Neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Wednesday withdrew as commencement speaker at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine after students protested statements he made about same-sex marriage.
In an e-mail to the dean of the Hopkins medical school, Carson said he worries his speech would be a distraction to graduates.
“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interests of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year,” Carson wrote in the note, obtained by the Baltimore Sun. “My presence is likely to distract from the true celebratory nature of the day. Commencement is about the students and their successes, and it is not about me.”
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Students at Hopkins had petitioned to have Carson removed after controversial comments he made during a television interview with Fox News late last month.
"Marriage is between a man and a woman," Carson said during the television appearance. "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 subsequently apologized for his statement. But in his e-mail, Carson said he was discouraged by the protests that followed his remarks.
"Someday in the future, it is my hope and prayer that the emphasis on political correctness will decrease and we will start emphasizing rational discussion of differences so we can actually resolve problems and chart a course that is inclusive of everyone," he wrote.
Dean Paul Rothman criticized Carson's comments as "hurtful" in a statement last week, but had not demanded that the neurosurgeon, who plans to retire this year, step down as graduation speaker.
"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," Rothman said.