LAKE ELMO, Minn. — A gay activist's undercover video is drawing unwanted attention to a counseling clinic co-owned by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, with footage apparently showing a counselor offering to help the activist overcome his homosexual urges.
Both Bachmann and her husband Marcus, who runs the clinic, refused Tuesday to answer questions about the video from Truth Wins Out, a gay advocacy group that has worked to discredit so-called "ex-gay therapy."
In it, a counselor is seen saying that sessions could help build up the patient's desire for women.
"I believe twice over the course of the first session he made reference to his belief that we are all created heterosexual, and that some of us just have different challenges with that," the activist, John Becker said in an interview with The Associated Press. "God created us all for heterosexuality – he said that twice."
The undercover video, first aired Monday by ABC News, comes at a time when Bachmann has emerged as a top GOP contender with a message that favors economic issues over the conservative social stands that marked her early rise in Minnesota. Bachmann often touts the family clinic as evidence of her business know-how.
Marcus Bachmann has denied in the past that his practice seeks to "cure" people of being gay. In a 2006 interview with the Minneapolis weekly newspaper City Pages, he called such claims "false" – though added that the Christian-affiliated clinic was open to patients who wanted to talk about their homosexuality.
On Tuesday, a receptionist at the clinic, Bachmann and Associates Inc., turned away an Associated Press reporter and said no one there would do interviews. Bachmann's campaign said neither Bachmann would be interviewed on the subject.
Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said such matters are protected by patient-client confidentiality. "The Bachmann's are in no position ethically, legally, or morally to discuss specific courses of treatment concerning the clinic's patients. The clinic honors and respects all people for whatever issue they come in for and if there is a conflict, they refer elsewhere," said a written statement from Stewart.
Marcus Bachmann has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and the clinic's website advertises a wide range of counseling from anger management to eating disorders. The site advertises the clinic's Christian affiliation, though nowhere are there references to ex-gay or so-called "reparative therapy." It has locations in two Twin Cities suburbs, and has collected at least $137,000 from Medicaid-backed programs.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution and report strongly condemning the practice. The resolution said no solid evidence exists that individuals can change their sexual orientation and that efforts to do so could induce depression and suicidal tendencies.
Becker's group began looking into the therapy at the Bachmann clinic last month after Michele Bachmann, powered by tea party support, burst onto the 2012 scene. Becker said most of the information he told the counselor was false and that he does not struggle with his homosexuality.
Separately, a gay Minneapolis man who said he was a teenage patient at the counseling center in suburban St. Paul also shared details about his treatment there several years ago.
Andrew Ramirez told the AP on Tuesday that he was 17 when his parents insisted he seek help after he disclosed he was gay. Ramirez said he had two counseling sessions in 2004.
The male counselor "said if I pray to God that I no longer be gay, and study the Bible, that through continued therapy God could perform a miracle and I could become straight," Ramirez, now 24, said. Ramirez said after two sessions, he told his mother the therapy was pointless and she told him he could stop going. He said he never met Marcus Bachmann.
Ramirez said he contacted Truth Wins Out after a friend saw an item the group posted on its blog seeking former patients from the Bachmann clinic.
Politically, the clinic has been useful to Bachmann. She routinely cites it in stump speeches as evidence she understands the challenges face by entrepreneurs and small employers. And during her initial run for Congress, Bachmann's campaign leased office space from the clinic for a few months, according to federal campaign reports.
Bachmann's political rise was fueled early by her work on social issues, first through her campaign to undo school standards she regarded as invasive and later by her dogged pursuit of a gay marriage ban in Minnesota.
While Bachmann's social stances haven't figure as prominently in her current campaign, they have come up. Bachmann promotes faith as her personal and political foundation, stresses her anti-abortion stances and highlights her role in Minnesota's marriage debate.
She drew questions last weekend for signing a conservative Iowa group's "marriage vow" that contained controversial language comparing the home life of black children during the days of slavery and in today's society. The group, the Family Leader, has since revised its pledge to remove the slavery mention.
The pledge, coupled with unflattering attention to the clinic, isn't sitting well among Republicans who worry about a party nominee who could struggle to connect with swing voters.
"Those are fringe positions that will turn off currently registered Republicans or voters in that independent, movable middle," said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the pro-gay rights Log Cabin Republicans. "Politics is about numbers. It's about addition. Having fringe positions, we're going to lose voters."