Adelious Stith, a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, describes himself as “a former homosexual.”
Stith, 56, said he had a basic reason for highlighting his background for me and during an earlier online candidates’ forum.
“It’s a lifestyle that I lived,” he said in a phone interview. “The thing that I said was my story.”
State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who is gay, said Stith went further than providing a biographical sketch.
Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said Stith “made it clear that his goal in elected office is to encourage others to just stop being gay. He wants to protect others from ‘those lifestyles.’ Who I am and who my family is is not a ‘lifestyle’ choice, Mr. Stith.”
Candelaria was part of the candidates’ forum and has since blistered Stith in posts on social media.
Stith calls the senator’s assessment unfair.
“He doesn’t know me. He discriminated against me,” Stith said, for doing nothing more than discussing a chapter in his life.
To establish that Candelaria had drawn incorrect conclusions, Stith first said he would send me a transcript of his comments and arrange for a recording of the candidates’ forum to be posted online. Stith reversed himself the next day.
Setting aside what he’d said at the forum, I asked Stith about sexual orientation. Can people choose not to be gay or straight?
“People can make a choice to do what they want with their lives, whether it’s sexuality or drinking or smoking a joint,” Stith said.
He makes his living as an insurance agent, but said he’s also an ordained minister with a code to follow.
“I live according to the word of God, and that is what I preach,” he said.
What does that mean in the context of sexuality? Was Stith referencing scripture, as many have, to argue that homosexuality is morally wrong? Stith sidestepped the question.
Any suggestion that people simply can choose not to be gay has long troubled Candelaria, a 33-year-old attorney who is married to a physician.
Candelaria sponsored a bill in 2017 that led to a ban on conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy is the discredited practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation.
The bill easily cleared both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support, though 28 rural Republicans voted against it. One Democrat, Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, who works as a police officer at a high school in Albuquerque, also opposed banning conversion therapy.
Candelaria often had been at odds with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on policy questions, but she signed his bill banning conversion therapy.
“I do not lightly enact legislation that makes government a party to the medical care decision-making of a parent and child,” Martinez wrote in explaining her decision. “Yet, at the same time, numerous reputable medical organizations like the American Psychological Association have rebuked this practice, stating it may lead to depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, self-hatred, substance abuse and suicide.”
Nothing has been said at the Capitol about conversion therapy since Candelaria’s bill outlawed it.
Stith said he wasn’t talking about conversion therapy, either. In describing his own experiences, he said no one persuaded him to be a homosexual or to stop being a homosexual. He made his own choices in most instances regarding sex.
“I had relations with men. I also was raped when I was 17 years old,” Stith said.
He said he mentioned his ordeal during the forum, yet it had received no attention from those who criticize him for commenting on sexual orientation.
In a biography on his campaign website, Stith does not talk about homosexuality. He is pictured with his wife and says they have been married for 33 years. He also said he has five children and three grandchildren.
Stith is challenging Democratic Rep. Joy Garratt in the November election. She represents House District 29 on Albuquerque’s west side.
Garratt unseated a Republican lawmaker in 2018. Democrats in that election had a net gain of eight seats, giving them a 46-24 advantage in the House of Representatives.
Republicans hope to recapture seats in swing districts such as Garratt’s. Candelaria is just as hopeful Garratt will defeat Stith.
“Pray God this man is never elected to public office,” Candelaria wrote on his Facebook page.
Stith in 2018 won the 400-meter dash in his age group at the New Mexico Senior Olympics. This race looks tougher, despite Stith’s campaign pitch of unity.
He says one of his skills is ending divisions to bring people together. That’s not the way it’s working out.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected] or 505-86-3080.