Dr. Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon and would-be Johns Hopkins 2013 commencement speaker, stepped down on Wednesday amid growing controversy over remarks he made in March to Fox host Sean Hannity, in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. (Interestingly, it wasn't the first time someone’s gotten in trouble for that.)
Responding to a question posed concerning same-sex marriage, Carson explained: “Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society, and no group — be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are — they don’t get to change the definition.”
Quickly overshadowing an illustrious career including multiple medical breakthroughs, over 50 honorary doctorate degrees and a 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom, Carson’s remarks ignited controversy and backlash within the Hopkins community. The school’s Health and Human Rights Student Group took to Facebook with a petition, noting: “At the time of his nomination, Dr. Carson was known to most of us as a world-class neurosurgeon and passionate advocate for education … Since then, however, several public events have cast serious doubt on the appropriateness of having Dr. Carson speak at our graduation.”
They refer, in addition to Carson’s remarks on Fox, to a politically polarizing speech he made in February at the National Prayer Breakfast in front of President Obama.
“I would say that this is their day, and the last thing I would want to do is rain on their parade,” Carson told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, withdrawing of his own accord shortly thereafter. Dr. Paul B. Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement: “We recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution.”
Carson’s remarks come at an interesting time, following the timely phase-out of his medical career, and what would seem to be the first tentative steps (stumbles?) into a political one. The 61-year-old neurosurgeon officially announced his retirement at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), noting: “I’d much rather quit when I’m at the top of my game. And there’s so many more things that can be done.” In a subsequent interview about a future in politics, he noted cryptically: “Clearly if a year and a half went by and there was no one on the scene and people are still clamoring, I would have to take that into consideration. I would never turn my back on my fellow citizens.”
Will this have an effect on any future political aspirations? Not likely. A non-political figure securing a party nomination is unheard of in contemporary American politics, making this seem more like a presidential non-start than a derailment. Though if anti-Washington sentiment continues to grow, outsider status could just be enough to catapult a Carson into the 2016 spotlight.
Let's just hope he learns to control his gaffes.