I cheated on my wife with a man, admits governor as he quits

The governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey, sent shockwaves across the political landscape of America last night by abruptly announcing his intention to resign because, he said, he was a "gay American".

The Democrat, who was elected to lead one of America's most populous and politically important states two and a half years ago, made his astonishing public confession before a packed room of journalists and a live television audience with his wife at his side. His resignation would take effect from 15 November, he said.

"Shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affairs with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony," the Governor, who has two children with his wife, declared. "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable." He added: "My truth is I am a gay American." Mr McGreevey, whose tenure had already been overshadowed by corruption scandals, one involving his own chief of staff and another his most prolific campaign contributor, suggested that he had decided to leave office because of a risk that the extramarital affair could diminish his ability to govern. He noted that a sexual harassment lawsuit was pending against him, but offered no details.

"I am removing these threats by telling you about my sexuality," he said. Reports said the Governor was expecting to be hit by a sexual harassment suit from a former aide, who had acted as his security advisor until 2002 when he resigned.

The drama in Trenton, the state capital, comes at a time when gay rights are already in the spotlight in this year's presidential contest. President George Bush has supported an amendment to the US Constitution to make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to marry. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, is opposed to gay marriage but does not support amending the Constitution for it.

The predicament faced by Mr McGreevey - as well as by his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey - is certain to fan the flames of that debate. Massachusetts earlier this summer became the first state to allow gays and lesbians to receive a state marriage license.

Mr McGreevey, who succeeded Republican Christie Todd Whitman in the governor's mansion, is the second US governor to resign in recent months. In June, John Rowland, the former governor of Connecticut, stepped aside amid an inquiry into favours given to him by beneficiaries of state contracts.

Mr McGreevey said he had "grappled" with his own identity for a long time, referring to a "certain sense that separated me from others.". The doubts, he said, had been there since he was a child. Asking for his family's forgiveness, he added: "This is an intensely personal decision and not one typically for the public domain. Yet, it cannot and should not pass."