The Republican presidential field’s current frontrunner Ben Carson said Wednesday night he is not a homophobe and believes “our constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Carson made his remark in response to a question from a CNBC debate questioner Wednesday night, during the third Republican presidential debate. CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla noted that the national warehouse chain CostCo has been identified as one of the most gay friendly employers in the country. Until May of this year, when he announced his campaign for president, Carson served on the Costco board of directors for more than 16 years.
Quintanilla asked Carson whether his being on the Costco board ran counter to his views on homosexuality.
“Well, obviously, you don’t understand my views on homosexuality,” said Carson. “I believe our constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. And there is no reason you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community. They shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe marriage is one man and one woman that that you are a homophobe. This is one of the myths that the left perpetuates on our society. This is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. That’s what the PC culture is all about. And it’s destroying this nation. The fact of the matter is we the American people are not each other’s enemies. It’s those people who are trying to divide us that are the enemies.”
Rich Tafel, a longtime Republican gay activist and former head of the national Log Cabin Republican group, said he thinks Carson’s response “might mark the end of the culture war against gays in politics.”
“Given the opportunity to distance himself from a COSTCO or corporations that have been champions for gay rights, he mumbled that he believed that marriage is between a man and women, but then went onto an impassioned defense of gay people deserving freedom and that he’s not a homophobe,” said Tafel. “When you consider he’s probably the most far right candidate on social issues who early in the campaign made a comment about gay being a choice (prison as proof) he’s come a long way. Essentially, it marks the moment where in a race for everyone to get to the far right, gay issues aren’t the ones you grab onto (unlike the 1990s). Also, the fact that he shares the lead with Trump who has gone out of his way to be gay supportive despite running a populist campaign. Bottom line, we win!”
Current Log Cabin Executive Director Gregory Angelo characterized Carson’s comments as “shrewd,” noting that, while he was on the board at COSTCO, the company enacted a non-discrimination policy protecting gay employees.
The question to Carson was the only question of the evening that touched on any LGBT-specific issue. The rest of the prime-time debate and an earlier debate with low-polling candidates were focused on a wide range of issues and to exploring the viability of certain candidates and their comments against each other.
Carson has in recent days begun polling in first place in at least some polls asking how Republican primary votes nationwide are leaning. A CBS/New York Times poll taken October 21-25 found 26 percent of 575 Republican primary voters support Carson, 22 percent support Donald Trump, and single-digits support the other 13 GOP candidates still hoping to win the nomination. At the beginning of October, Trump was in the lead with 27 percent, followed by Carson with 21.
Over the years, Carson has made a number of statements that question his commitment to fairness for the gay community. He has equated marriage for same-sex couples with bestiality, said prison proves sexual orientation is a choice, and said he believes allowing same-sex couples to marry is equivalent to tossing the “word of God …into the garbage.”
In his closing remarks, Carson reiterated this theme of rejecting “political correctness,” a buzzword Carson uses to refer to criticisms of candidates who oppose equal protection for LGBT people and other minorities.