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On Being Religious and Gay

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

This past week, June 25, 2011, New York State passed a bill that legalizes gay marriage and Governor Andrew Cuomo that signed the bill into state law. As expected, this set off a storm of controversy between those who are gay versus those who are religious. Religious people from all persuasions are opposed to homosexuality because scripture states that it is an abomination. But what about those who are religious and gay?

These individuals fall into two groups. One group has managed to find Churches that accept gays and even allow them to be ordained as ministers. There are a few such local churches, most of which are Protestant and face conflict with the larger overseeing religious institution. In fact, there is the possibility that this conflict could cause a split, with the result that the local churches would become a separate Protestant Christian sect. I have met a few gay Catholics who joined these gay friendly congregations in order to find acceptance.

The second group of religious gay people wage a war that is internal, rather than external, against the groups who are anti gay. These people, among other orthodox Christians, Catholics and Orthodox Jews, fully accept the literal interpretation of scripture and are convinced that they are committing an “abomination.” These are the people who have the most difficult time coming out of the closet. They become the most depressed of any homosexuals and hate and reject themselves. It is among this group that conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality has occurred. From the reports I have read, a few succeed, but sooner or later, most fail in their attempts to change their sexual identity.

Gay people seek psychotherapy for much the same reasons as the rest of the population. They experience anxiety, depression, difficulties at work, and conflicts with their intimate partners. It is among the second group that, if they come to psychotherapy, have achieving some self acceptance as their central mental health issue.

On June 16, 2011, Mimi Swartz, journalist for The New York Times, wrote an article about being gay and religious. In it she interviewed Denis Flanagan, Clinical Psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association, who works with people who are conflicted about coming out of the closet. Dr. Flanagan is openly gay but uses therapy to help people make their own decision about announcing their homosexuality. Mimi Swartz goes on to explain that part of his work is with those gays who are religious. If they wish to stay in the closet, he sees nothing wrong with that so long as it’s their choice. However, it is also important that they decide within a context of self acceptance, along with the strength of their religious convictions.

It’s important to emphasize that those people who oppose gay marriage are not necessarily homophobic or hateful. The Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, stated in an interview that his opposition to gay marriage is not born out of hatred for gay people. It is their sexual acts that he opposes. You, the reader, can come to your own conclusion about what the Archbishop has said but personally, I tend to believe him. Therein is the dilemma for a certain category of gay people. It’s their own acts of homosexuality that they cannot accept. They truly believe they are committing sins against God and the Church, Synagogue or Mosque.

So, while many celebrate New York’s new legislation, many others are opposed out of their deeply held religious beliefs.

What are your opinions about this deep emotional, political, sexual and religious issue?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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