(The Root) — It would be unfair — well, almost — to put the burden of carrying the conservative banner in the "gifted hands" of Dr. Ben Carson.
But in the weeks since the Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Ben Carson for President," he's been elevated to the status of conservative rock star, and he's been holding that banner high. And as I wrote earlier this week, there's no denying that no matter your politics, Carson — a brilliant doctor and an engaging speaker — is a "bad mother … "
The same day I wrote that, however, he stepped all over his own good-guy image when — as Slate's Dave Weigel reported — his interview with Sean Hannity "got a little real" after Carson summed up his opposition to same-sex marriage by saying that no one, "be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality," has the right to redefine marriage.
Ouch — about the only thing missing is a swipe at wives who opt to keep their maiden names.
Predictably, a petition is now circulating among Johns Hopkins students who don't want Carson to be their commencement speaker, prompting him to issue the standard "If I offended anyone" apology and to offer to withdraw.
He's certainly entitled to his opinion — everyone is — but Carson is not just anybody. And by coming out with such a retrograde stance on such a pivotal issue, he's damaging his own brand before he's even fully established it.
Plenty of folks are uncomfortable with same-sex unions, and that's their right. But gay marriage is happening — it's no longer "if," it's "when." Yet at the same moment the Republican Party's own research says that continued opposition to same-sex marriage is a deal breaker for voters under 30, the good doctor is rolling out Ben Carson 2.0 with an antiquated stance against same-sex marriage. In other words, 2013 Carson is emerging as a conservative folk hero from 1992.
If he wants headlines, he's got them. But if he wants to run for elected office, as I've speculated, here are a few points that Carson might consider:
You don't have to endorse gay marriage to accept it. We live in a republic founded on Judeo-Christian values, but not — strictly speaking — governed by them. Someone as smart as Carson certainly knows (or should, anyway) that even if same-sex marriage doesn't comport with his personal beliefs, it's the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law that counts here, not any one man's particular understanding of morality.
And even if it did come down to Carson's Christian beliefs, he might look to 1 John 4:16, which teaches, "Whoever lives in love lives in God … "
No one is trying to "impose" a gay lifestyle. Carson says that he's not against gays, "as long as they don't try to impose their lifestyle." But you can't impose something that's already there. Gays and lesbians already marry in Europe and Canada. The Mexican Supreme Court just ruled that banning same-sex marriage is "inherently discriminatory." And marriage equality is recognized in Carson's home state of Maryland, 10 other states and the District of Columbia, as well as under three American Indian tribal jurisdictions.
Reasonable minds might disagree. Plus, as a man of medicine, Carson is likely aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent conclusion that "children growing up in households headed by gay men or lesbians are not disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents." In that light, it would probably be more useful to hear Carson offer his assessment as a pediatrician rather than as a nascent cable-news luminary.
Which brings us back to the crux of the issue as it relates to Carson.
His is a stellar name in American life. Let's face it: Cuba Gooding Jr. doesn't play you on the big or the small screen unless you're the first African-American Navy master diver — or if you're Carson, the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head.
But heretofore, Carson has been known as an all-around mensch. Today he's breaking in on the national political scene as a scold, and not just on fiscal issues, which are far more debatable.
Marriage equality is different because opposing it is opposing the future. And while conservatives might be hoping Carson becomes an emblem of a revived conservative movement, on this particular issue, his attitude is a relic of the past.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.