On “New Day” yesterday, Dr. Ben Carson, who is inexplicably favored by some as a 2016 Presidential nominee (perhaps because electing someone with virtually no leadership experience has worked out so well), was asked by host Chris Cuomo whether being gay was a choice, Carson replied: “Absolutely.”
“Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question,” Carson said.
This, as anyone who has been conscious over the past 20 years or so should have been able to predict, caused great consternation among the gay community and thoughtful people generally. It was approximately as ignorant as Mets’ infielder Daniel Murphy’s comments yesterday about Billy Bean, a former major league baseball player who is the sport’s “ambassador for inclusion.” Murphy said,
“I disagree with his lifestyle.I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”
The difference is that Carson may be running for President, whereas all Murphy has to do is get on base and turn double plays, so Murphy saying utterly stupid things like claiming that being gay is a “lifestyle”isn’t all that relevant to his career choice. Actually, I’m not certain Carson’s statement isn’t worse, especially since he’s an educated man. I haven’t seen any surveys in which former prisoners say they have been “turned gay” in prison. We know that a lot of prisoners are raped, and we know that mane confined for long periods with other men and no women may resort to homosexual sex, but no research has suggested that this experience turns such men gay. Perhaps Carson believes that engaging in homosexual sex means a man is gay, which is like believing that a man stranded in the wilderness who survives on mushrooms and nuts is a vegan.
Carson, or whoever is trying to make this sow’s ear of a candidate into a Presidential purse, quickly decided that a retraction was in order, so Carson issued, on Facebook, a long apology, saying in part:
In a recent interview on CNN, I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues. I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.
I’m a doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine, who was blessed to work at perhaps the finest institution of medical knowledge in the world. Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.
I am not a politician and I answered a question without really thinking about it thoroughly. No excuses. I deeply regret my statement and I promise you, on this journey, I may err again, but unlike politicians when I make an error I will take full responsibility and never hide or parse words. As a human being my obligation is to learn from my mistakes and to treat all people with respect and dignity.
Carson may not be a politician, but he knows how to make a non-apology apology. He apologized only to those who were offended. He needed to apologize to every gay individual in the nation for claiming that they are “sinners,” which is what the statement that being gay is “absolutely” a choice means to devout Christians. He needed to apologize for abusing his status as a doctor by asserting as fact a position that the vast, vast number of researchers in the field do not believe is true—and this is not Carson’s field. He needed to apologize for conflating the very serious problem of prison rape with homosexuality, cleverly associating gays with criminals and rapists, and making, on national TV, an ignorant, insulting, irresponsible statement that pandered to anti-gay bias.
Carson is parsing words. How is “absolutely” a word choice issue? Does he mean that he should have said, “Indubitably”? If he means that he should have said “no” or “I don’t know,” why doesn’t he have the courage to say that, and disappoint all his anti-gay supporters? He hasn’t said he was wrong, or that he made a ridiculous argument, or that he expressed an incompetent opinion about something he knows little about as if he had some special expertise. His apology is itself misleading, saying that “there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.” Most researchers believe the issue is settled: what Carson means is that that he, and those who are committed to the idea that homosexuality is sinful conduct, not nature, do not choose to accept the research.
What I find definitive is gays themselves, who presumably know whether they mad a choice or not. As a college student, I questioned the very first gay man I ever knew, a wonderful, brilliant human being named Jeff Davies, on this matter, well before gay rights were widely accepted. He told me the story of his life in Wales as a boy who knew he was gay by the time he was eight. I have had similar conversations with over 40 gay friends and colleagues, and their stories were remarkably similar.
Does Carson’s statement to Cuomo disqualify him to be President, as some are saying? No, not by itself. If he were to recognize how foolish and irresponsible his statement was and come to sincerely reject his absurd assertion, that would enhance my opinion of him. Carson, however, isn’t qualified to be President even if he had given CNN a brilliant dissertation on the biology of sexual orientation. His apology, moreover, parsing words while grandstanding about how he was not, using the “I’m not a politician” excuse as if MDs are less accountable for on-air stupidity than pols, and generally speaking code to his anti-gay supporters while pretending to humble himself to the people he “offended,” is more disqualifying than the statement he was apologizing for.
I’d vote for Hillary over this guy.