Fact Check

Not So Fast: Tony Perkins Actually Does Think Same-Sex Attraction Is A Choice

July 29, 2011 6:30 pm ET

PolitFact recently rated as “false” former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) claim that the science is in “dispute” as to whether being gay is a choice. In response, Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins came to Pawlenty’s defense, explaining that while “same-sex attraction” may not be a choice, homosexual behavior is. Some have acclaimed his explanation as a new and positive development in Perkins’ typically radical and hostile views on homosexuality. As much as we’d love to believe that Perkins’ opinion of gay and lesbian people is evolving, it just isn’t true. Not only is Perkins’ distinction between same-sex attraction and same-sex behavior nothing new, it’s also completely disingenuous.

Perkins States That “Same-Sex Attraction” Is Not A Choice

In Response To PolitiFact, Perkins Admitted Same-Sex Attraction Is Not A Choice. In response to a PolitiFact report debunking Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s claim that science is in “dispute” regarding whether being gay is a choice, Perkins stated on his Washington Update blog that while “same-sex attraction” is not a choice, choosing to act on those attractions is:

PolitiFact analyzed former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent statements on the origins of homosexuality. Meet the Press host David Gregory had asked: "Is being gay a choice?" Pawlenty began his response by saying, "Well, the science in that regard is in dispute." PolitiFact rated that lone sentence as "false." But the "choice" question is meaningless unless you also define what you mean by "gay." Same-sex attraction is not a choice, but homosexual conduct and homosexual self-identification are choices. [Family Research Council7/27/11]

Perkins: “Attractions Aren’t A Choice. Actions Are.” In a series of tweets promoting his Washington Update post, Perkins again claimed that while same-sex attractions aren’t a choice, “one need not be a slave of feelings”:


The Family Research Council Has Pushed The Attraction/Action Difference Before

FRC: “For The Most Part,” Same-Sex Attraction Is Not A Choice. In a 2004 FRC book entitled Getting It Straight: What the Research Show about Homosexuality, FRC Senior Fellows Peter Sprigg and Timothy Dailey wrote:

Debates over homosexuality are often presented in terms of a false dichotomy—either a person is “born gay,” or a person “chooses to be gay.” The truth lies between these two extremes. For the most part, people do not choose what sexual feelings or attractions they experience. Each of us does, however, choose the sexual behaviors in which we engage [Family Research Council, 2004]

FRC: “Involuntary” Attractions Are “No Excuse” For Failing To Control Same-Sex Behavior. In a 2007 FRC report entitled “Homosexuality Is Not a Civil Right,” FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg wrote:

Attractions are indeed “involuntary.” But people do choose, and can be held responsible for, what overt sexual behaviors they actually engage in. A heterosexual married man might feel sexually attracted to a woman who is not his wife, but if he acts on that attraction, he is rightly condemned for an act of adultery. The fact that his sexual attraction was “involuntary” is no excuse for failing to control his actual behavior. [Family Research Council“Homosexuality Is Not A Civil Right,” 2007]

FRC: “Homosexual Attractions May Be Involuntary” But Not Immutable. In a 2010 FRC Report entitled “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality,” FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg wrote: Homosexual attractions may be involuntary (but they are not immutable); engaging in homosexual relations, however, is clearly voluntary. [Family Research Council, “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality,” 2010, emphasis original]

In Reality, Perkins And FRC Continue To Promote The Myth That Same-Sex Attraction Can Be Changed

Perkins: People Can "Change From Homosexuality Toward Heterosexuality," Reparative Therapy Can Alter One’s “Sexual Attraction.” In a July 24 op-ed in the Columbia Daily TribuneTony Perkins cited research to assert that “reorientation” therapy change a person’s “sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning”:

In reality, the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality has detailed “125 years of clinical and scientific reports documenting that volitional change from homosexuality toward heterosexuality is possible.”

To complain of the absence of “adequate scientific rigor” in such reports is a Catch-22 because the APA’s own attempts to discourage such therapy inhibit the very research that is needed. Of course, no responsible reorientation therapist claims changing one’s sexual orientation is easy or guaranteed — any more than overcoming depression or anxiety is easy, for example. Truth Wins Out even noted the counselor it secretly taped admitted this.

But homosexual activists do not merely claim change is difficult — they claim it is impossible, and the evidence contradicts them.

Even Robert Spitzer, one of the psychiatrists who led the 1973 effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, confirmed in a study 30 years later that change is possible, noting, “The changes following reparative therapy were not limited to sexual behavior and sexual orientation self-identity” but ... “encompassed sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning ... the core aspects of sexual orientation.” [Columbia Daily Tribune7/24/11, emphasis added]

  • Major Medical Associations Have Rejected The Claim That Sexual Orientation Can Be Changed. “Ex-gay therapy” has been rejected by the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as several other major groups. [Truth Wins Out, accessed 7/29/11]

Perkins Claimed Same-Sex Attractions Can Be Changed And Gay People Can Be "TransformedThrough Jesus Christ. In an October 11 op-ed in the Washington PostTony Perkins implied that same-sex attractions could be changed through “the power of Jesus Christ”:

Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal--yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are "born gay" and can never change. This--and not society's disapproval--may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.

