A Crisis of Conscience Over Gay Marriage

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This reader had one:

I am 26, and I went through a personal crisis regarding religion when I was a freshman in college. I am a “cradle Catholic,” baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as an infant, and raised by two religious parents. I went to Catholic elementary and middle schools, and I was heavily involved with music and youth ministries at my parish during high school.

I also suffered, from about age 13, from severe depression. At times, my faith was literally the only thing that kept me going. Sometimes it was more fear motivated by faith than anything else, but I say it was faith nonetheless.

When I got to university, I was exposed in a much bigger way to dialogue about LGBT issues, especially marriage, since this was right before and after the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

I began to struggle with the idea that the Church would never accept same-sex marriage and what that meant about the status of those were gay in the Church. I remember feeling as though I was having a crisis of conscience, wondering how anything less than full rights for LGBT persons could be Christian.

I stopped attending mass with any frequency, and I contemplated leaving the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. My depression worsened, because I felt as though abandoning my faith would be an abandonment of what had kept me alive for the past few years.

In the end, although the decision took the few years while I was in school, I decided not to leave the Catholic Church. The questions and discomfort I had sparked a research and learning process into theology, ethics, and the history of marriage. This process forced me to examine my own ethics and behavior, in the context of what makes an action “sinful,” and how individual Christians are called to react to sin. The beliefs that I hold now are in accordance with Church teaching, but they often put me at odds with other American Catholics, who use the Church’s teachings on sacramental marriage as a front for homophobia.

Ultimately, I was influenced to stay by the belief that in order for faith to be a transformative and positive institution, members of the faithful cannot choose to follow only those tenets which feel good or are convenient to them personally and at the moment. This idea flies in the face of modern American culture, which emphasizes both convenience and choice.

There are other Catholic teachings that I struggle personally with to this day, though none as significantly as I did with same-sex marriage, but I cope with them with the faith and hope that I can improve myself and the world around me through my journey of faith.

I have greatly enjoyed your reader series so far, and I look forward to the rest.

More of your stories and reflections soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out the latest two pieces in our Choosing Your Religion project: “Homeschooling Without God” by Jaweed Kaleem and “Why Orthodox Judaism Is Appealing to So Many Millennials” by our very own Emma Green.