Why as a gay man I stand for traditional marriage

A rainbow appears over a church in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.
A rainbow appears over a church in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. | Bilal Hussein, Associated Press

I love watching how much purpose our toddler daughter finds in her playtime. She picks up a ball, places it in a container, carries the container across the room, takes the ball out, and then decides it’s time to see if she herself can fit into the container. There is no immediately recognizable purpose behind what she’s doing, but the determination in her face alone could convince you she’s doing something vitally important.

Her smiles make it clear that she’s finding meaning and fulfillment in her actions. Additionally, we know from all available research that these seemingly menial tasks are not only important, but they’re also integral to her physiological and mental development. Remove the understanding of childhood development, and an outsider peering into her life might have reason to jeer at any insistence that what she is doing is vital to her well-being and joy.

I sometimes experience this sort of outsider observance from members of the LGBTQ community and its allies. People with little understanding of my mixed-orientation marriage make assumptions about what they’re seeing when they look at my life. Whether they see me as religiously brainwashed, self-deceptive, dishonest about my sexuality, or even cruel, they place a wedge between me and them, even though I’m technically a part of their community. They see my choice to marry a woman as strange; however, beneath the surface is a life full of purpose and direction — full of choices and actions that are actually vital for my development, growth and happiness.

While I’m technically represented by the “G” in the “LGBTQ,” increasingly I couldn’t feel further removed from the political movement tied to the acronym. Though for some the LGBTQ acronym represents a benevolent explanation for certain sexual orientations or gender identities, for others the acronym has become an ideologically progressive movement aimed at reimagining beneficial family norms, sexual morals and social politics.

Increasingly within the LGBTQ community there is an automatic assumption that same-sex attracted people like me should always pursue same-sex relationships and sexual expression, and that those with gender incongruence should always pursue gender transition. Some even believe religion serves as a repressive mold instead of a foundation for spiritual success, stability and well-being.

So, as members of that community seek to distance themselves from me, I have to say that I’ll always continue to offer respect while acknowledging a misalignment of goals between me and the community that has historically sought to represent the interests of people who share my sexual orientation.

Misaligned goals

I recently had an online interaction with another gay man who also self-identifies as a Latter-day Saint. I posted a link to my book in a Latter-day Saint group for LGBTQ conversations. My book’s aim is to provide realistic advice for gay Latter-day Saints and family members seeking to show their friends and family members love while upholding traditional sexual norms.

In the subtitle of the book, I use the phrase “covenant-keeping, gay Latter-day Saint.” The man was confused by my use of the term “gay” because I’m married to a woman.

“Doesn’t that make you bisexual?” he asked.

It’s a question I get countless times from both in and out of my faith tradition. “I use ‘gay’ and ‘same-sex attracted’ interchangeably,” I responded. “For me, ‘gay’ is merely an adjective I use to describe my sexual preferences.”

He then went on to — respectfully, I’ll add — articulate a sentiment I often hear: that I shouldn’t identify with the term “gay” because most people use it to mean someone who is actively pursuing a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex.

It made me reflect on how I exist in a unique carveout between two seemingly opposing worlds. My allegiance is to my family and to God and his will for me, but at different points in my life, I’ve felt various levels of pull to associate with the LGBTQ community, movement or acronym. While I continue to use the term “gay” as a descriptor, I’ve thought at length about the different pros and cons of associating with the LGBTQ acronym because of the movement it is tied to.

I recognize how poorly sexual minorities have historically been treated by many within our society, including by many religious people, and I very much sympathize with the desire to humanize people with sexual preferences which do not fit within traditional paradigms. After all, I am one of them. Rooted in this understanding of seeking to humanize the marginalized, some argue that the LGBTQ movement is not inherently political.

But at the end of the day, the idea that all sexual proclivities are created morally equal is an inherently political idea. And beyond just humanizing and improving the rights and quality of life for those with different sexual orientations or identities, much of the movement lamentably aims to displace traditional sexual and family norms within society.

I can’t join such a cause because the nuclear family is still the best tool we have to protect against the moral decay and decline we continue to witness in our culture.

The religious element

I grew up in a religious home. My parents taught me to value my relationship with God above all other considerations. Seeing a loving marriage convinced me that’s what I wanted. What started as a desire to please God and my parents, however, sprung up into my own testimony of traditional marriage’s goodness for me and society.

