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TAKING UP THE BANNER: Traditional marriage supporters march in Washington.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
TAKING UP THE BANNER: Traditional marriage supporters march in Washington.

Countercultural warriors

Marriage | Some Christian millennials are very publicly standing apart from their generation to defend marriage

Issue: "Unstoppable?," April 20, 2013

WASHINGTON—Called to speak at the March 26 marriage rally in Washington, D.C., Alison Howard ran to the stage’s microphone in an adrenaline-fueled burst. The 24-year-old graduate of Liberty University said she wanted to “talk to the grown-ups” supporting traditional marriage at the event on the National Mall.  4  “Do not give up on us young people,” said the communications director for Concerned Women for America. “The media will tell you that I don’t exist. Well, I’ll be the unicorn. I do exist, and I believe in the marriage between a man and a woman.”

It would be easy to dismiss Howard’s plea as a voice crying in the wilderness. A recent Pew survey found that 70 percent of those in the millennial generation (ages 18 to 33) favor same-sex marriage. But the same poll shows that 65 percent of young evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage. And a number of them, like Howard, are willing to face scorn by taking very public stands against the redefinition of society’s most basic institution.

Many of them did not grow up expecting to stand on the front lines of the marriage debate. “Everyone I know who is working on this issue would rather be doing something else,” said Ryan Anderson, 31, who co-authored the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. “But we feel like we have an obligation to be doing this.”

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Just how many of Anderson’s generation will answer this call and take up the banner of biblical marriage? The answer may go a long way toward determining the future of the family in America.

The youngest person to speak live at the rally, Howard began to learn the importance of marriage when she was 8 years old. Rummaging through her father’s truck looking for snacks, she discovered a wallet-sized baby photo of her dad. Howard asked her father why she had never seen a baby picture of him. He said his mother abandoned him at a hotel when he was an infant. He spent the rest of his childhood in foster care.

It’s her father’s ordeal as a parentless youth (he told stories about having his hand held over a lit stove for punishment) compared with the Christ-centered family he reared as an adult, that Howard often thinks about when she defends traditional marriage. “My generation grew up in a culture that does nothing to support and protect marriage,” Howard said at the speech. “We bear those scars that saw divorce just tear apart our country.”

As Howard spoke, Caitlin Seery, 25, listened with a group of 20 students. They had left Princeton University by bus at 5 a.m. to make the event. Seery is the director of programs for the Love and Fidelity Network, which offers a conservative viewpoint in campus debates on marriage, family, and sexuality.

Her first job was at a New York consulting firm. The company decided to celebrate National Coming Out Day by having its employees wear badges in support of the gay community. Seery, a Catholic, dealt with the social debate the way many in her generation do: by blogging. That led to her position with the network, which has chapters in 25 schools.

Confrontation remains part of the job: In February, a liberal group at Columbia University hijacked a Love and Fidelity values conference by reserving the bulk of the tickets. They interrupted the speaker, standing to protest with signs.

But Seery doesn’t believe the marriage cause is lost: “Just because things are polling one way today doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Forty years ago the media said that all young people are becoming pro-choice. We proved them wrong. The youngest generation is the most pro-life generation.”

She said Christian students are hungry to learn ways they can show compassion to family and peers who are gay without retreating from their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Eric Teetsel, the 29-year-old executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, also spoke at the March 26 rally in Washington, encouraging the crowd not to grow weary. Teetsel sees young believers who struggle with being fully Christian while enmeshed in contemporary culture. They go to church, but they also watch The Daily Show. And, according to Teetsel, they often don’t do well integrating those worlds. Fearing blowback on Twitter and Facebook, many young Christians remain silent on marriage even if they have not embraced the changing attitudes.

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“We wasted a generation by being complacent and by believing that people would always understand what marriage is and why it matters,” said Teetsel, whose group promotes life, marriage, and religious liberty. “That’s no longer true, and now we have got to show them.”

—with reporting by J.C. Derrick in Washington

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