On Wednesday, 2016 Republican presidential prospect Dr. Ben Carson told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo that being gay was “absolutely” a choice. He cited “people who go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay.”
Beyond the surprise gut-punch of rhetorically lumping me in with prison inmates, Dr. Carson’s words angered me because they muddied the waters of an already murky scientific and cultural debate.
In a limited sense, Dr. Carson does have a point. Insisting all homosexual behavior comes from innate desires oversimplifies humans’ complex tapestry of emotions and sexualities. But that’s why Carson can’t generalize in reverse that sexual orientation is completely choosable.
As a neurosurgeon, he should appreciate the dangers of making blanket statements about science we still don’t understand well. Major studies on sexuality’s causes so far point to a complex interplay of several interacting genes and environmental factors such as prenatal hormone exposure.
In other words, the deeper you dig, the grayer the picture gets, discrediting Carson’s claim further.
The example of people in prison doesn’t help Carson’s case either. This case is part of a widely-studied sociological phenomenon of straight-identified men engaging in homosexual behavior out of situational convenience; not because they’ve chosen to identify as gay. There’s a huge difference between these people and others who feel an unalterable attraction to the same sex.
If Carson was right, and being gay were “absolutely” a choice, then Alan Turing, the British computer science pioneer who broke the Enigma Code, shortened World War II by 2-4 years, and saved 14-21 million lives in the process, would never have put himself at risk of chemical castration. We wouldn’t hear about so many high-profile “success stories” from the ex-gay conversion therapy movement coming out of the closet… again. And the over 13,600 service-members unnecessarily discharged from our military under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” would never have put their careers in danger by choosing to be gay.
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The biggest story so far surrounding this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the announcement that Phil Robertson, the controversial star of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty, will receive the second annual Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award.
No matter how much new buzz the announcement brings CPAC, the decision betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how free speech works, and where the future of nationally competitive conservatism lies.
At the end of 2013, Robertson was briefly suspended by the network over remarks he made in a GQ interview calling homosexuality sinful and comparing it to bestiality. At the time, his suspension sparked a culture war flare-up between gay rights supporters and social conservatives, who felt Robertson’s freedom of speech was being suppressed.
However, the Duck Dynasty flap (pun intended) was a dispute within a private organization well within its rights to take the action it did. A&E had the authority to suspend Robertson as soon as he voluntarily signed the contract for the show, no how it handled the controversy afterwards.
Had the government taken Duck Dynasty off the air, I’d be up in arms, even as a member of the very LGBT community he marginalized. But that is not what happened here.
The First Amendment protects Americans from government censorship. A network’s decision to craft the messages it broadcasts is itself an exercise of free speech.
And let’s not forget that A&E’s decision to reinstate Robertson after vociferous protests proves that the First Amendment was as healthy as ever. The government didn’t force anyone to do anything here.
Just as many argue that evangelical Christian bakers should not be forced to make wedding cakes for marriages they oppose, consistency demands that neither should a private television network be forced to air opinions it doesn’t want to promote. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and conservatives who truly care about promoting the values of the Founding Fathers will defend it regardless of its popularity.
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