Thanks, Ben Carson, but prison doesn't make people 'come out' gay

Ben Carson: Prison proves being gay is a choice
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Story highlights

  • Possible 2016 GOP candidate Ben Carson stirs controversy with comments on gays, prison
  • Carson's views belong in another decade, not modern America, John D. Sutter says

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)There seems to be an ever-growing list of people, places and things that will turn you gay. Maybe we should think of these as the brigade of evil, homosexual nouns.

There were the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants a decade ago. Now, as these views thankfully get more fringe, the theories are becoming increasingly bizarre and awesome. Among the homo nouns, there's the Common Core, according to a Florida lawmaker (education policy is super gay, obviously); Taylor Swift, who an op-ed writer for The Christian Post, Larry Tomczak, claims is being used by Ellen DeGeneres to "attract young girls" to her show (uh-huh); the Disney princess movie "Frozen," according to radio hosts in Colorado (that dress!); and now, according to a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, Ben Carson, there's prison.
Yep, prison.
    Stay away from crime, kids.
    Turns ya gay.
    Carson, who, let me reiterate, is a potential presidential candidate from a major American party, and a neurosurgeon to boot, told CNN's Chris Cuomo in an interview that aired Wednesday that "a lot of people ... go into prison straight -- and when they come out, they're gay."
    Asked if being gay was a choice, Carson replied in a word: "Absolutely."
    This level of ignorance is so last century, so near-irrelevant, that I'm hesitant even to respond. But no one who holds these beliefs belongs in a race for the 2016 White House.
    Ordinarily, I'm the kind of gay person who likes to give people room to evolve. I know not everyone "gets it" automatically. That's OK, as long as you aren't hateful about it, are willing to listen and don't try to restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I'm from Oklahoma, a deeply conservative state, and I've seen friends, family and co-workers evolve. People who thought being gay was a sin -- or that it was a choice, or fixable -- now support same-sex marriage.
    People change.
    But presidential candidates don't get that leeway.
    Carson should know better. (In fact, he later apologized, regretting his words but saying the science on the issue of sexual orientation isn't clear.)
    These views belong in another decade, not modern America.
    This apparently still needs to be said: Being gay is not a choice. Don't believe me? Well, ask a gay person. As I mentioned, I'm one of those (despite never having seen "Frozen" in its entirety), and I can tell you that, for me, it wasn't a choice. It's not something I would want to undo, but it also isn't like I woke up one day and was like, huh, you know what would really mix it up this winter? Dating dudes instead of ladies.
    Science backs me on this. I'm not going to roll through all the details, but Mark Joseph Stern from Slate sums it up pretty well: "In study after study, biologists have found that homosexuality, at least in men, is clearly, undoubtedly, inarguably an inborn trait."
    And even if it were a choice, who cares?
    A person's religion is a choice.
    Yet the United States offers certain protections based on religion.
    People still deserve rights. Carson, meanwhile, opposes same-sex marriage. That's a stance that, again, thankfully, is getting exceedingly rare in national politics. It's also an issue that, along with transgender rights and employment discrimination against LGBT people, should be a focal point in the 2016 campaign cycle. I hope that America is evolved enough not to elect a candidate who opposes LGBT rights.
    I do think we live in that country these days.
    It's a country that mostly laughs at someone saying prison would "turn" someone gay.
    But the point remains that saying so both belittles a serious issue of violence -- that of men raping other men in prison, which has nothing to do with turning anyone gay and everything to do with criminal activity. And it's a serious lapse in logic. Being around a bunch of dudes -- or ladies -- in prison doesn't change a person's innate sexual attractions.
    It's so obvious I shouldn't have to say it. And the American people damn sure shouldn't have to listen to it. Especially coming from a 2016 presidential contender, it's almost laughably irrelevant.
    Almost.