A few months ago an LDS stake high councilor was attending a class with the young women in a ward he was visiting. They were discussing same-sex attraction and gay marriage. The Young Women leaders were being very tentative and vague as they discussed the topic because they were concerned about offending one particular young woman. The high counselor watched as the young women grew more and more conflicted and confused. Finally he spoke up and stated, “Let me clarify some things for you . . .” He went on to explain clearly and unapologetically that while having same-sex attraction is not a sin, acting on it is. He told them “Sin is sin, and is unacceptable in the eyes of God.” When he finished one of the young women spoke up and thanked him. She told him that the youth are getting so many confusing messages about same-sex attraction and gay marriage that it has become a real challenge for them. She told him that as he was speaking, the Spirit confirmed the truth of what he said to her.
Teaching Our Children
Today’s youth are confronted with many conflicting messages about same-sex attraction and gay marriage. What they hear from music, the media, and from school doesn’t always mesh with what they are being taught in Church. This can leave them feeling confused and even angry. As parents, we have the responsibility to guide them through their confusion. They need help sorting through activist’s claims about same-sex attraction. They need to know how society’s definitions of “fairness,” “tolerance,” and “equality” relate to Christ’s teachings about love. They also need to understand the impact gay marriage will have on individuals, families, and society. If we fail to teach our children why natural marriage and family are essential, they will only hear what the world is saying to them. They need to hear our voices. The Spirit can only testify of the truth to them if they hear it.
One family’s commitment to be more proactive in teaching their children was sparked when their teen-aged son came to them with concerns about conversations he had had with friends at school. They had been discussing political issues of the day, including gay marriage. The parents hadn’t personally faced many of the questions their son asked and didn’t know how to answer. They had questions of their own regarding gay marriage such as: What harm would it be to legally recognize these relationships? What are the consequences to society of the gay rights agenda? Don’t same sex attracted people also deserve to be in a relationship that brings them happiness? What is marriage and why does it matter to society?
The parents began a concerted effort to learn what they could about the issues. They read books and attended events that focused on the family. Then they organized a series of family home evenings with their extended family (eight families in all) to teach their children the new-found information. During the meetings they addressed different issues relating to same-sex attraction and gay marriage using The Family: A Proclamation to the World as their guide.
The experience was life changing for them. They had no idea how emotional the discussions would be for their children who were dealing with the issue every day. Most of their children knew someone who was struggling with their personal identity and they were bothered by thoughtless and insensitive comments directed at them. The teenagers and college students had strong opinions and asked challenging questions as they sought help in dealing with their own personal confusion. As the lessons progressed the parents grew in knowledge and confidence in addressing the difficult issues. They were able to help their children come to terms with the issues and internalize truths espoused in the proclamation on the family.
Responding to Activists’ Claims
Gay activists make many convincing claims regarding same-sex attraction. We can help our youth discern the truth regarding those claims by giving them solid information and reasoned arguments from secular as well as religious sources. There is a large and growing body of research that affirms the value of man/woman marriage and natural families. Beyond that there is a host of clearly articulated essays that lay out the social, cultural and legal reasons for supporting traditional marriage. These resources can help us form strong rational arguments that can guide our youth to greater understanding.
A new website, Stand For True Marriage, has compiled links to research and essays that support natural marriage and families, making them easy to access. Here is a list of arguments often made by gay activists, coupled with quotes from some of those articles, which address the difficult issues:
- Don’t same-sex attracted people deserve to be in a relationship that brings them happiness?
“All Americans have the freedom to live as they choose, but no one has a right to redefine marriage for everyone else. In recent decades, marriage has been weakened by a revisionist view that is more about adults’ desires than children’s needs. This reduces marriage to a system to approve emotional bonds or distribute legal privileges.” (Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It)
“Continue to love me, but remember that you cannot be more merciful than God. It isn’t mercy to affirm same-sex acts as good. Practice compassion according to the root meaning of “compassion”: Suffer with me. Don’t compromise truth; help me to live in harmony with it.”(Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew About My Homosexuality)
- How does gay marriage hurt anyone?
