A prominent social conservative leader compared homosexuality to drug use on Wednesday while urging parents not to “condone and enable” a child being gay.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, made the remarks while speaking at the National Press Club luncheon after being asked if he would disown one of his children if they came out as gay.
Perkins, the father of five children, replied that he wouldn’t “disown my children for anything,” but advised parents they should express disapproval if their children make such an announcement.
“And if we really love them, we’ll be willing to tell them the truth that the choices that they have made, continuing what they’re doing, are both destructive to them personally and society as a whole,” Perkins said. “And so while I would disagree with my child getting involved in that lifestyle, I would not in any way — nor would I ever encourage a parent — to disown a child because of something like that that occurs. Love them compassionately, pray for them, but don’t condone and enable that behavior, whatever it might be.”
Perkins said as a parent he has “a responsibility for the environment in which I raise my children,” suggesting that sexual orientation is determined by parenting — a notion disputed by major psychiatric groups. Later in his comments, Perkins compared homosexuality to drug use.
“I believe as a parent we have the ability to protect them from a lot of unfortunate experiences that have shaping influences upon their lives,” Perkins said. “That’s not to say that those whose children may have ended up in homosexuality were not good parents. We can’t guarantee that. We can do our very best job as a parent and still something may happen, whether they end up in drugs or whether they end up in some other lifestyle that they end up.”
At the beginning of his response, Perkins said similar inquiries has been posed to him previously on national TV as what he called a “gotcha” question. The inquiry on Wednesday came from National Press Club President Theresa Werner, who was reading questions submitted in advance by reporters and attendees at the event.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, responded by saying Perkins is spreading lies about LGBT people and that parents should provide “unconditional support” to children who come out.
“Tony Perkins continues to spread lies and misinformation and his comments are offensive to the millions of LGBT people and those who love and respect us,” Cole-Schwartz said. “LGBT young people need unconditional support, not leaders or parents who will compare their inherent identities to things like substance abuse. It’s time Tony Perkins disavows that junk science and learns what the experts have to say about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In response to another question submitted by the Washington Blade, Perkins said he thinks the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is getting better about talking about views of marriage and gay rights favorable to social conservatives. Perkins gave general praise to Romney, despite grumblings throughout his campaign from social conservatives who’ve said they suspect the candidate doesn’t share their views.
“I think Mitt Romney is doing a good job in becoming more comfortable in talking about the issues of faith, talking about the social issues of marriage, and life in particular,” Perkins said. “There is no question that we have theological differences when it comes to our religions, but we have a shared concern over where this country is headed today. And we have a shared value system that we believe can put American on the right way. I believe that Gov. Romney is doing a good job in reaching out and bringing in all concerns within the conservative movement, including those of social conservatives.”
A substantial portion of Perkins’ prepared remarks was devoted to following up on a shooting at the Family Research Council’s D.C. headquarters in which a guard, Leo Johnson, was wounded and the accused assailant was a volunteer for the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. In addition to ammunition and guns, the assailant was carrying a backpack filled with sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, which had been under scrutiny for the anti-gay views of its owners.
In the wake of the shooting, Perkins said the mission of his organization to advocate social conservative values remains unchanged.
“As I said here today, I pledge to redouble our efforts to persuade our fellow citizens on these issues and to move the electorate to embrace the core principles a majority of this nation have long espoused,” Perkins said. “But I also pledge to redouble our efforts to advocate these ideas with civility and compassion. … Our aim is to speak the truth in love, and if we fail to do so, we will acknowledge it, and we will set the record straight, and that includes what we say regarding homosexuality. And I would hope the other side would make a similar commitment.”
Perkins accused organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled the Family Research Council a hate group, of fostering ”an environment of hostility” that encourage incidents like the shooting to take place. Perkins said he’s renewing the call on Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign to stop its characterization of the Family Research Council as a hate group.
“It is time for the vindictiveness to end, and I say with confidence to SPLC and HRC, it’s time to dial down the demonization of those who differ with you,” Perkins said. “It’s time to start hurling labels of hate and have a legitimate debate about policies that govern our nation.”
Cole-Schwartz responded to the accusations against HRC by saying his organization want civil discussion, but criticized the Family Research Council for its statements about LGBT people.
“HRC welcomes reasoned debate over public policy but that must be predicated on truth, not wholesale denigration of LGBT people and our families,” Cole-Schwartz said. “When the FRC is ready to give up on their hateful lies, we’ll be ready to stop calling them out for it.”
Asked whether during the question-and-answer portion if the suspected shooter should be charged with a hate crime, a kind of law that the Family Research Council opposes, Perkins said he’d leave that decision to law enforcement, but noted the FBI is investigating it as an act of domestic terrorism. Perkins added on the day of shooting, employees at his organization prayed for the alleged perpetrator as well as other involved.
“We pray for him, we pray for his spiritual well-being, but I will echo, once again, we will not allow these types of threats or acts of violence in any way to deter us from standing for the things that we represent here in Washington,” Perkins said.
State ballot measures related to marriage also came up during the event. During his prepared remarks, Perkins noted that 7 of the 9 states identified as swing states in the presidential election have approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. He also predicted anti-gay forces would have a favorable outcome in the four states where marriage is coming up on the ballot: Minnesota, Maryland, Washington State and Maine.
Perkins spoke before attendees at the National Press Club prior the 2012 Values Voter Summit, a three-day national event held that will be this week in D.C. for social conservatives. Among the high-profile speakers scheduled at the event are Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. LGBT groups including the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations sent a joint letter to public these officials asking them not to participate in the event, although none have cancelled their participation as a result.
Among Perkins’ guests alongside him at the table near the podium were Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, a leader in the fight against Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, and anti-gay Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas.)