Born in rural Minnesota and raised on a dairy farm, I grew up in a devout Catholic family.

While attending St. John's Prep School in Collegeville, I confessed to a priest that I was attracted to another boy who slept across from me. The priest responded that if I ever acted on that, I would go to hell.

As a sincere Catholic teen, I did not act on my attraction but started a harmful journey of self-loathing and personal destruction. I didn't know what "homosexual" or "gay" were, but I understand "queer" and thought it was evil and perverted.

I did not date girls in high school and dated only a couple in college. One of them became a good friend, so I did what all the rest in my family had done: I got married, the summer after graduating from college. I loved all my nieces and nephews and wanted to become a teacher and a father. 

With a major in elementary education from St. Cloud State and later a master's as a reading specialist, I taught successfully for 40 years in public education in several Minnesota towns. My marriage never worked.

The sexuality was mostly repulsive, and that was communicated indirectly to my ex-wife. That is the most unfair part. She was one of the innocent victims in the masquerade of "I'm straight." 

For years and years, I would prostrate myself on the floor and ask God to change me. Maybe if I just pray more, fast more, do more "works of charity," the male attraction will go away.

After more than 30 years of trying to "burn" the evil out of me, I finally came out at age fifty four. God finally broke through to my heart of hearts and said, "I love you just as you are. You are praying for healing, but you are not sick!"

Our God does not change. God is God always. And God was with me always. After all the self-hatred and foibles of life, God was still there waiting for me.

At that moment, the shame and guilt I had felt for years left -- once and for always. If Pope Benedict had been standing right there to tell me I was "disordered," I would have said to him, "You are wrong. God made me and loves me just as I am." 

When I got my annulment from the Catholic Church, I did research and found that a surprising number of annulments granted are due to one of the partners being gay. Wouldn't it be better for the church to acknowledge that gay people exist and allow them to come out as teenagers so straight-marriage statistics would improve?

Maybe if "Marriage Encounter" couples handled the premarriage classes that potential matrimony candidates have to take, many of the pitfalls of failed marriages could be avoided.

If there were an honest discussion about same-sex attraction issues, potential candidates could avoid disastrous marriages. Instead, the church uses men who have taken a vow of celibacy to conduct the classes.

Some of these men are closeted "gay" cases and/or are dysfunctional in the area of sexual development. 

Why have Minnesota citizens bought into the extreme religious-right position on homosexuality?

People like U.S. Rep. and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, whose husband still uses "reparative therapy" in his mental health clinic, have promulgated this thought. Let me quote what the American Medical Association says: 

"RESOLVED, That the American Medical Association oppose any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation."

Do they think the American Medical Association doesn't know what it is talking about? 

Please vote to defeat the gay marriage ban. Don't continue to force young people into the closet of shame by telling them they have to change.

The truth is they can't. I could be the poster child to prove that. 

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Ron Bates married his same-sex partner in Toronto in 2006. They live in Florida.