“Marriage is not simply a special case of the market, and family law is not simply a subset of property and contract law. Marriage exists to meet the social necessity of caring for helpless children, who are not and cannot be, contracting parties. Children are protected parties. And, marriage should protect the interests of both parents in pursuing their common project of rearing their children. If we replace this essential public purpose with inessential private purposes, marriage will not be able to do its job. But children will still need secure attachments to their mothers and fathers, a need which will go unfulfilled.” (Prepared Remarks for the Minnesota State Legislature, Hearings on the Constitutional Amendment Defining Marriage)
“Redefining marriage redefines parenthood. It moves us well beyond our “live and let live” philosophy into the land where our society promotes a family structure where children will always suffer loss. It will be our policy, stamped and sealed by the most powerful of governmental institutions, that these children will have their right to be known and loved by their mother and/or father stripped from them in every instance. In same-sex-headed households, the desires of the adults trump the rights of the child.” (Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent)
- Studies show that gay people actually make better parents.
“ . . . [O]n eight out of twelve psychometric measures, the risk of clinical emotional problems, developmental problems, or use of mental health treatment services is nearly double among those with same-sex parents when contrasted with children of opposite-sex parents.” (New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad)
“If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out “even better!” when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by “two moms” or “two dads” came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents?” (Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent)
- It would be better to allow gay couples to adopt, than for children to live with abusive parents.
“Children are most likely to thrive when they are raised by their mother and father. And if those parents are incapable of providing proper care of the child? The most appropriate approximation of the family unit is their right; a male and female union. . . .“Some argue that two loving and caring men make a better home than a drug-addicted single mom. What fool would disagree with that?. . . But let’s be clear . . . we are talking about degrees of brokenness. For the child, there is no such thing as an “intact” home when they are in a same-sex headed household. Just because in a few cases a child who has found themselves in a horrific situation would be better off with two parents of the same gender does not necessitate writing out of civil code the right to a relationship with one’s natural parents. . . . Brokenness finds children and the people in their lives do their best to pick up the pieces. . . . [P]ublic policy should not encourage or endorse brokenness for a child because a couple, or “throuple” wants to have a family. Children are entitled to parents. Not the other way around.” (asktheBigot: Gay Marriage)
No one wants children to be left with abusive parents. However, studies show that children raised in same-sex headed households can experience increased risks to their health and well-being. See: The Kids Aren’t All Right: New Family Structures and the “No Differences” Claim
Many people who have been raised by same-sex parents feel that same-sex parenting is not in the best interest of children. See: ‘Quartet of Truth’: Adult Children of Gay Parents Testify Against Same-Sex ‘Marriage” at 5th Circuit
- As long as children have two parents, it doesn’t matter what gender they are.
“The complementarity of male and female parenting styles is striking and of enormous importance to a child’s overall development. . . . [F]athers express more concern for the child’s long-term development, while mothers focus on the child’s immediate well-being (which, of course, in its own way has everything to do with a child’s long-term well-being.) . . . [T]he disciplinary approach of fathers tends to be “firm” while that of mothers tends to be “responsive.” While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane childrearing regime.” (Reconcilable Differences: What Social Sciences Show About Complementarity of Sexes and Parenting)
“. . . [T]he legal recognition of same-sex marriage may, over time, erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children. No dialogue on this issue can be complete without taking into account the long-term consequences for children.” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Newsroom: The Divine Institution of Marriage)
- Gay couples have a right to form families by adopting children.
“When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents.” (Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent)
- High rates of gay teen suicide could be avoided if we would just encourage same-sex attracted youth to be true to themselves.
