Talk about a counterculture: 41 young men and women recently attended the fifth annual It Takes A Family (ITAF) conference to learn how to support traditional marriage.
It's not the usual cause 18-to-30-year-olds scramble to support: The numerous red equal signs on Facebook mirror the reality that 70 percent of millennials support same-sex marriage. But these 41 students and young professionals traveled to San Diego, Calif., to learn how to defend one-woman, one-man marriage from scholars Jennifer Morse, Mark Regnerus, Robert Gagnon, and others.
While the attendees eagerly discussed the necessity for marriage in society around dining tables and by the pool, they realized their views will be largely mocked and rejected once they step out of the safety of the ITAF conference. Who are these individuals still committed to the marriage movement intellectually and emotionally?
• Autumn Leva, 28, has just gone through two defeats that were "devastating on a personal level." She knew she was risking her budding law career when she agreed to become the Minnesota for Marriage spokeswoman last fall-but after much prayer, she made the commitment. She worked to pass a Minnesota constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and woman-and lost. She worked to convince state legislators not to approve same-sex marriage-and she lost, facing off against 12 opposing lobbyists by herself while taking up multiple roles in the short-staffed Minnesota for Marriage office. But she says, "It was all worth it."
• Mechi Richards, 20, of Buenos Aires, has also seen losses-Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010-but is carrying on the fight as part of a pro-family organization, Grupo Sólido, that is mostly run by volunteers under 30. Grupo Sólido teaches abstinence and family values to students at private schools. Richards said, "If you want to change things, you need to change the people's minds, what they think about marriage. A law does not change the way of thinking, we need a deeper change."
Richards said classmates mock her and commenters leave nasty comments on her blog, but she also has friends her age who are starting to get jaded by the sexual revolution and searching for something else. She said many Argentinians didn't think the new law would affect them, but passage has led to a completely redesigned sexual education that teaches gender equality and minimizes the traditional family. Teachers of religious backgrounds are having a difficult time keeping their jobs because pro-gay language is often required in every class, including math where word problems now contain homosexual examples.
• Alana Newman, 26, became interested in family issues through her own experience as a donor-conceived individual. Her desire to find her biological father pushed her to create the Anonymous Us Project, which allows those involved in assisted reproductive technology-including 30,000 to 60,000 born through sperm donations every year, studies say-to share their stories and opinions. In high school she saw her friends with their biological fathers and felt as if she was missing out. So at 19, she started looking for her dad.
Newman put her information on a donor sibling registry, and a man contacted her: He turned out not to be her father but a donor to the same sperm bank. Through him she was able to get her father's medical history and heritage. Later, a private eye helped her search for him, and three days before the ITAF conference told her she had almost certainly found him: He had died several years ago.
"Society doesn't recognize the sadness we feel not knowing our parents," Newman said. The stories on the Anonymous Us website reveal concerns about abandonment, betrayal, and identity, accidental incest, and lack of knowledge of medical history.
• Thomas Peters, 27, communication director for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), arrived at the conference from Illinois to explain why the legislature of a liberal state did not approve same-sex marriage this spring. He said NOM in Illinois worked closely with African-American pastors to defeat the bill: Gay activists "try to silence free debate, [but] the Illinois vote on marriage reflects what's really going on. I'm very eager to see a healthy debate continue." Peters said he did not plan to get involved with such a divisive issue, knowing "it would brand me," but he decided instead of staying silent he'd rather fight for a world where his values could exist.