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Avoiding Liberal Traps on Issues of Gay Identity

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Rick Perry and Michael Medved at CPAC, March, 2014.

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in the history of the Texas and one of the most successful state leaders in recent American history, fell into a nasty trap concerning the nature of gay identity.

After an effective speech on economics in San Francisco (where else?), a questioner asked him to defend the new Texas Republican platform that promised to respect the right of therapists to provide counseling to patients who sought to overcome their homosexual inclinations. When Perry candidly acknowledged that he didn’t know whether or not such therapy worked, his interlocutor asked if he considered homosexuality a disorder. In response the governor reportedly commented that “whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability not to do that.” He then added, “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.”

The press disparagingly summarized his comments with headlines saying “Rick Perry Compares Homosexuality to Alcoholism” and thereby damaged his long-shot presidential prospects, while notably ignoring his smart, substantive speech on job creation and the business climate.

The governor’s unfortunate experience demonstrates the special care that conservatives – particularly religious conservatives – must take when addressing all issues of gay rights and gay identity. Above all, it’s foolhardy and unnecessary to be pushed into a simple yes-or-no answer on the irrelevant question of whether or not homosexuality constitutes a lifestyle choice.

When confronted with this challenge, it’s important to acknowledge that for some people there appears to be no choice at all: for whatever reason, they seem hard-wired from an early age for same-sex attraction. Most Americans know someone among their friends, family-members, school-mates or passing acquaintances, who insists he has no more choice over his gay orientation than he does right-or-left-handedness. Aside from ongoing scientific debate over the origins of homosexual identity, it’s a terrible political strategy to dismiss such claims as dishonest and deluded. Social conservatives concede no important ground by agreeing that some people have no choice over gay orientation, just as most people have no choice over our powerful opposite-sex attractions.

On the other hand, it’s obvious that many other individuals do exercise some element of choice in selecting the gender of their sexual partners. All contemporary surveys of sexual identity in America show that bisexuals who report intimate experience with both male and female partners easily outnumber those who describe themselves as exclusively gay or exclusively lesbian. While gay rights advocates argue that bisexuals are innately, inevitably drawn to both males and females they clearly exert some level of control on how they act upon these contradictory instincts.

Should a bisexual who wants to curb his attraction to same-sex partners and concentrate exclusively on heterosexual relationships be allowed to seek therapy for that purpose? Or, if another bisexual wants to stifle any instinct toward opposite sex coupling and focus entirely on same sex options, should a therapist be permitted to help achieve that goal?

Most people would rightly object to governmental intrusion into such therapeutic relationships and they should similarly protest ongoing liberal efforts to criminalize “reparative therapy” for those adults who voluntarily seek such help from properly licensed professionals. The problem with the Texas GOP platform that Governor Perry haltingly attempted to defend is that it actually seemed to go beyond tolerance toward such therapy and to endorse its effectiveness. “We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle,” the platform foolishly and unnecessarily declared. It then added, far less controversially: “No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.”

Rather than promoting such treatment, despite its checkered record of success, conservatives should insist that government maintain scrupulous neutrality toward controversial medical approaches – neither preventing nor promoting them. It’s not for bureaucrats to decide which course of therapy or counseling a patient should voluntarily and privately pursue.

At the same time, it’s appropriate to challenge any liberal interlocutors to apply the same approach to the similarly controversial treatment known as “sex change” surgery for those tormented by their male or female identity. In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Paul McHugh, former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, flatly declared: “’Sex change’ is biologically impossible…And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a ‘satisfied’ but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.” He also cited a major 30-year study at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute showing that “beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable non transgender population.”

In other words, far from indicating a reliably beneficial outcome, the expensive and radical sex-change surgery remains every bit as dubious as the controversial reparative therapy that tries to minimize homosexual inclinations. Yet liberals seek tax support for one dubious (and irreversible) medical procedure while they want to block altogether another far less costly, far less painful course of psychological therapy.

Rather than raising such contradictions in politically correct thinking, Governor Perry stumbled into an invocation of alcoholism, and thereby needlessly insulted all those who have come to terms with their own homosexuality, as well as their friends and supporters. Obviously, giving in to an inclination to alcoholism will almost always do serious damage to your prospects for a happy and productive life, but many of those who act upon an instinct toward same-sex attraction manage to build loving, lasting relationships and careers of distinction and service.

This column originally appeared at on June 16, 2014.

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Comments (14)

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  1. American  •  Jun 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    “Liberals” will persecute anyone, including Jesus Christ Himself, that does not condone and facilitate the their favored sexual immoralities. EOM.

  2. JD  •  Jun 25, 2014 at 12:14 am

    If sexual reproduction is a natural and biologically required function in order to secure survival and advancement of the species (which it is), heterosexuality is the universal “norm”. What does that make homosexuality? That’s right, it’s an abnormality. Enough with the politically correct non-sense. Call it what it is…a disorder. There are plenty of people with “happy and productive” lives, as Michael frames it, that have disorders as well, such as people with Down’s Syndrome…they’re happy and productive but are not normal. This argument is very logical (conservatives) and includes no bible-thumping or name calling. Just the facts, liberals, just the facts.