“A simple way to test this is to look at places where homosexuality is very much accepted, such as in nations like Holland, or cities like San Francisco. One would expect less suicide and other mental health problems amongst homosexuals in these places. But that is not the case. There is as much if not more suicide and related problems in these localities. So homophobia cannot be to blame.” (Just What is Behind These Suicides)
“Wichstrom did a study on the risk factors contributing to suicide attempt rates among Norwegian youth with SSA. There were factors that affected everyone with SSA, such as social support and peer relationships. However, when he looked at just attraction and behavior, he found that only homosexual behavior was predictive of a higher suicide rate. Having gay sex at an earlier age and having more same-sex partners also contributed to suicide. Everyone needs support, including teenagers who want to be celibate, but it seems not having gay sex is one of the best ways to prevent suicide.” (Navigating the Labyrinth Surrounding Homosexual Desire)
“Most teenagers will change from SSA. In fact, in the 16 to 17 year age group, 98% will move from homosexuality and bisexuality towards heterosexuality. Most teenagers thinking they are gay/lesbian/bi and will be for the rest of their life, will in fact probably be different the following year. It is therefore totally irresponsible to counsel affirmation of same-sex feelings in an adolescent on the grounds that the feelings are intrinsic, unchangeable, and the individual is therefore homosexual (pp. 234-5).” (Chapter 12—Can Sexual Orientation Change, My Genes Made Me Do It! Homosexuality and the Scientific Evidence)
- Gay people can’t change.
“My experience has been that when the meaning of same-sex attraction changes, the frequency of same-sex attraction decreases dramatically. . . . Changing these patterns is difficult, but it is possible. I have seen many men do it and move on with lives that are filled with happiness and joy, but it is not easy. It is a difficult trial. These men are in the same position as everyone else: they must rely on our Father in Heaven and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, or they will not be successful. . . . [U]nderstanding mercy and moving away from these behaviors, walking away from the dragon, seems to be helpful and has been for many, many men.” (Understanding Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction: A Context Specific Approach)
“Of course even one published case of documented change would be sufficient to disprove the assertion that change is impossible, but there are hundreds. Those changes are of varying degree, but the majority are satisfying to those involved—and that is one of the main ideals of psychotherapy (p. 246). . . .[C]hange is worth trying if someone is deeply dissatisfied with their current state. The fact that some people change to a remarkable extent is valuable because it shows what may be possible for many more people in future as research continues. Does the fact that some people do not change, negate the change in those who do? Of course not. No-one would . . . look at failures of cancer therapy and say no cancer therapy should be allowed. Long-term remission from cancer occurs and inspires greater efforts to overcome it (p. 259).” (Chapter 12—Can Sexual Orientation Change, My Genes Made Me Do It! Homosexuality and the Scientific Evidence)
Going Right to the Source
Among the most important sources of information about same-sex attraction (SSA) are SSA people themselves. Many people are unaware of the large group of SSA people among us who have chosen to live their lives according to gospel principles. As a group they are becoming increasingly vocal as they seek to dispel myths about same-sex attraction and inform people about the realities of their lives. Notable are Joshua Johanson’s article Navigating the Labyrinth Surrounding Homosexual Desire, where he illuminates a broad range of issues regarding same-sex attraction and stresses that the gay rights movement does not represent all SSA people; and the website Voice(s) of Hope, where many faithful SSA members of the Church who are living by gospel principles tell their own stories through video.
The Voice(s) of Hope website is particularly compelling. The personal stories of SSA people who have chosen to live gospel-centered lives are powerful and inspiring. They offer profound insights into the struggles associated with same-sex attraction. They also evoke greater understanding and compassion as contributors express their need for love and acceptance. Their stories can also be a great source of hope and encouragement to other SSA people who want to live lives of faith.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks our youth experience concerning gay marriage stems from the misunderstanding of Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (John 15:12). As we help our children learn to love and respect all of God’s children, we also need to help them understand why condoning sinful behavior isn’t loving. The commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31) is essential to our salvation, but it is second in importance to the commandment to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Mark 12:30). The way we show love for God is by keeping his commandments. He has promised that if we do, we “shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). Christ made it clear that disobeying his commandments can have eternal consequences. He said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). If we truly love others, we would want to help them to qualify for God’s greatest gift. Celebrating a lifestyle that prevents someone from obtaining that gift is not truly loving.