But, because of my sexual orientation, I had to ask some hard questions about what I wanted out of life. I saw no morally or intellectually consistent path other than the one I’ve sought to pursue, and that is why I began dating women in the first place and fell in love with my wife. I always felt I would find happiness in my marriage, but I wrongfully assumed it’d be one of those burdens that bring about fulfillment from the struggle. Instead of being an obstacle to my joy, however, my marriage is the primary source of it.

What started as a moral duty morphed into my single greatest blessing.

The social science

My spiritual foundation is a vital reason I advocate for eternal families, but there are also other empirical considerations that serve to solidify my beliefs.

A body of social science data suggests children thrive most in biologically intact, two-parent households. Of course, parents and families of any background deserve respect and admiration for their important work. And there are plenty of dysfunctional households that fit that traditional mold. So, while acknowledging diverse family forms and seeking to avoid false stereotypes and stigmas, as a society we can still recognize and support family forms that, on average, tend to help children and adults flourish.

Researchers at the National Library of Medicine analyzed the National Health Interview Surveys from 2008–2018 with the goal to determine if “the system of norms comprising traditional, natural marriage (is) essential for children’s development and well-being.” They found the best mental, emotional and academic outcomes for children from stable, nuclear families.

Related

On an individual basis, it’s easy to find plenty of examples of loving, nurturing, same-sex couples. Heterosexual couples don’t have a monopoly on good parenting practices and love for their children.

I would obviously much prefer a child to reside in a loving home with same-sex parents than an abusive home with a mother and a father.

But when discussing these issues, it’s also important to be honest about the benefits and limitations of each scenario. Those on the more radical side of activism promote an all-or-nothing approach to the issue, refusing to acknowledge the existence of any trade-offs, such as children generally faring better in a home with both of their biological parents, as some studies have found.

Again, none of this is to demean those who choose to enter same-sex relationships and start a family; none of it is to ignore the variety of issues and challenges that have and do arise in nuclear families — including divorce, abuse and neglect.

But it does provide empirical data for what, on average, tends to help homes, communities and nations succeed. Advocating for traditional marriage isn’t meant to be about controlling LGBTQ people. It’s not about peddling hatred or intolerance toward different lifestyles or life choices. Advocating for traditional families is about maintaining the ideal for children and society — and, at least in my case, the ideal for my own health and personal development.

I realize my path isn’t for everyone. And I respect those who struggle to navigate their own personal life circumstances.

But the nuclear family remains one of the most time-tested artifacts of ancient wisdom that aids humans in navigating the challenges of life within the “small platoon” that helps us succeed. Some would put the burden of proof on ancient wisdom, as though timeless moral foundations have the responsibility to prove their value to us. In reality, it should be the other way around. And yet, when it comes to the family, too often we ignore the social science data suggesting the optimal path toward stability and flourishing is cradled within the arms of a loving family.

Boundaries and reconciliation

Admittedly, as a believer, I feel a moral pull to champion lifestyles and moral order that point to religious teachings, and in particular the restored of gospel of Jesus Christ. Many good and well-meaning religious people use pride celebrations as a way to express love to LGBTQ people, and it’s an understandable conclusion to come to, given God’s commandment to love our neighbors.

Unfortunately, the message of pride isn’t always one of reciprocal love, as my choice to marry a woman and uphold traditional values tends to be ostracized. And the sexual morals and political goals of the pride movement complicate my personal involvement with pride celebrations.

But I hope this year we can have more respectful disagreements while offering each other the benefit of the doubt. We can each recognize that the other wants what they believe is  best for LGBTQ people and society, despite the fact that our conclusions, values and pathways are often quite different.

If there is any hope for reconciliation between people like me and the broader LGBTQ movement, it perhaps will look like this: showing genuine love and concern for LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ people showing love and concern for those who uphold the traditional family.

This hypothetical leaves room for honest and even passionate discussions about who is right, but it doesn’t leave room for assuming the worst intentions in each other. Isn’t that what true diversity and inclusion looks like?

Skyler Sorensen is the author of Exclude Not Thyself: How to Thrive As a Covenant-Keeping, Gay Latter-day Saint. He and his wife, Amanda, have one daughter and a son who is deceased.