Republican Senate candidate Charlie Summers thinks he could decide to be gay someday. At least, let’s hope that’s the case. If Summers believes sexuality is a matter of personal preference, rather than an innate aspect of human biology, that would make it a tiny bit easier to swallow his opposition to Maine’s law banning discrimination against people on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation.
Otherwise, he really looks like a bigot.
During an appearance this past spring on MPBN’s “Maine Calling” radio show, Summers dipped his toe into the gay-rights debate. He reiterated his belief that marriage should be limited to unions of heterosexual couples, but added, “I think someone’s private life should remain their private life.”
Maria Holt, a former state legislator from Bath who served with Summers in Augusta when the anti-discrimination measure was being debated, was on the phone. “But, my dear old friend, if your private life keeps you from getting a rental …”
Summers cut her off. “Well, I certainly know what you’re talking about,” he said. (He does?) He then listed several business groups — including the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association — that “do not support that type of discrimination.”
“I think that that is their choice and they’re doing it on their own volition,” Summers told Holt. “That is really the difference in the approach between you and I.”
So, in Summers’ view, we don’t need laws to protect people from discrimination if businesses say they won’t discriminate. That’s the tea party position that got another Republican Senate candidate in hot water two years ago. Speaking on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Rand Paul reiterated his belief (previously expressed in a public radio interview) that the government shouldn’t force businesses to abide by civil rights legislation. In that case, the law was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of race.
If Summers thinks sexual orientation is, like race, an innate human characteristic, then one wonders if his opposition to Maine’s law banning discrimination based on sexuality also applies to the federal government’s law banning discrimination based on race.
I called and emailed Summers’ campaign asking the candidate to clarify his position. He did not respond.
But again, I hope Summers thinks sexuality is a choice, that people can choose to be gay or straight the same way they choose their hairstyle. Otherwise, Summers must believe it should be legal for businesses to discriminate against people based on characteristics beyond their control. That position reeks of bigotry.
I realize this public figure is a private guy, but I’m curious to hear Summers describe how he decided to be heterosexual. Summers came of age in the swingin’ ’70s, during the disco era. Was it an agonizing decision? For that matter, is it still possible this married father of three will change teams or become a switch-hitter?
My own story is pretty dull, but in the interest of fairness, I’ll share it. I didn’t choose to be straight, it just happened. I’ve always been hetero and can’t imagine feeling otherwise.
This experience has led me to the same conclusion most biologists and psychologists have reached: sexual orientation is not a conscious choice. But even if it is, it still should be illegal to deny someone a home, or a hotel room, or a job, or credit, or an education based on that orientation.
Summers’ view that a pledge by business organizations not to discriminate is sufficient to ensure civil rights is preposterous. Assuming the establishment in question even belongs to one of these trade groups, what’s the consequence if it discriminates? Would the threat of a letter of reprimand from Maine Chamber President Dana Connors be sufficient to ensure equal treatment at Chamber businesses? Does the homophobic hotelier so fear the possibility of not having the current year’s Innkeepers Association decal on the door that he changes his hateful ways?
Rand Paul had to backpedal faster than a cornerback covering Jerry Rice when he expressed views on civil rights similar to Summers’. Charlie’s got some explaining to do, too.
Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. His column appears here weekly.