At a Wednesday night event in San Francisco, Texas Governor Rick Perry managed the rare feat of willfully misunderstanding both homosexuality and alcohol addiction in one breath.
The 2016 presidential hopeful was addressing the Commonwealth Club of California when an audience member asked his view on the Texas Republican Party’s recent endorsement of “reparative therapy,” the largely discredited process by which gay and lesbian individuals can supposedly be “cured” and made straight. Perry hesitated to echo the endorsement, the San Francisco Chronicle reports—but he was less shy when asked if he considers homosexuality a disorder.
“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry told interviewer Greg Dalton. “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 statement places one’s sexual orientation in the same category as a medically defined disease that can damage nearly every organ in the human body. It also presumes that alcoholics—like gay people, in Perry’s view—can simply “decide not to do that,” despite the fact that alcoholism by definition entails a compulsive physical dependence that changes an alcoholic’s brain chemistry.
Perry’s comment reportedly drew a “murmur of disbelief” in a room presumably filled with the governor’s supporters, who had come to hear him speak about energy independence. (Perry primarily argued that economic development is stifled when policies are determined by the federal government.)
That crowd response was a slightly comforting glimpse of how far flagrant homophobia (such as a recent statement by Scott Esk, a Tea Party candidate for an Oklahoma state House seat, voicing support for stoning gay people to death) has trailed away from mainstream political life.