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Ben Carson: 'Progressive' on Homosexuality?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Ben Carson got himself into some trouble a couple of weeks back for remarks concerning homosexuality that he made during an exchange with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

However, I’m not sure what exactly it is that Carson said that ignited such controversy—or any controversy.


Carson expressed his position that homosexuality—presumably, homosexual desire, not just conduct—is the product of choice. To substantiate his thesis, Carson alluded to the phenomenon of (ostensibly) heterosexual prisoners who, upon engaging in homosexual relations while incarcerated, “become” gay.

Cuomo agreed that such a phenomenon occurs. But—for reasons that he failed to specify—Cuomo disagreed that this example vindicates Carson’s view.

Unsurprisingly, so-called “conservatives” in the media, including those who claim to be Carson’s admirers, pounced on Carson with all of the fury—and more—unleashed upon him by the usual suspects on the left. Carson, one pundit insisted, was finished.

All of this was extremely odd. Granted, Carson is about as eloquent as he is a strong speaker: he’s not eloquent at all. And while he is doubtless a man of great intelligence, this doesn’t mean that he’s either politically savvy or a critical thinker. Carson shouldn’t have insisted that homosexual orientation per se, i.e. in all instances, is a choice. It was also a mistake to use the example of male prisoners, rather than, say, lesbians, to legitimize his point.

Still, if we were as remotely interested in logic as we are interested in emoting and scoring partisan points, things would’ve unfolded much differently than they actually did.


First, Cuomo would’ve been forced to resolve the apparent inconsistency between his bio-centric vision of homosexuality and his concession to Carson’s commentary on the experience of male prisoners. After all, Cuomo, apparently, thinks that gays are “born that way.” Insofar as he agreed with Carson’s assessment of male prisoners, he must acknowledge that phenomena of these sorts pose a counterexample to his belief.

Second, in this Age of Enlightenment on all things sexual, a day when homosexuality is loudly and proudly proclaimed to be just as viable and healthy an alternative to heterosexuality and “homophobia” is decried as among the gravest of secular “sins,” it is the Ben Carsons of our world who sound “progressive” on this issue. In stark contrast, Chris Cuomo sounds like a retrograde.

In other words, the new Zeitgeist on homosexuality would seem to demand that we relegate to the dustbin of history the idea that homosexuals don’t deserve to be judged for their homosexuality because they were “born that way.” On the other hand, insofar as the new orthodoxy on homosexuality is supposed to be a function of sexual liberation generally, the idea that gays choose to be gay seems much more in keeping with the latter.

This is not just hypothetical reasoning on my part. For nearly 25 years, at least, gays themselves have been saying as much.


Back in 1991, Lindsy Van Gelder, a self-avowed lesbian, warned in Ms. Magazine against falling for what she described as “the ‘born that way’ trap.” Against those proponents of “gay rights” who dismissed “‘the prejudice and ignorance’” of the view “‘that homosexuality is a matter of choice,’” Van Gelder is at pains to convince readers that for her, “coming out was…a conscious decision—every step of the way.”

She also insists that she is no “aberration, at least among women.”

Van Gelder identifies “the public relations edge” of the “‘Born That Way’ line”:

“At the root of a lot of homophobia is a fear that gayness is somehow contagious. If people really did fit into neat little either/or sexual pigeonholes from birth, no one would be able to say that gay teachers could possibly ‘recruit’ their students. Parents of gays would be off the blame hook. Straights wouldn’t have to feel threatened by passing queer attractions.”

In addition to these benefits, Van Gelder notes that the genetic view of homosexuality implies that “if we [gays] could help it, we would.” This, she elaborates, is “what a fair number of straight people hear, including some of our allies.” But what this means is that gays are then perceived “as bearers of a genetic flaw” rather than “sexual equals.” The “Born That Way” line conveys the message “that it’s O.K. to regard us as sexually defective.”


Van Gelder poses a thought provoking challenge to the proponents of “Born That Way” approach: Suppose, she asks, “they discover that there’s no biological basis to sexual orientation? Are we willing to promise that on that day, we’ll give back any gay rights we’ve managed to win and march off to the psychic showers” to be “‘cure[d]’” of [our] “homosexuality’(emphasis original)?”

In 1992, homosexual and “gay rights” activist Darrell Yates Rist penned an instructive article in The Nation. Rist alludes to the “Hungarian activist doctor” who coined the term “homosexual” in the 1860’s. The doctor, writing under the pseudonym K.M. Kertbeny, addressed a letter to the Prussian Minister of Justice in response to a new penal code that would criminalize sexual relations between men. Kertbeny opposed the proposed measures, arguing that homosexuality is an “‘inborn, and therefore irrepressible, drive [.]”

Rist quotes authors John Lauritsen and David Thorstad who summarized Kertbeny’s position as such: “‘If homosexuality is inborn…it cannot be regarded as a punishable offense by rational persons who respect the mysterious laws of nature.’”

My objective here is to defend neither Ben Carson nor his position on this complex matter. The point, rather, is that given our rapidly changing mores with respect to homosexuality, Carson’s position that homosexuality is chosen appears to be more in keeping with the spirit of these new mores than is the belief that homosexuality is biologically determined.


My prediction is that it won’t be long until the self-sworn guardians of “progressive” thought on homosexuality will have succeeded in branding the “Born That Way” line as an expression of virulent “homophobia.” Soon, no “respectable” person will dare to regard homosexuality as anything but an enlightened, courageous choice.

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