Ben Carson cancels Johns Hopkins commencement speech over anti-gay remarks

Anti-gay vitriol might get you GOP accolades, but it will lose you a commencement spot at Johns Hopkins

Published April 11, 2013 4:50AM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

After weeks of unsuccessfully walking back comments comparing gay marriage to pedophilia and bestiality, conservatism's latest best hope Ben Carson has canceled his speech at the Johns Hopkins University 2013 commencement.

During a post-CPAC media victory lap, the Hopkins neurosurgeon told Fox News that "no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality" can change the definition of so-called traditional marriage, which he said is a "fundamental pillar of society."

Carson was rebuked by students, faculty and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Dean Paul B. Rothman over his statement last week, and he sent Rothman a letter stepping down as commencement speaker on Wednesday.

In the letter obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Carson claimed he did not want his presence to "distract from the celebratory nature of the day," going on to explain: "Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interest of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year."

Before making the decision to cancel his commencement speech, Carson went on MSNBC to clarify his offensive remarks with a dizzying anecdote about fruits. Many, many fruits:

But what I was basically saying is that there is no group. I wasn't equating those things, I don't think they're equal. Just, you know, if you ask me for apple and I give you an orange you would say, well that's not an orange. And then I say, that's a banana, that's not an apple either. And there's a peach, that's not an apple, either. But it doesn't mean that I'm equating the banana and the orange and the peach. And in the same way I'm not equating those things.  My point was that once we start changing the definitions, then where do we stop?

Hopkins students and faculty didn't buy the produce-heavy explanation, leading Carson to further apologize for causing "pain for some members of [the Hopkins] community,” and promising to find “much less offensive ways" to talk about denying gay couples equal rights.

In an email statement to the Sun, Hopkins spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said: "This was purely Dr. Carson's decision," adding that the university is still searching for his replacement speaker.



By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Ben Carson Gay Marriage Gay Rights Homophobia