  3. Jamo King  •  Jun 27, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Conservative’s always fall into the trap of arguing issues around homosexuality on premises set by Liberals.
    The bottom line is that Homosexuals have the right to do as they choose and most reasonable conservatives will always concede this point. So the argument is then not about whether people are naturally homosexuals or not.
    The issue for conservatives is about our right to abhor the sexual ACT of homosexuality and as such to debate the pro-gay rights movements on our abhoration versus their adoration of this sexual ACT. Because at the moment all arguments begin on the assumption that their adoration trumps our abhoration. This means that the pro gay lobby needs to decide whether we have a right to abhor their behaviour. If they don’t then the stick, disguised as discrimination, that they use to beat us with becomes a poisoned chalice. If they do then we can actually have reasonable argument their rights vs. ours.

    • Douglas Johnson  •  Jul 8, 2014 at 10:43 am

      First off, I agree with most every word. It’s all about framing and you describe the framing well. But let me go after your second sentence.

      There is no right to sodomy. On the contrary, Jefferson and many other founders regarded sodomy as an attack upon natural rights. It had nothing to do with the so-called ick-factor. Too much to go into, but see here.

      Homosexual is a neologism made popular by a social scientist whose work is now regarded as complete bunk by all concerned. As you point out, the question is, “Is sodomy a good or bad act?” But no one on their side will ever let us frame the debate that way.

      The most anti-sodomy, anti-redefinition framing I can think of would go something like this: The greatest joy a child can ever witness is the love between his mom and dad.

      Think about it.

      • Jamo King  •  Jul 11, 2014 at 6:22 am

        Mmm. I get what you’re saying, however I’m afraid we now live in a world long past framing this debate your way. If Perry had to even try and do it your way he’d be crucified politically (not that he hasn’t been already).
        Discrimination based on sexual orientation is a no go argument. We have to concede their rights. My argument is then that they have to concede ours. In which case we can be neighbours. I’ve always maintained that good walls make for good neighbours!

  4. Sylvia Bennion  •  Jun 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Michael, can you tell me what the data show concerning the appropriate age when children can safely be introduced to the concept of homosexuality and/or gender fluidity? There must be a vast repository of data on child development that schools are referencing to know the appropriate age to introduce the concept into the health curriculum scope and sequence. Are schools just assuming an age that it can be safely taught, or is there actual research?

    • Douglas Johnson  •  Jul 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Just so I’m clear…you’re being sarcastic, right? You are showing him how pathetic his piece truly is?

  5. Bash  •  Jun 30, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    The trap was that Rick Perry felt he needed to answer the question at all as it was completely off topic. Next time he should invite the questioner to leave his/her email and after being given the courtesy to consider the subject, he would respond. Gotcha questions only make the one asking them look like a fool….

    • Billg  •  Jul 3, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      For a public figure especially one with high(er) political aspirations, it is unrealistic to avoid difficult questions posed in a public setting. Part of our political system is to ask and learn what our politicians think, and react under pressure; then we must evaluate their response to determine if in fact they are up to the task to lead. Once again Rick Perry appears to show a lack of skill in putting it together and we would be better served to look elsewhere if he intends, again, to run for Republican nomination.

  6. Sudduth Cummings  •  Jul 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Two observations: 1) Its interesting how “science” has always been influenced by politics and money–solid psychotherapists long identified homosexuality as a disorder until the PC police took over the professional bodies that redefined it (similar dynamics in the “science” of man-made global warming, etc.); 2) When will conservative politicians learn that they don’t have to answer every question? A simple “I’ll leave that question to the qualified scientists to answer” would suffice!!! (And, there is no agreement among researchers about such genetic determination.)

  7. Douglas Johnson  •  Jul 8, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Michael Medved = Norm Orenstein.

    It’s silly to even bother getting into a debate with these posers.

  8. SeeingDouble  •  Jul 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I think Michael’s column is disingenuous and illogicial: There is no acceptable answer other than rubberstamping whatever homosexuals or their supporters think. Even a dodge results in criticism.

    And I think Michael’s final paragraph is as logically flawed as the APA’s estimation that sexual abuse causes little harm to children, after all, most grow up to be productive adults. As long as we don’t consider higher incidents of: alcoholism, drug abuse, self-abuse, partner abuse, depression, anxiety, impulse control problems, bipolar disorder, gender confusion, suicide and a whole host of personal calamities amongst homosexuals. Yeah, but can they do their work and pay their bills on time? Now that’s the measure of normalcy, Michael?

    There are great leaders and businessmen who were/are terrible drunks, pathological womanizers, and child abusers. So, alcohol, lechery, and child-abuse aren’t problems, Michael? It’s an illogical position that can be applied to virtually every social ill.

    And there is no debate over whether homosexual behavior is borne of nurture — except for by those who want it to be hardwired. Study after study shows no genetic connection, which is why gay scientists are inclined to fudge figures or perpetrate hoaxes. “Born this way” is a lie, plain and simple. “Homosexuality” is an emotional disorder whose root causes have long been understood, plain and simple. “Homosexual” behavior is a sin, plain and simple. No long-run good can come from a foundation so flawed. Our indulging these disordered people only makes us complicit enablers, like those who give needles to addicts.

    And unless a politician embraces the civil right/born that way lie, he is toast.

  9. ItsComplicated  •  Jan 12, 2015 at 10:58 am

    My sister was very conservative and never liked that I was gay, but accepted it insisting that it was sinfull, yada yada. But then her own son turned out to be gay. She did everything she could to “fix” him, to the point that he engaged in self cutting behavior. I can understand her concern. She lived in a small town in PA in Amish country where her son’s sexuality (though he is closeted) could be problematic for her and her husband. He moved to Arizona. But my sister reached a point where she said she wished her son would find a nice partner like mine. She likes my life partner. We have been together for 21 years. It is easier to be dismissive and even contemptuous of gay people until it hits close to home.

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