Texas Gov. Rick Perry Compares Homosexuality to Alcoholism in San Francisco

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was invited to Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco to speak about biofuel, solar and wind energy, as well as take a trip down memory lane on being a Republican candidate during the 2012 presidential campaign.

So it was an unwelcome surprise to many in the liberal-leaning city when Perry ended up comparing homosexuality to alcoholism - in a story that took a life of its own on social media across the country hours after he spoke.

For example, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who married the first same-sex couples in San Francisco when he was mayor in 2004, tweeted that Perry "must apologize for (his) ignorant and hateful remarks," noting also that it is Gay Pride month. Newsom went to rehab for alcoholism in 2007.

The "remarks" in question came while Perry was taking questions after his speech on Wednesday evening.

Perry was asked about the Texas Republican Party's adoption this month of supporting access to "reparative therapy" for gays and lesbians - a disproven process intended to change sexual orientation.

Perry's answer: "I don't know. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a doctor."

Commonwealth Club interviewer Greg Dalton then asked him whether he believed homosexuality is a disorder.

"Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that," Perry said.  "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."

Audio Podcast of Rick Perry at Commonwealth Club

Perry's office sent out a standard email on Thursday, not specifically adressing his views on being gay and having a drinking problem.

"The governor supports traditional marriage and believes that marriage is between one man and one woman," Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed wrote. "He has been clear on his position that each state has the right to define marriage to reflect the views of its citizens."

Perry's views include his 2005 support for the Texas Marriage Amendment, defining marriage as the "union of one man and one woman." And when the Boy Scouts admitted openly gay Boy Scouts in May 2013, Perry stated: "I am greatly disappointed" with the decision.

Though the crowd at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill was full of Perry supporters, Perry's responsel drew a "murmur of disbelief," the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The Business Journal said members of the audience actually hissed.

By contrast, Perry didn't mention the controversy on his Twitter feed. He felt the event prompted "great discussion."

But critics quickly began chiming in.

Robbie Sherwood, a former political reporter for the Arizona Republic and the executive director of ProgressiveNow in Arizona tweeted: "Dumbassery is a choice, Rick, homosexuality is not." In a phone interview, Sherwood added: "Please keep going, tell us more what you think, because that will just accelerate Texas turning blue."

The national group, Human Rights Campaign, also took grave offense to Perry's remarks. On its website, spokesman Fred Sainz said: "Although he may not have the 'genetic coding' to think before he speaks, Rick Perry, M.D. should have a real conversation with actual doctors before voicing his expertise on these issues. Every major mental health and medical organization in the country has condemned practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation.”

In an interview on Thursday morning, George Dobbins, vice president for programming at the Commonwealth Club, said that Perry would "of course" be invited back to speak.

But Dobbins wouldn't state whether the Texas governor had the most controversial statements in the history of the club.

"Controversy," Dobbins said, "is in the eye of the beholder."

Watch the raw video here:

NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthews and Stephanie Chuang contributed to this report.

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