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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ben Carson Inserts Foot in Mouth

Ben Carson, a conservative hopeful for president, made headlines last week by proclaiming that being gay or lesbian is "absolutely" a choice. His evidence? "A lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight and when they come out they're gay," Carson said on CNN. "So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."

QED, apparently.

He has since sort of apologized:
I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended....
Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.
Note that apologizing for offending people is not the same as acknowledging that he asserted a politically and morally laden claim without providing evidence. What purported to be evidence was simply a second unsupported claim. (Strictly speaking, his follow-up statement merely says he "pretends to know" only how some, not all, individuals came to their sexual orientation. I admire his modesty.)

I won't go into Carson's claim about the alleged connection between prison and the sexual orientation of ex-inmates. (See Mark Joseph Stern's article on the biological basis of homosexuality in men.) I will just ask what difference it would it make if Carson actually knew what he was talking about. Religion is a choice; people convert or embrace a new religion every day. That obviously has no bearing on their status under law. The source of homosexuality therefore tells us precisely nothing about the assertion of gay rights, such as same-sex marriage. Anti-discrimination laws covering gays are legitimate or illegitimate independent of whether one chooses or is born into homosexuality.

So, then, why is a potential Republican candidate talking about this? It is no mere academic interest. Conservatives (or many of them) are invested in this issue because to accept that sexual orientation is not chosen would be to concede that their god creates homosexuals -- and that they cannot do. If homosexuality is rooted in biology, not in choice, the case for its being a sin takes a big hit in their eyes. Carson may not think the issue bears on the rights of gay people (at least that's what he says), but not all conservatives would agree.

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Grung_e_Gene said...

Did you really think Ben Carson had any shot at being the Republican Presidential Candidate? Really???

Chad N. said...

That prison could potentially alter someone's sexual preference is an interesting phenomenon and seems worthy of being one small subtopics in a much larger discussion. Not proof, but not devoid of information.

BerserkRL said...

I lean toward a heavier environmental component in sexual orientation than Mark Stern seems to. (See Edward Stein's book Mismeasure of Desire.) But the real howler here is Ben Carson's absurd conflation of environmental influence with choice.

I don't like jellyfish (let me clarify: as food). If I'd been raised in a culture in which jellyfish was a more common cuisine, I might well have grown up to like it. But that doesn't mean my dislike for jellyfish is a choice.