By Declan O’Scanlon
Last year, the New Jersey legislature voted on a measure that prohibited the infliction of “sexual orientation reparative therapy” on young individuals of our state. This is the frequently torturous “treatment” designed to turn the gay straight. Although I abstained on the vote because of a potential technical issue, I vocally supported the initiative. Recently, the debate on this issue has re-emerged as several high-profile national and local Republicans have discussed both this issue and homosexuality. Their words demand comment.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, taking issue with policies prohibiting this “treatment,” justified his position last year by suggesting that homosexuality was simply a destructive lifestyle choice, which he went on to say was just like alcoholism. Perry managed to insult and infuriate the entire gay community along with every member of every family who has ever dealt with addiction issues – all at once. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon also vying for the Republican presidential nomination, suggested that being gay was a choice – as evidenced by supposed prison conversions. The most recent commentary came from Congressman Scott Garrett (R-5th District), who expressed a refusal to support gay candidates and said the Republican Party shouldn’t either.
These men each have a long list of substantial accomplishments and I bet I agree with them on most policy issues. But on the issues of homosexuality and addiction each of them has demonstrated a stunning level of closed-minded ignorance that – notwithstanding their apparent inability to genuinely embrace reality – most people of average intelligence would instinctively know to try to conceal.
Being a proud Republican I feel it necessary to douse these brush fires of ignorance and intolerance with some truth and reality – and let folks know that the ignorant positions espoused aren’t representative of our party as a whole. Gov. Chris Christie, who signed the ban on sexual reorientation therapy and supports treatment over incarceration for the addicted, is right on both counts. Addiction is an affliction, homosexuality is a state of being – we must battle the former and embrace the latter.
Regarding being gay, one need not be a brain surgeon – we’ll try to ignore the irony that one of the ignorant utterers actually is a brain surgeon – to understand that the dynamics of sexual orientation are genetically ingrained in each of us, just like the color of one’s skin. Expressing sentiments that are completely out of touch with reality damages our credibility even outside the communities we are directly insulting.
The premises of these beliefs are convoluted and contradictory: homosexuality and addiction are both apparently “destructive lifestyle choices” and afflictions for which someone might seek a “cure.” Why someone might seek a cure for a lifestyle choice is a mystery. I know of no gay folks who feel compelled to alter those to whom they might be attracted, at least without drive to do so other than that which our society has inflicted upon them. To suggest that homosexuality itself is something akin to addiction – and then that both homosexuality and addiction are destructive lifestyle choices – is completely outrageous. To suggest that we should reject candidates based on their sexual orientation is just as offensive.
Addiction is in fact an affliction. The problem isn’t a matter of resolve or lack of character or strength. I will concede that it is hard to understand a condition that requires the afflicted to proactively participate in their own destruction. But I have had firsthand experience with addiction. And I have spoken with parents who have watched their children fall prey to the scourge that is addiction. Try to tell them that their slowly dying children simply need to make better lifestyle choices and they’ll spit in your face – and you’ll deserve it.
In my case, I spent the first twenty years of my life watching my mother destroy herself with alcohol. She was brilliant and beautiful and uproariously funny. She didn’t choose to die. She was taken by a scourge which compels the afflicted to commit suicide as their loved ones watch helplessly. That is addiction – slow motion suicide. It is no one’s lifestyle choice.
No candidate or party is right all the time on all of the issues. But the time for debate of these two issues was over long ago. We must uniformly – across party and socioeconomic and racial and religious lines – agree on that. We won’t run out of legitimate things to debate. Of that we can all celebrate.
Declan O’Scanlon is a Republican representing Monmouth County in the New Jersey Assembly.