Ben Carson is making headlines again for his eyebrow-raising rhetoric, after saying bakeries opposed to same-sex marriage might poison wedding cakes if they are forced to make them for gay couples.
The acclaimed former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has been rebranding himself as a conservative political pundit and potential presidential contender in 2016, made the comments during a briefing with reporters after a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.
"I believe in justice and fairness for everybody. And I don't care what people's sexual orientation is. If two adults want to be together, I'm not going to stop them from being together," Carson said, after being asked about same-sex marriage. "If they even want to have a legal contract so they can share property and have visitation rights, I don't have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is when people try to force people to act against their beliefs, because they say, 'they're discriminating against me.' So, you know, they can go right down the street and buy a cake, but no, let's bring a suit against this person because I want them to make my cake, even though they don't believe in it.
"Which is really not that smart," he quipped, "because they might put poison in your cake."
As The Hill reported, the cake comment garnered "chuckles from some of his staff and dead silence from the journalists in the room."
On Tuesday, Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, the state's leading advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, called Carson's cake poisoning comment "repugnant and out-of-step with the majority of Americans."
Ross Murray, a spokesman for LGBT media watchdog GLAAD, said the remark added to a long list of Carson's past comments about LGBT issues that the organization considers "inflammatory" -- particularly in a country where LGBT people already face high levels of violence based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Terry Giles, chair of Carson's political action committee, USA FIRST, said Tuesday it was unfortunate Carson's words made some people upset, but making "a significant issue" out of his comment is "disingenuous at best and the worst kind of political demonizing at worst."
"Dr. Carson's response was intended to be humorous from the standpoint that you do not upset the people serving you food because -- as the saying goes -- 'they may spit in your soup,'" Giles said in an email. "That is neither controversial nor difficult to understand."
Giles said Carson has made it clear in his books that he supports gay rights and civil unions, but "feels that changing the definition of marriage is not a wise thing to do" and should be a state issue, not a federal issue.
"He has been clear that he is hoping the Supreme Court, which is taking up this issue, will rule that this issue is a state issue that needs to be resolved on a state by state basis where the democratic process can determine the will of the people on a more local level," Giles said.
Here's the news conference following his speech in which he made the cake comments. The discussion on same-sex marriage begins at the 4:28 mark. The cake comments start around the 7:50 mark.
Carson went on to say "you can't just expect people on the right to be tolerant while people on the left are totally intolerant. We need to get back to a state of fairness, liberty and justice for all."
He also said he doesn't "hear any fat lady singing" when it comes to the same-sex marriage debate, which remains alive and well in the Republican party. When asked whether he is running for president, he said he is "still considering it very, very carefully."
The comments are not Carson's first to anger the LGBT community.
In March 2013, Carson -- then a Fox News pundit -- was asked what he thought of same-sex marriage by Fox host Sean Hannity. He responded, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. 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."
The perceived comparison of gay and lesbian couples to members of the North American Boy/Man Love Association and those who engage in sex with animals sparked widespread criticism, including from Carson's former colleagues at Hopkins, in Baltimore.
"It is clear that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect," said Dr. Paul B. Rothman, dean of Johns Hopkins Medicine, in a statement seeking to distance the institution from Carson's rhetoric.
The backlash to the 2013 comments led Carson to withdraw as a scheduled commencement speaker at the Hopkins School of Medicine.