spiritual outlook on life didn't come easily following his public disgrace. After losing his wife, his job and his identity, Jim turned to the 12-step program and Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, for guidance.

"Frankl talks about love, and he talks about God," Jim says. "When you strip away everything that we have in this world, we have love and we have God. ... At the end of [life], that's all you're taking with you anyway."

The 12-step program, which was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, helped Jim—who's not an alcoholic—understand humanity, confront his sins and accept God, he says.

At the urging of a friend, Jim also checked into a rehabilitation clinic for a week of crisis intervention after resigning from office. While at the clinic, he says he restructured his life and reconnected with his inner child.
Jim McGreevey and Oprah

Jim continues to deal with his past in a very public way. His autobiography, The Confession, exposes shocking details about his double life. Jim hopes that his honest approach helps mend old wounds and encourages people living with a painful secret.

"[The book is] an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, an act of contrition to everybody I've pained," he says. "It's also, God willing, to ask people to have the courage to be who they are. ... If there's a gay kid [out] there, God bless him or her. Allow that kid to be gay. Allow that kid to be loved. Allow that kid to nourish and find godliness in her life. Don't ask people to change for our sake."

Jim says writing a book was an important part of his spiritual journey. Oprah also thinks the former governor's story will inspire many readers. "[Your book] will be a great help to all the people who are hiding from themselves," Oprah says.
Jim and Mark at their New Jersey mansion

Today, Jim is not only living his life out of the closet, he's sharing it with Mark O'Donnell, his life partner and true love.

In 2005, Jim met Mark, an Australian business executive, at a cocktail party and struck up a conversation about biographies and history. At the end of the evening, Jim—still new to the gay dating scene—asked Mark, "So, what do we do now?" Mark said, "We have dinner."

The couple is now sharing a historic New Jersey mansion and building a new life together. "I just knew that Mark was meant to be my life partner," Jim says. "We just have a very full and loving relationship. ... It's a great gift."
Jim and Mark

As a child, Jim was terrified that his father, a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and his mother would discover his true feelings. Now that his sexuality in no longer a secret, he says his family has been very open and accepting. When his parents and sister met Mark at a diner, "they just loved him," Jim says.

Jim says that his two daughters have also embraced his new lifestyle and life partner. He described how recently his 13-year-old daughter, his ex-wife Kari and his ex-mother-in-law spent a week at his home. "We had pancakes. We went to church. We went shopping. It was a family," Jim says. "[My daughter] accepts me."

Jim's younger daughter is only 4 years old, but he says she has already grown to love Mark. Dina, her mother and Jim's second wife, who has decided not to speak publicly about their marriage, is still "in transition," he says.
Jim, Mark and Oprah

When Jim was the governor of New Jersey, he says he put up a façade to hide his true feelings. As part of his carefully constructed public image, he went against his personal beliefs and voted against gay marriage.

"I opposed [gay marriage] because you don't want anybody to think that you're gay," he says. Jim admits that he was afraid his critics would call him a homosexual if he voted for the controversial amendment.

Now, Jim isn't afraid to share his real opinion on the topic. "I think gay marriage only strengthens marriage," he says. "If you want the world to play by good rules, healthy rules like commitment or respect, then you can't have a different set of rules for different groups of people."
Jim McGreevey

As a child, Jim dreamed of being Secretary of State. After focusing on campaigns and elections for almost 40 years, Jim is putting his political aspirations on hold to focus on a personal platform.

"I want to work with kids," he says. "Fourteen million American kids tonight will go to bed not knowing where their next meal is. In the greatest, most powerful country in the world, we can do a lot better than [that]."