Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain made headlines this week, after saying that homosexuality is a choice, just as a new poll showed him moving into a tie for second place for the GOP nomination.
Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, came under fire from LGBT advocates for indicating on Tuesday he believes people can choose their sexual orientation.
During an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” when asked by host Joy Behar whether he believes being gay is a choice, Cain replied, “Yes.”
“Well, you show me the science that it’s not and I’ll be persuaded,” Cain said. “Right now it’s my opinion against the opinions of others who feel differently. That’s just a difference of opinions.”
Cain’s remarks ignited a firestorm among many LGBT groups who called on the presidential hopeful — as well as other GOP candidates — to repudiate his remarks.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Cain’s remarks are “frankly, jaw-dropping and certainly unbecoming of a presidential hopeful.”
“Leading medical organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, all speak with a loud and clear voice — implying that someone’s sexual orientation can be chosen or changed is dangerous,” Solmonese said.
Solmonese said HRC is eager to connect Cain with medical professionals at these association to guide him through the basic science he said he seeks.
Jack Drescher, a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a member of the DSM-5 Workgroup on sexual and gender identity disorders, said he’s willing to meet with Cain to talk about the medical aspects of the issue.
“Herman Cain’s opinion that being gay is a choice has no basis in current scientific thinking,” Drescher said. “Not only is homosexuality ‘not a choice,’ as most efforts to try and change a person’s sexual orientation fail, but some attempts to change can cause harm and damage to an individual’s well-being.”
LGBT groups representing conservative and Republican interests had different takes on Cain’s remarks.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, also criticized Cain and said the organization would be happy to show him the science proving sexual orientation isn’t a choice.
“An individual’s orientation is no more a choice than the color of his skin or whether he is left-handed, and too many people have been hurt because of failed attempts to change the way they were born,” Cooper said.
But Chris Barron, chair of GOProud, defended Cain and said his remarks don’t reflect the candidate’s true position on LGBT issues.
“The attacks levied by the gay left and their allies at Log Cabin against Mr. Cain are despicable,” Cain said. “My partner and I have sat down with Herman Cain and talked with him about issues that are important to gay people, and I can tell you first hand that anyone or any organization that claims that Herman Cain is anti-gay is simply lying or doesn’t know the man at all.”
The attacks on Cain come as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll published Tuesday finds him gaining ground among the GOP candidates, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney once again at the head of the pack.
Among responders who leaned Republican, Romney led the pack with 21 points and Cain was tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 14 points. Among all registered voters, Romney led with 20 points while Cain and Perry both had 15 points.
Once the front-runner upon his entry into the race, Perry is now tied for second-place with Cain. The Washington Post reported Perry’s slide comes after “several uneven performances” in presidential debates and in response to renewed media emphasis on immigration policies in his state. In Texas, colleges allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates.
Sean Theriault, a gay political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, dismissed a reading of the poll as showing new strength for Romney.
Theriault noted Romney’s numbers hadn’t changed since earlier polling and the Massachusetts governor is only ahead now because of falling numbers for Perry.
“Perry is not doomed,” Theriault said. “Quite the contrary. A strong debate performance, a couple of good weeks of positive news and he’d be back on top. Romney’s numbers have been at 25 since the day he dropped out of the Republican primary in 2008. That’s a pretty strong ceiling effect.”
In related news, two high-profile Republicans who were thought to be possible entries in the presidential race officially announced they wouldn’t seek the nomination in 2012.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008, announced in a letter to supporters on Wednesday that she wouldn’t seek the nomination for the White House in 2012.
“I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office from the nation’s governors to congressional seats and the presidency,” Palin said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also announced this week that he wouldn’t join the pack of Republican candidates seeking to oust President Obama from the White House.
“Now is not my time,” said Christie at a news conference in Trenton, N.J., adding, “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.”
Christie is reviled by many LGBT rights supporters for having pledged to veto any legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.
But in January, Christie signed into law one of the nation’s strongest anti-bullying bills. The law was inspired by the death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate secretly recorded a sexual encounter he had with another man.