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Why Rick Perry Thinks It's Politically Clever to Liken Homosexuality to Alcoholism

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RICK PERRY
AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

While it was widely reported last week that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had once again likened homosexuality to alcoholism, it went almost unnoticed in the national media that the Texas Republican Party platform had removed its prior call to bring back the Texas sodomy statute, which would have recriminalized homosexuality. And that may be a key fact in understanding what is going on in the minds of Texas GOP leaders, including Perry, who very well may take this message nationwide if he runs for the Republican nomination for the presidency yet again.

Speaking in San Francisco last week, Perry reiterated what he'd said in his 2008 book, On My Honor, stating, "I made the point of talking about alcoholism. 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." In the same week the Texas GOP platform appeared to be following Perry's line, treating homosexuality as a disease that, like alcoholism, needs treatment, getting a lot of media attention for outrageously supporting "ex-gay" therapy, which medical and psychological authorities have said not only doesn't work but could be psychologically damaging.

But interestingly, the new platform doesn't call for bringing back the sodomy statute -- banning homosexual sex -- and, as Towleroad noted, doesn't claim that homosexuality "is tearing at the moral fabric of the family," both of which were in the 2012 platform. And this, I think, helps explain the warped ways in which the Texas GOP and Rick Perry believe they are crafting a less harsh -- if no less homophobic -- position on gays. No longer is homosexuality positioned as something dangerous and aggressive, a willful act that is destroying the country and needs to be criminalized. Now it is a disease and an addiction, something these poor souls need help in order to control, and for which they should be treated -- or at least for which they have the right to have treatment available. Call it Perrycare.

The new platform still opposes gay marriage and allowing gays to foster children, and it opposes any laws that would give gays any kind of rights, but now all of that is in the service of stopping people who are allegedly mentally unstable and addiction-addled from doing harm to others, rather than stopping willful criminals. The platform touts "the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle." And it calls for no sanctions against those who would offer such treatment, a direct response to New Jersey and California banning so-called reparative therapy by licensed therapists to minors.

All of this may seem like crazy stuff to many of us, and particularly to those who know that the American Psychiatric Association began calling alcoholism a disease 60 years ago -- and still does -- but stopped calling homosexuality a disease over 40 years ago and does not believe sexual orientation can be changed. And the Texas GOP platform surely is not going to fly with the vast majority of people today.

But it makes sense in the minds of of some leaders of a party that is flailing, nationally and across the country, in the midst of a civil war on a variety of issues. The GOP may be split by tea party insurgents, but it is still in a tense struggle with the religious conservatives it has relied upon as gay marriage becomes more accepted. And sometimes these individuals are one and the same, such as Dave Brat, the anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-immigration candidate who toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) in a GOP primary last week.

The GOP is desperate to continue pandering to religious conservatives while not seeming too icky to moderate GOPers and independents who aren't anti-gay but just want their tax cuts. So they're trying out all kinds of things. The Arizona "religious liberties" law vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year was a first try at recasting the gay issue, attempting to make religious conservatives into victims. It backfired big-time, as it was clear that they were simply intent on discriminating against LGBT people, but evangelical leaders vowed to continue to fight for their "religious liberties," sending a message to the GOP that they've got to find a way to keep the issue in play.

The Texas GOP platform, as nutty as it seems, may be another stab at that, until GOP leaders find a way to dog-whistle to homophobes while not making other Republicans uncomfortable.