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"Nasty, Petty, And Ill-Informed": Ben Carson's John Hopkins Colleague Responds To His Marriage Equality Attack

March 28, 2013 5:37 pm ET by Matt Gertz

The co-director of Johns Hopkins University's sexuality studies program is speaking out against his colleague Dr. Ben Carson's recent comments comparing supporters of marriage equality to members of NAMBLA and practitioners of bestiality.

"I don't think most people at Hopkins think what he says on this subject matter," Professor Todd Shepard, co-director of the university's Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, said in a statement to Media Matters. "They make him look nasty, petty, and ill-informed. It doesn't tell us anything about his amazing abilities as a surgeon. It does remind us, however, that those abilities do not mean we should listen to what he says in any other domain."

During a March 26 appearance on Fox News, Carson said, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."

"So, it's not something against gays," added the Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgery professor, who has recently become a sensation among the conservative media. "It's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications."

Business Insider described Carson's appearance as a "trainwreck of an interview," while Slate's David Weigel wrote that the professor, who has been heavily promoted by Fox News in recent months and is reportedly seeking to host a television show after he retires from Johns Hopkins later this year, "took a sharp turn into Gaffe City." Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote that Fox had "created a climate" for Carson's "partisan, polarizing and possibly hurtful language."

Shepard, who teaches French history as well as gender and sexuality studies, compared Carson to the French intellectuals who supported the prosecution of Alfred Dreyfus at the turn of the 20th century.

"I admire Dr. Carson as a neurosurgeon, but his intervention into this debate proves that, like those who defended the Army and the Church against Dreyfus, he prefers to defend the ways things have been rather than individual rights and to deny that informed and rational debate is a better basis for making decisions than received wisdom," said Shepard. "I doubt that he would apply these lessons to his professional life. In this case, where he knows nothing more than hearsay, the good doctor is wrong about the history."

Shepard concluded that these "reactionary and rancid claims do remind us of how far the general discussion has advanced beyond Dr. Carson and his far-right audience."

The full statement from Shepard:

The term intellectual emerged around the late-19th-century Dreyfus Affair, when writers, artists, and academics spoke out in the name of impartial justice and individual rights in defense of a man unjustly condemned because he was a Jew, while others insisted that a defense of the established order (notably the Church) required supporting the conviction. Intellectuals, then, are individuals who use their expertise in one esteemed area of human endeavor, science, for example, to intervene in the public debate on topics outside of their specific expertise.

I admire Dr. Carson as a neurosurgeon, but his intervention into this debate proves that, like those who defended the Army and the Church against Dreyfus, he prefers to defend the ways things have been rather than individual rights and to deny that informed and rational debate is a better basis for making decisions than received wisdom. I doubt that he would apply these lessons to his professional life. In this case, where he knows nothing more than hearsay, the good doctor is wrong about the history.

Legal marriage is defined by laws made by human beings, not by his definition of what his god decreed. He should check out the Constitution on this matter. Who can get married has been widely debated across different cultures and time periods. It's always been open to discussion and redefinition. That's how law-making works.  Age of consent laws in this country, for example, are much more restrictive now than they were in the 19th century. Rape and sexual abuse were far more widely accepted. Feminists, gay rights groups, and others all helped make that change (ask the Catholic Church). He also is insulting, offhand, and ill-informed in the comparison he makes to bestiality, Nambla, etc. Half-baked history and insults, then, are where he wants to stake his tent.

I don't think most people at Hopkins think what he says on this subject matter. They make him look nasty, petty, and ill-informed. It doesn't tell us anything about his amazing abilities as a surgeon. It does remind us, however, that those abilities do not mean we should listen to what he says in any other domain. One of the nice things about the current debate is that it's not just LGBT people who are concerned. Americans are involved in this discussion. The vast majority of Americans are open to judging this question of equal rights to marry on the basis of the evidence, in a process of open discussion. As they've seen the evidence, most have moved away from the hysterical and de-humanizing arguments to which Dr. Carson still clings. He is welcome to put them out there. I and others can now judge him on those statements. It makes him look bad. But such reactionary and rancid claims do remind us of how far the general discussion has advanced beyond Dr. Carson and his far-right audience.