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30 August 2011

GOP Gay Disparagement, Like Alcoholism, a Choice

By Ari

I have already (tentatively) predicted that Obama will win reelection next year, and nothing coming out of the Republican Party causes me to doubt this. (Of course, it is still early, and the economy as well as the Middle East are especially volatile right now.)

Rick Perry, who I figured would rise to front-runner status, has managed to turn the religious right's social agenda into his campaign. Consider this headline from yesterday's Los Angeles Times: "Rick Perry signs anti-abortion pledge." This is the same issue, more than any other, that cost Ken Buck his senate seat last year.

Now a page of Perry's 2008 book causes Perry to follow Buck down another dead-end path: toward comparing homosexuality to alcoholism. Lynn Bartels has the details over at the Denver Post.

There is a difference between the comments of Perry and Buck, though.

In order to establish the full context, I'll quote from Perry's book On My Honor (page 70) more extensively than Bartels does:

Though I am no expert on the "nature versus nurture" debate, I can sympathize with those who believe sexual preference is genetic. It may be so, but it remains unproved. Even if it were, this does not mean we are ultimately not responsible for the active choices we make. Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

A loving, tolerant view toward those who have a different sexual preference is the ideal position -- for both the heterosexual and the homosexual. I do not believe in condemning homosexuals that I know personally. I believe in valuing their lives like any others, as our God in heaven does. Tolerance, however, should not only be asked of the proponents of traditional values. The radical homosexual movement seeks societal normalization of their sexual activity. I respect their right to engage in individual behavior of their choosing, but they must respect the right of millions in society to refuse to normalize their behavior.

The key point here that Bartels ignores is that Perry recognizes the political right of consenting adults to engage in homosexual sex. That's centrally important. Secondarily, Perry calls for "valuing" rather than "condemning" homosexuals. That's a good start.

Unfortunately, Perry's position is essentially "love the sinner, hate the sin." In comparing homosexuality to alcoholism and saying it deserves only "toleration" (as opposed to open acceptance), Perry is basically saying there's something wrong with homosexuality. And that position is wrong.

Given that Bartels (and others) have compared Perry's remarks to those of Ken Buck, it is worth returning to Buck's statements on the matter.

Here's what Buck said, extemporaneously, on Meet the Press: "I think that birth has an influence over it [homosexuality], like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically, you have a choice." As I have pointed out, Buck's remark is technically correct. It is indisputably true that "birth has an influence" over sexual orientation, but that "you have a choice" about your sexual partners. For example, some heterosexuals have gay sex or remain celibate, and some homosexuals have straight sex.

Buck's problem was two-fold. First, his comparison of homosexuality, something inherently fine, to alcoholism, something inherently bad and destructive, was a bad one. However, again his remark is technically true; there does seem to be an inborn component to alcoholism. Perry's remark is worse because it was written (as opposed to extemporaneous) and because Perry draws a tighter connection (versus Buck's remark about "some other things").

Second, Buck was an idiot for not leading with the story about how, as a prosecutor, he pursued hate-crime charges in a transgender-related crime. So here we had a prosecutor whose record was strongly pro-gay rights, being smeared by his critics and the media as some sort of knuckle-dragging troglotyte. That was very unfair toward Buck, though he's the one who set the tone of the discussion. (Note: I actually disapprove of "hate crime" legislation, because I think all crimes are hate crimes and that harming a heterosexual person is just as bad as harming a homosexual one. Plus I worry about starting down the road to thought crimes. But my motivation is much different from that of the religious right.)

Significantly, Buck quickly clarified: "I wasn't talking about being gay as a disease. I don't think that at all.

We'll see if Perry backtracks along similar lines. But, as a candidate, if you're spending your time backtracking, you're not moving forward.

This article originally was published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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