The moderator at the Commonwealth Club of California asked [Texas Gov. Rick Perry] if he considered homosexuality to be a disorder, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that," Perry allegedly said. "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."
As public attitudes have changed quickly on civil rights for LGBT Americans, Republican rhetoric has struggled to keep up. A decade ago, the party's political leaders found it pretty easy -- and politically advantageous -- to use ugly and divisive anti-gay rhetoric, without any real fear of political blowback.
With most of the country endorsing marriage equality, and falsely assuming federal anti-discrimination laws already protect gay people, Republican pollsters tend to advise more caution to their GOP clients.
The outgoing governor of Texas may have missed the memo.
Perry, of course, helps lead the Texas Republican Party, which just last weekend formally endorsed the notion that "reparative therapy" is an effective way to turn gay people straight through counseling. The state GOP endorsed its "legitimacy and efficacy" for "patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle."
Asked yesterday whether he believes in "reparative therapy," the Republican governor said he does not know whether the practice works. (It doesn't.)
To be sure, the Texas governor is hardly the first high-profile political figure to equate homosexuality and alcoholism -- it's a tired and offensive cliche on the far-right -- but Perry is likely to launch another presidential campaign, and he apparently sees this kind of ridiculous rhetoric as acceptable for someone seeking national office.
What's more, there's an even larger context.
After the 2012 elections, there was chatter that Republicans would have no choice but to evolve a bit on hot-button social issues. After the RNC unveiled its "autopsy" report, Reince Priebus vowed to maintain the party's commitment to social conservatism, but added, "I don't believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics."
As 2014 got underway, Politico said social issues have "been largely relegated to the sidelines" in Republican politics, and the GOP's competing wings have both "steered away from social issues they deem too divisive."
But there's ample evidence to the contrary. Perry is still drawing parallel between homosexuality and alcoholism; states are still imposing new restrictions on reproductive rights; Republicans are still rather audacious in supporting employer-based restrictions on contraception access; GOP leaders, including alleged "moderates" like Chris Christie, are still tripping over each other to pander to the religious right movement.
The Texas governor's comments yesterday were obviously dumb and emblematic of Perry's routinely twisted worldview, but the larger takeaway is that for much of the right, social issues haven't been "largely relegated to the sidelines" at all.