The most important thing that Christians can offer to homosexuals is hope--hope that their sins, just like the sins of anyone else, can be forgiven and their lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. [Washington Post10/11/10]

Perkins Suggested That “Biblical Counsel And Guidance” Could Help With “Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions.” In a July 13 tweet, Tony Perkins defended Marcus Bachmann’s clinic’s practice of “ex-gay” therapy, writing:


Perkins Promoted The Claim That Same-Sex Attraction Could Be Changed On His Radio Show. On the July 15 edition of FRC’s Washington Watch Weekly radio show, Tony Perkins invited Dr. Julie Hamilton -- a representative of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) -- to promote the myth that a person’s same-sex attractions could be changed through therapy. The radio show was posted online under the header “Does therapy to remove unwanted same-sex attractions work?”:

HAMILTON: [W]hat we found is that over the last 125 years change of sexual orientation has been documented in the scientific literature. And so we know, looking at that, that for years it has been clear, and even in recent studies it is very clear that people can and do change in the area of behavior as well as attraction. […]

PERKINS: Dr. Hamilton, you lay out the evidence but I have to ask the question: Why is the mental health world so resistant, then, to embrace what the research actually shows on this issue?

HAMILTON: Well it seems that this issue has just become highly politicized, and so many of the statements and many of the stances that are taken are based more in what’s politically correct or incorrect rather than what the science reveals. And so people are, I think there’s an agenda and I think one of the things that maybe is a popular belief right now is that homosexuals are simply born that way but the research is very clear that people are not born that way. But if the general public believes that people are born that way, then attempting to change that would appear to be the wrong step. But the research is clear that people are not simply born homosexual and that people can change. And truthfully, it’s harmful not to offer options to clients who are dissatisfied with their lives and who want choices for their lives.

PERKINS: Wow. Just to think about this, the ramification of the professional therapists that are yielding to this political pressure, that in fact what we may see is people that are locked into lifestyles that they actually want out of. And that, as you pointed out, is very destructive. [Family Research Council, Washington Watch Weekly Radio Show, 7/15/11, emphasis added]

  • NARTH Has A History Of Promoting Discredited Research. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:  

The claims of ex-gay ministries that homosexuality can be deprogrammed are supported in propaganda disseminated by Exodus and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality with the same brand of discredited pseudo-science that in recent decades has been cited as proof that homosexuals are more prone to be child molesters than heterosexuals and, more recently, that adopted children are worse off with gay or lesbian parents than with a heterosexual couple.

"There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of 'reparative conversion therapy' as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation," the American Psychiatric Association has officially stated. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2005]

FRC: People Can Change Their “Internal Sexual Desires Or Attractions.” In the FRC’s 2010 report “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality,” FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg cites numerous studies that he claims prove gay people can change their “internal sexual desires”:

One’s internal sexual desires or attractions are undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of “sexual orientation” to change, but the evidence demonstrates that many people have experienced change in that way as well. Some people in therapy have experienced significant reductions in their same-sex attractions, even when that was not the goal of therapy, as a result of the resolution of other personal issues in their lives.

One “meta-analysis” combining data from thirty studies on reorientation therapy, conducted between 1954 and 1994, showed that 33% of subjects had made some shift toward heterosexuality.

Similarly, a survey of over 800 individuals who had participated in a variety of efforts to change from a homosexual orientation found that 34.3% had shifted “to an exclusively or almost exclusively heterosexual orientation.”

The most methodologically rigorous (prospective and longitudinal) study yet conducted, on subjects who had sought change through religious ministries, which was published in a 414-page book, showed that 38% achieved success, defined as either “substantial conversion to heterosexual attraction” (15%) or “chastity” with homosexual attraction “either missing or present only incidentally.”

One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the possibility of change came from an unlikely source -- Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who was instrumental in the pivotal 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders. Spitzer studied two hundred people who had reported some measure of change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation as a result of what is sometimes called “reparative therapy” for unwanted same-sex attractions. He concluded,

The changes following reparative therapy were not limited to sexual behavior and sexual orientation self-identity. The changes encompassed sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning, and being bothered by homosexual feelings. The changes encompassed the core aspects of sexual orientation.

This is not to say that change is easy, that it is typically accomplished through prayer or will-power alone, or that the success of reorientation therapy can be guaranteed. However, personal testimonies, survey data and clinical research all make clear that change from a predominantly homosexual to a predominantly heterosexual orientation is possible. [Family Research Council, “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality,” 2010, footnotes removed for clarity, emphasis added]

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