In a few weeks, I will perform a marriage ceremony in New York City for two 87-year-old friends of mine. These men have been together as a loving couple for 55 years, and as a result of the recent New York State legislature’s decision, they will now be able to wed. I can hardly wait to say, “By the authority vested in me by the state of New York, you are now legally married.” Despite Peter and Kenneth having lived through the years where being gay was considered a mental illness, their love and their life together survived and flourished.
In contrast, Minnesota congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, have both publicly supported the proposition that homosexuality can be cured through therapy, prayer, or a combination of the two. Undercover visits to Marcus Bachmann’s clinic demonstrate that it offers ex-gay therapy, where patients are advised to “read the Bible [and] pray to God that [they] would no longer be gay.” In 2004, Michele Bachmann openly supported the ex-gay theory, referring then to the “deep emotional wounds” that being gay causes and the “message of healing that is possible,” according to a report in The Advocate.
Homosexuality and bisexuality do not need to be “cured” or treated, although many individuals and their families seek counseling to accept their sexual orientation and for help in coming out. The American Psychiatric Association affirms “those who have integrated their sexual orientation into a positive sense of self function at a healthier psychological level than those who have not.”
Individuals who seek “reparative therapy” to become heterosexual often do so because of personal distress, possibly caused by family, or societal pressures, or by teachings from those religious traditions that condemn bisexuality and homosexuality. A position statement adopted by the American Psychiatric Association in 2000 stated, “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”
Can an individual’s sexual orientation be changed through therapy? One small study in 2003, involving 200 subjects recruited from the “ex-gay” movement, found that highly motivated people can alter their sexual behavior or self-identity, but reversing their underlying attraction to persons of the same sex is rare. People who are bisexual but are more attracted to one sex than the other may be more able to change their behaviors. For some people sexual attraction changes during a lifetime, and the desire and love for a specific partner, regardless of sex, can trump orientation.
For more than 30 years, the major health and mental health professional organizations in the United States have agreed that heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality are all variations of sexual orientation. Because of both the potential for harm and the professional consensus that homosexuality is not a disorder, professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists, among others, have spoken out against the reparative therapies engaged in by the Bachmann clinic and such ex-gay ministries as Exodus International.
As a religious leader—along with the clergy from many denominations that fully include LGBT persons—I affirm sexual and gender diversity as gifts people offer to society and to congregations. Misinformation and condemnation of differing sexual and gender identities have created despair, destroyed relationships, and led to violence, and even suicide. There can be no justification for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including the use of “reparative” therapies. Religious leaders have an obligation to create a world that embraces the diversity of God’s creation and where each person can thrive and flourish. All people, including my friends Kenneth and Peter, should be able to live fully and express themselves and their sexuality with holiness and integrity. Sexual and gender diversity is a blessing that enriches us all.
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