Addressing the Commonwealth Club of California yesterday, the governor of Texas said, "Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, 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."
It's been amusing to see some of Gov. Perry's apologists deny that their man had said anything pejorative about homosexuality in that sentence. The context of his comment was a defense of his state's endorsement of "reparative therapy" for homosexuals who want (or are pressured) to change their sexual orientation. This is, to say the least, a controversial concept that has been condemned by many as pseudoscientific. I take a less alarmist view, so long as no one is compelled to undergo such therapy; a person should have as much right to change his or her sexual orientation if they're uncomfortable with it as they have to change his or her gender. However, the Texas Republican party, for whom Perry is at least a figurehead, endorses reparative therapy in the context of opposition to a perceived "homosexual lifestyle," and in that same context Perry's comparison of homosexual and alcoholic predispositions can only mean that both are impulses that, in his view, ought to be overcome. Resisting homosexual impulses is a matter of self-control rather than self-repression, presumably. Whether Perry was using a theoretical or personal "I" when discussing alcoholism, however, is unclear. In any event, his remarks suggest that he doesn't practice impulse control as well as he preaches it. Remarks like these can't help someone presumably aspiring yet again to become President of the United States, who must eventually sway an audience much larger and more diverse than the Republican party base of primary voters. Perry may calculate that a silent majority still rejects homosexuality, but most of the recent evidence suggests otherwise, and there is, as I've noted before, a cultural offensive underway against any assertion that homosexuality is "wrong" in any way. Perry may also calculate that, by making himself a target for that offensive he'll rally supporters to his defense, but we may already be past the point where someone who can now be described as an avowed homophobe -- whether he accepts the label or not -- can win a national election. To put it another way, it may feel good now, but it could very well hurt Perry later. Someone with more self-control would be better off today.