Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker appeared on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, and while the interview was an opportunity for the Wisconsin governor to set himself apart from an overcrowded GOP field, Walker instead made a considerable impression after becoming flustered following a series of questions regarding the Boy Scouts lifting their ban on gay scout leaders. Walker admitted that he doesn't have "an opinion on every single issue out there" and that he wasn't sure if homosexuality was a choice or not. There is much amiss in the Republican Party when it comes to gay rights and what Republican candidates have to say about LGBT rights isn't very encouraging.
While many Republican candidates appear to have softened their opinions in regards to gay marriage, it appears to primarily be a tactical move rather than a changing of ideals. Presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham have instead framed the issue based on electability over substance. However, some of the most vocal candidates against marriage equality also happen to be the most opinionated about sexual orientation itself. At least five GOP candidates have spoken out about the issue, many of whom consider being gay or straight or any other designation a simple choice or matter of preference.
Perhaps the most prolific in his bizarre anti-gay proclamations is Mike Huckabee, who has likened homosexuality to drinking, swearing, polygamy, and prostitution. In short, he believes sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice and one that he doesn't agree with:
People can be my friends who have lifestyles that are not necessarily my lifestyle. I don't shut people out of my circle or out of my life because they have a different point of view. ... I don’t drink alcohol, but gosh — a lot of my friends, maybe most of them, do. You know, I don't use profanity, but believe me, I've got a lot of friends who do. Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera — it's not my cup of tea.
Neurosurgeon and political newcomer Ben Carson initially took a surprisingly unscientific approach to the idea of sexual orientation. Though there is no definitive consensus as to what determines whether a person is gay or straight, Carson said that he unequivocally believes homosexuality is a choice. His explanation? Incarceration. Carson said in a CNN interview earlier this year:
A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.
Carson did subsequently apologize for his comments, though he's now vowed to stay mum on all LGBT issues this election cycle, a counterproductive move that eliminates an entire key issue from his political platform.
Ted Cruz is right there with Huckabee in thinking that sexual orientation is ultimately a choice, issuing a statement in 2012 that instead focuses primarily on defending the sanctity of marriage. Though Cruz ultimately feels that states should get to decide whether or not to allow gay marriage, he is still committed to defending its tradition definition. Cruz told a reporter from the San Antonio Express-News:
I believe that engaging in homosexual conduct is a choice, and I do not believe that unelected judges should force states to adopt gay marriage, against the wishes of the people. Marriage is a fundamental building block of our society, and I have a proven record of standing and fighting to protect traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry also appears to align with Cruz, though his choice of wording regarding homosexuality is eerily reminiscent of Huckabee's colorful language. Perry took the stage at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last year to outline some of his policies, including his stance on gay marriage. In one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world, Perry shocked his audience when he likened being gay to having a predisposition to addiction:
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.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum takes a more convoluted approach toward explaining sexual orientation. He claims he's perfectly fine with someone being gay so long as they essentially ignore their sexuality altogether. Santorum appears as one of the original voices cautioning against marriage equality for fear of it opening our society to bestiality and worse. Said Santorum said the following in a 2003 Associated Press interview:
I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions. ... If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.
In more recent news, Santorum has explicitly stated that he would not attend a gay wedding, as it would violate his beliefs, a statement that somewhat harkens back to his 2003 comments.