This past Wednesday, the governing council of the American Psychological Association approved 125-to-4 a report challenging therapies that attempt to change sexual orientation. The report finds that such therapies are likely produce harmful effects, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies. This got me thinking about what this news could mean to religious conservatives — one being my mother.
A couple of weeks ago, I told her that I supported gay marriage. She did not welcome the news, and pressed me for a reason why I could possess such a hurtful view. I refused to give her one. We had had only three discussions on homosexuality since I came out to her two years ago. From those few talks, her position was clear: No one in our family could ever find out about my sexual orientation, and she wished she’d never known, either. So without an answer from me, she gave me a monologue. “Weddings are happy occasions,” she began, eventually saying that a gay wedding could never be. This was especially true for parents like her, whose gay children could only disappoint. And so, she explained, crying, if the government wouldn’t fight for parents like her, who would?
My mother’s motivation for wanting gay marriage to be banned is mostly based on religion. God intended man and woman to be together, as evidenced by their physiology, or so she believes. And like it is for my mother, religion is a strong reason why millions — including some who are gay — oppose gay relationships. Many supporters of gay marriage attempt not to step on these religious views, believing that legal gay marriages and religious marriages can be separated. Some believe that government should even cease recognizing marriages altogether, leaving their recognition up to religions only, as professors Douglas W. Kmiec and Shelley Ross Saxer advocated in March when California’s gay marriage ban was held up in the state’s Supreme Court. And so, as a gay person, you might expect me to be satisfied with these solutions — ones that lead to the legal allowance of gay marriages. But I’m not.
Growing up in a conservative religious family, homosexuality wasn’t discussed. The suspicion — or even the thought — that I might be gay never even occurred to me until after I graduated from high school. I couldn’t get myself to say the word “gay” aloud for another three years. In between, I cried to God, saying that I didn’t choose my condition. I repented of my attractions over and over again, expecting them to be gone. But all that’s gone now — four years after my first suspicions — is my faith.
The conflicts I endured — that many continue to endure — have been painful. I lost my faith in the process. Others lose much more. Bombarded with statements about how only men and women were meant to be together, they literally destroy themselves to escape the conflict. A 2007 study from San Francisco State University’s Chavez Center Institute found that gay or questioning youths who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
The conflict between religion and homosexuality is literally killing people. And when it’s not, it’s costing them their faith. The APA’s recent findings show that homosexuals shouldn’t change their orientation, for that process in itself is hurtful.
That means it’s the religions and their members who should change.
Many already have, including countless Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian faiths. But there’s so many more faiths to go. And even though many faiths have made their views on homosexuality more flexible — like the Catholic Church did in its 1997 pastoral letter to parents of gay children entitled “Always Our Children” — many of their members have not followed their leaders. Fifty-one percent of Americans believe that homosexuality is a choice, and 48 percent believe that it’s a sin, according to a 2008 survey by Nashville-based research firm LifeWay Research.
Religion has an enormous impact on the United States’s social structure, and religious organizations have a lot of impact on how their individual members feel. It’s not enough that they merely tolerate legal gay marriage, if they’re even doing that. It’s not even enough that they accept homosexual people but not homosexual practices. Religions need to openly welcome LGBT individuals and their relationships, or they will find their gay members losing more than just their faith.
Patrick Zabawa is the summer associate editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.