Former and possibly future presidential candidate Rick Perry touched off a firestorm of criticism last week when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism. Even though it does seem a little click-baity to suggest Perry meant homosexuality is exactly like a debilitating, family destroying disease, what he actually said after he was asked if he believed homosexuality was a disorder or not isn’t much better than what the headlines suggest.
“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not,” he said, “you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that. And I look at the homosexual issue the same way.” So he didn’t exactly say gays are just as much of a societally destructive force as alcoholics, but his choice of analogy still reveals a total indifference to logic and a fundamental misunderstanding about what it means to be gay.
Comments With a Catch
There is some evidence that genetics can influence the likelihood of a person becoming an alcoholic, but it’s simply flat out stupid to suggest that a person with those genes would be more tempted than anyone else to start drinking in the first place. I mean, of course an alcoholic’s desire for a drink is on another level than a car lover’s desire for mustang parts, but sexual attraction is an entirely different ball game. A homosexual is a person with an inborn attraction to members of the same sex. An alcoholic is not a person with an innate attraction to beer.
This is still beside the main point: The governor of one of the nation’s biggest states is still under the impression that homosexuality is a vice that needs to be and can be controlled, instead of a natural, morally neutral way of being that cannot and does not need to be suppressed.
Perry has since expressed some mild regret about the incident, but has done so in a W-esque, “aw shucks” kind of way that suggests he is sorry he didn’t choose his words more carefully rather than being sorry for holding a backwards viewpoint.
“I readily admit, I stepped right in it,” he said after basically saying he should have deflected the question and said something about jobs. You’ll notice that he doesn’t say he was misinformed, doesn’t even hint that he was wrong, or even that he misspoke.
That’s because in his mind, the only mistake he made was speaking a little too plainly about his beliefs. Have no doubt Perry and other conservatives really do believe being gay is a morally questionable behavior you need to curtail, like gambling. He made these comments after the Texas Republican Convention permitted their platform to state that gay Texans can get counseling to “cure” their homosexuality.
A Dangerous Mindset
This is what gets to the crux of what was so wrong with Perry’s comments. He didn’t just have a slip of the tongue and say something demeaning; he revealed the ignorance that makes up the rotten foundation of many conservatives’ views on homosexuality. They think gays are just people with “sinful” inclinations and poor impulse control.
Plus, by framing the issue as if he can relate to being gay, but is able to resist his similarly evil genetic makeup, Perry creates a place for him and other like-minded bigots to make criticisms from a supposedly safe place. It’s no longer politically safe to say you don’t like homosexuals, so Perry says he has no problem with the people, just their inability to ignore the desires they were born with.
This way of thinking is not just wrong, it’s dangerous. It encourages people to think anyone who isn’t heterosexual is just making a bad choice and therefore does not deserve equal protection under the law. It can cause otherwise healthy people to think there is something wrong with a harmless feature of their identity and cause serious self-esteem issues that can lead to depression and suicide. Hopefully, it’s also such a blatantly moronic line of thinking that it ends Perry’s presidential campaign before it even starts.