Christ showed us a powerful example of love when the woman caught in adultery was brought to him. Her accusers tempted Christ by asking whether she should be stoned as the Law of Moses commanded. When Christ responded, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), none chose to condemn her. Instead they went away one by one, convicted by their own consciences. Then in great display of compassion and mercy Christ told the woman “Neither do I condemn thee . . .” (John 8:11). Many people infer from this incident that Christ is lenient towards sin. They use His great manifestation of love as an excuse to justify immorality. But the story doesn’t end there. What Christ told the woman next was just as important and just as loving. He said, “ . . . go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Christ was as concerned for the woman’s immortal soul as he was for her mortal life. He knew she couldn’t be saved in her sins. Only by turning away from her sins could she gain eternal life with the Father.
Our children need to understand that Christ has never condoned sin. There is not a single example in the scriptures where he excused anyone from keeping His commandments. All people are subject to God’s laws. There is no special category of people who are excused from obeying a commandment because it’s hard for them. However, through repentance all can become worthy to live in God’s presence.
Loving without Condoning Sinful Behavior
As we teach our children to love without condoning sinful behavior, it’s helpful to give examples of people who have been successful at both. One young woman was approached by her lesbian friend who asked if she would help her propose to her girlfriend. The young woman didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to offend her friend but she knew she couldn’t go against her own principles. Finally she spoke to her friend and told her that she loved her but that she wouldn’t be able to help her propose. She said, “I respect your beliefs, but tolerance goes both ways. I hope that you can also respect my reasons for not helping you.” The friend accepted her explanation because of the great regard she had for her, and they were able to maintain their friendship.
As we ponder loving ways to interact with our friends and family members who experience same-sex attraction we can turn to the Church website, Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction, for guidance. Its purpose is both to help those who experience same-sex attraction remain faithful to Church teachings as they work through difficult challenges, and to help all of us respond sensitively and thoughtfully when we encounter same-sex attraction among our loved ones.
Standing For Truth Invites Change
As we stand for truth we have to realize that we can’t always control how others will react. In spite of our best efforts, someone we love might be offended if we don’t condone their lifestyle choices. However, if we stay constant in our love for them, while holding onto gospel principles, we increase the chances of not only healing broken relationships but of helping our loved ones find their way back to the Savior. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “In reality, the best way to help those we love—the best way to love them—is to continue to put the Savior first. If we cast ourselves adrift from the Lord out of sympathy for loved ones who are suffering or distressed, then we lose the means by which we might have helped them. If, however, we remain firmly rooted in faith in Christ, we are in a position both to receive and to offer divine help. If (or I should say when) the moment comes that a beloved family member wants desperately to turn to the only true and lasting source of help, he or she will know whom to trust as a guide and a companion” (“Saving Your Life” CES Devotional for Young Adults, September 14, 2014, Brigham Young University).
Raising Our Voices
Our children today are facing an onslaught of worldly philosophies and values that will undoubtedly test their faith. President Monson emphasized the challenge when he said, “We live in a world where moral values have, in great measure, been tossed aside, where sin is flagrantly on display, and where temptations to stray from the strait and narrow path surround us” (General Conference, April 2014). As parents, we can’t assume that our children will somehow assimilate gospel principles relating to today’s moral issues on their own. We also can’t afford to wait for them to come to us with their questions and concerns because they may never do it. Instead, we need to actively initiate conversations about important moral issues and discuss them with sensitivity and love. Our challenge is to ground ourselves and our children in the truths expressed in the proclamation on the family, so that as families we can withstand the onslaught. With God’s help we can succeed in preparing our children spiritually for the world they are facing. We can and must raise our voices in defense of truth. Only then can the Spirit testify of the truth to those who hear us.