On Wednesday, perpetually controversial conservative Ben Carson told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that being gay is “absolutely” a choice.
I agree, kind of. Last week I wrote an essay for The Washington Post in which I talked about wanting my daughter to be gay—implicitly and explicitly challenging the idea long advanced by gay rights advocates that being gay is not a choice. I’m not saying being gay necessarily is a conscious choice for many queer folks today, but I am saying it should be able to be a choice—and one that is “equally desirable to being straight.”
In other words, for me, the idea that people might be able to choose to be gay is a natural extension of eliminating the second-class, lesser-than status of gayness in society.
This is, however, not the case for Ben Carson. Mr. Carson is most definitively not endorsing the full moral and social equality of gayness.
Asked why he thinks being gay is a choice, Carson said, “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.”
Yes, obviously they all met Alex Voss and, bam, they were gay. If orange is the new black, prisons are the new women’s colleges. This, incidentally, is literally the only potentially positive twist on America’s atrociously skyrocketing rates of incarceration over the last 50 years.
Ben Carson also said that while, sure, gay people should get some of the rights of married couples, they shouldn’t get equal status—regurgitating the sort of troubling separate-but-equal logic that should disturb all Americans. One would have hoped we could leave such prejudiced rationales in the past. Apparently not.
Mr. Carson is a perfect Republican figurehead for this moment in history—thoroughly out of touch with the strong majority of Americans and even the majority of sensible Republicans and yet nonetheless exciting and resonating with a small but vocal wing of right-wing zealots desperate for any distraction from the fact that reality is rapidly decoupling from their ideals. Almost two-thirds of Americans support full marriage equality for same-sex couples. That reflects an increase of a full 14 percentage points from less than five years ago. The tide is turning, and Ben Carson and his acolytes are trying to ride the wave of resentment.
But that wave is waning, too. While 27 percent of evangelical Christians overall oppose marriage equality, 43 percent of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 33 support same-sex marriage. These youngin’s are not the ones clamoring for Carson. They are, however, probably to be counted in the libertarian support for criminal justice reform. Because they think our bloated prison system is unfair, wasteful and counterproductive—not because they’re worried it’s producing homos.
I suppose there’s one other way in which I agree with Ben Carson—I think it is good for America for Mr. Carson to be out there sharing his views. Mr. Carson probably feels this because he actually thinks his views are good for America. I do not. But I do think that it is good for America to have a clear articulation of the outlandish, paranoid, hateful ideology with which we now need to distance ourselves once and for all.
And that distancing should, hopefully, include the Republican Party—which needs to alienate itself from the extreme fringe of right-wingers who seek to alienate the rest of the country. We only have two parties in this country, dang it. We can no longer afford to have one of them co-opted by the fanatical fringe.
Ben Carson has called Obamacare “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” He’s said people should read Mein Kampf to understand President Obama’s vision. He’s compared gay marriage to child abuse and bestiality. He blamed police shootings of black men in Ferguson on “women’s lib.”
Keep at it, Ben Carson. I, for one, believe you choose to say such crazy things and 100 percent support your choice to say them. And I will be cheering you on as you run your own credibility and the legitimacy of the political wing you represent into the ground.