Johns Hopkins dean calls Ben Carson’s words ‘offensive,’ Carson apologizes

A top official at Johns Hopkins University issued a statement Friday labeling Ben Carson's comments about gay marriage "offensive" and said the school will meet with students who want him removed as commencement speaker.

Carson, meanwhile, offered a fuller apology for the comments, which compared gay marriage to bestiality and pedophilia.

Dr. Paul Rothman, the dean of medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement that Carson's words were offensive but emphasized the school's belief in free speech as well.

"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," Rothman said. "Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution.

"We have been carefully listening to the varied opinions expressed by members of our community in response to Dr. Carson’s comments. ... We are trying to thoughtfully work through these issues, and as part of that process, we will be meeting with graduating students on Monday."

Carson, who delivered a not-quite-apology earlier this week, issued a fuller one to the school in a separate e-mail Friday.

"I am sorry for any embarrassment this has caused," Carson said in the letter, which was first reported by New York Magazine. "But what really saddens me is that my poorly chosen words caused pain for some members of our community and for that I offer a most sincere and heartfelt apology.

Carson added: "Although I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman, there are much less offensive ways to make that point. I hope all will look at a lifetime of service over some poorly chosen words."

Carson was asked in an interview last week on Fox News Channel about his position on gay marriage. Unprompted, he made references to bestiality and the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group that seeks to overturn laws against consensual relationships between adults and minors.

"It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group — be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are — they don't get to change the definition," Carson said. "So it's not something that is against gays; it's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications."

Carson backed off the comments during a later interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. But he also said that he had been taken out of context, and there continued to be a backlash on the Johns Hopkins campus, with Carson set to deliver the commencement address.

Students at the school have been circulating a petition urging that Carson be removed  from the speaking slot, but the school has resisted that pressure so far.

Carson emerged as a conservative darling this year when he delivered a speech critical of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, with Obama sitting close by. In his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Carson alluded twice to increasing speculation that he might run for president in 2016 and announced his official retirement from medicine.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | April 5, 2013