Rick Perry "stepped right in it" comparing gays to alcoholics

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 7, 2014. Friday marks the second day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which brings together prospective presidential candidates, conservative opinion leaders and tea party activists from coast to coast. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry probably shouldn't have attempted to make the case that gay people can "decide not to" be gay despite genetic predisposition, he conceded Thursday, offering no semblance of an apology but trying instead to rally attention back to his message about jobs and the economy.

"I got asked about an issue," Perry, a Republican, explained during a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "And instead of saying, 'You know what? We need to be a really respectful and tolerant country - to everybody - and get back to talking about: Whether you're gay or straight, you need to be having a job.' And those are the focuses I want to be involved with.

"Instead," he went on, "I readily admit - I stepped right in it."

Perry was asked during an appearance in San Francisco last week whether he believes homosexuality is a disorder. He seized the opportunity to liken "the homosexual issue" with the physically debilitating disease of alcoholism.

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

The remark, delivered during an appearance at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, drew "murmurs of disbelief" from the audience, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, though it merely echoed a similar comparison he made in his 2008 book, "On My Honor."

It's not the first time Perry - who's currently chewing over a 2016 White House run - has "stepped in it," nor is it the first time he's turned that particular phrase.

Following a cringe-worthy and ultimately derailing debate moment during his 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry froze when trying to remember the third federal agency he had pledged to eliminate. Hastening to the spin room for damage control immediately after the debate, Perry told reporters: "I'm glad I had my boots on tonight, because I sure stepped in it out there."

As more Republicans - including, recently, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer - board the bandwagon of political leaders calling for improvements in same-sex rights, it might behoove Perry to find his footing on the issue.

His riff in famously LGBT-friendly San Francisco came just four days after the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform endorsing the controversial practice of "reparative therapy," which seeks to convert gays and lesbians to a "straight" lifestyle through prayer and counseling.

Perry said he's not sure whether such therapy works, but in a memorable campaign ad that debuted in Iowa in late 2011 before the first-in-the-nation caucuses there he brandished his Christian faith and condemned the repeal of the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm Christian," he said in the spot. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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