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[Michael Smerconish] How Bachmann lost a young conservative

Michele Bachmann, meet Ben Haney.

In other circumstances, Ben could have been a real asset to your campaign. He’s a 28-year-old Republican with experience as a traveling advance man for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008. Ben was born and raised in the critically important suburbs of Philadelphia. Having taught government at a high school, Ben now runs his own real estate investment company and co-owns a Philadelphia bar. In fact, one of his business partners is Rob McElhenney, star and creator of the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Ben was raised Catholic. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame after spending a semester interning for Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, in Washington. Ben comes from a great family, and I can personally attest to his character. For two summers he interned for my talk-radio program (on a station that then featured conservative icons Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity).

I will never forget the day he jumped unsolicited into his car and drove three hours to the nation’s capital to stand in line and pay his respects to President Ronald Reagan as the Gipper lay in state ― all while providing my listening audience with live reports.

Ben is troubled by your signing of a 14-point pro-marriage pledge at the request of the Family Leader, an Iowa social conservative group. It’s not only the part about black kids being better off under slavery than they are today that caught his eye. (Yes, he knows that language was dropped after you signed the pledge.) It’s the verbiage about sexuality being a choice.

You signed a document that challenges the belief that sexuality is predetermined. The Family Leader pledge laments that marriage is “debased” by, among other things, an “antiscientific bias which holds, in complete absence of empirical proof, that nonheterosexual inclinations are genetically determined, irresistible, and akin to innate traits like race, gender, and eye color.”

See, my friend and former intern Ben is gay. And he never made any such choice.

Your thinking is nothing new, and it runs in your family.

In 2004, at the National Education Leadership Conference, you said of the gay lifestyle: “It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”

Then there’s your husband, Marcus, who obtained his Ph.D. by virtue of a correspondence course. He runs a mental-health clinic but, according to Politico, is not registered with any of the three state boards that certify mental health practitioners. (Minnesota is one of the only states in which you can practice mental health without a license.) Last year, when asked during a radio interview about parenting homosexual children, he said:

“We have to understand: Barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined. Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn’t mean that we are supposed to go down that road. That’s what is called the sinful nature. We have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings from moving into the action steps ... .”

Marcus Bachmann has denied that his clinic engages in attempts to “pray away the gay,” but ABC’s Nightline recently aired an interview with a man who said that, at age 17, he sought help from Bachmann & Associates and the “path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay.”

Naturally, Ben, a proud Notre Dame alum, doesn’t appreciate the reference to the devil, nor being compared to barbarians. His life is anything but “sad,” and there are a number of things he thinks you should know.

First, he’s always known he was gay. “I’ve always known something was different,” he told me. “Coming out is more a process of accepting yourself than anything else.”

Second, there is nothing in his background that caused this. He is part of a conservative family and attended a Catholic high school and college ― an upbringing that he says did nothing to “promote being gay.”

And he wonders who exactly you think would “choose” to be gay, given the myriad personal, emotional, and legal issues that a homosexual lifestyle introduces.

“If you could simply choose who you were sexually attracted to,” Ben wondered, “wouldn’t you choose the path of least resistance? Being gay creates problems and obstacles in life that no one would willingly choose.”

Yet despite these obstacles, Ben still believes that once the predisposition toward sexuality is understood as being just that, the basis for the discrimination he faces as a gay man will dissipate.

“Thankfully we live in a country that, for the most part, does not permit discrimination against those things a person cannot control. We don’t tolerate bias based on race, or gender, or disabilities, because people don’t choose these fates,” Ben said.

“Sadly, obstacles remain in regards to sexuality due to ignorance by many toward the gay community. Once there is a realization that gays are normal members of their families and society who just want a chance to live their lives like anyone else, we’re one step closer to equality.”

Ben also has a political observation he wishes to share. Signing a pledge that says he and others chose their sexuality, your husband’s equating homosexuals with barbarians, and attempts to pray out of one’s sexual preference are shortsighted and show your naivete about winning the presidency.

Such beliefs may win you the votes for the Republican nomination, but they all but guarantee that you will not win the moderate voters who continually decide presidential elections. To them and most of the nation, your positions are out of touch, insulting, and downright flaky.

By Michael Smerconish, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. ― Ed.

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)