People should not have to choose between their sexuality and their faith

The words 2SLGBTQI+ and religion probably bring to mind controversy, hatred, pain, and conflict. Sadly, this characterises the relationship between many – but not all – 2SLGBTQI+ people and religion. It seems that even when progress is made towards acceptance of 2SLGBTQI+ people, it is not always celebrated as it should be, such as the silence by local Presbyterian leaders regarding their church’s recent change to the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Rather than celebrating the rightful inclusion of a long persecuted group, local leaders refused to discuss the matter, treating it as if it were a shameful secret rather than celebrating this long overdue righting of a wrong.

My religious beliefs are something I generally keep to myself, but I feel it is important to discuss them this Pride Week because there are many others who are experiencing, or have experienced, the same thing. I was raised Roman Catholic in a fairly devout family. The position of the Roman Catholic Church is that homosexuality is a serious sin and those who are 2SLGBTQI+ are choosing to sin.  Being gay and growing up in the Catholic Church resulted not only in external homophobia but also internal homophobia because I was raised to believe that the essence of who I am is sinful.

When I came out ten years ago at the age of 18, I received a broad range of responses, not all good. There was more than one person who implied I had made a choice to burn in the depths of hell. Thankfully, my parents, my sisters, and many others in my family were very accepting and I received many positive responses as well.

However, coming out meant a final break from the faith that I was raised in because I could not live my truth without being at odds with Catholic teaching. For some time, I thought the only choice available to me was between Catholicism and atheism. This didn’t sit well with me because, whilst I am gay, I do believe in God. I felt I was being forced to choose between two choices, neither of which reflected who I am or what I believe. It was two years later when I discovered the United Church of Canada, quite by accident, and learnt that this Protestant denomination had long accepted 2SLGBTQI+ people. I learnt the United Church had been advocating on behalf of 2SLGBTQI+ people since at least 2000, when the church voted to support recognition of civil unions, and later same-sex marriage in 2003, two years before same-sex marriage was legalised across all of Canada. Whilst many other denominations were campaigning against same-sex marriage, the United Church was campaigning for marriage equality. Whilst no organisation has a perfect record on 2SLGBTQI+ rights, I found the United Church to be an open, accepting denomination that was actively working to right the wrongs of the past. I felt no conflict between being a member of the United Church and being an openly gay man. When I came to Australia, I joined the Uniting Church, which has a similar outlook. I know deep within me that my sexuality is a core component of my being and not something I was able to choose, and that it is those passing judgement on me who are actually out of accord with God.

Far too often, 2SLGBTQI+ people are forced to choose between their faith and living their true selves. This should not be a choice that 2SLGBTQI+ people are forced to make. Others find that they’ve lost their faith because their particular denomination’s stance on homosexuality has caused them too much pain. I hope that in the future more denominations will reflect on their teachings and realise that the real sin is discrimination against people for something they cannot change. I believe we will eventually get there, just as we did with the ordination of women. Originally a highly controversial topic, the ordination of women is now taken for granted in many Protestant denominations. I hope the full inclusion of 2SLGBTQI+ people will become similarly common in the future.

This commentary was original published as an op-ed on 6 August 2021 in the Cape Breton Post in Sydney, Nova Scotia.