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Michael and Jenet Erickson: Same-sex marriage debate needs 'voices of hope'

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 12:51 p.m. MST

Supporters of Amendment 3 are joined by supports of marriage equality during a rally Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 inside the Utah State Capitol.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News Archives

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Same-sex marriage is often pitched as the only fair and compassionate response to the complex reality of same-sex attraction. But new voices are proving a different reality.

Doug Mainwaring, a gay man who opposes gay marriage, describes the Hobson’s choice presented to same-sex attracted men and women, especially young people: “Either jump out of the closet, join the celebration, make being gay or lesbian the dominant characteristic of your life and the sole foundation of your identity, and join the same-sex marriage lobby — or remain ‘closeted,’ deny yourself, choose a false identity, become depressed, and risk suicide.”

This same false dichotomy is presented to the public, insisting that the only way to recognize the equal dignity of gays and lesbians is to redefine the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples — or risk a repressive, backward society that shuns its sons and daughters, consigning them to lives of solitude, misery and despair.

Not surprisingly, this “only way” message of political lobbyists has worked its way into public policy. In overturning Utah’s definition of marriage, the district court opined that Amendment 3 denies gays and lesbians the fundamental right to marry because their right to marry a person of the opposite sex is an “illusion” and “meaningless.”

But in reality, numerous same-sex attracted men and women find meaning and purpose in marriages to opposite-sex spouses, though their stories are seldom told. That is changing. Launched in March 2013, the goal of “Voice(s) of Hope” is to collect the stories of 1,000 Latter-day Saint men and women who experience same-sex attraction and who affirm religious teachings on marriage and family. Without implying that all same-sex attracted men and women can or should marry someone of the opposite sex, their lives dispel the myth that same-sex marriage is the only path to being free, equal and happy. Here are three examples.

Dale and Unhui Larsen are parents and grandparents. Eight years into their marriage, Dale felt stress providing for his family, and the same-sex attractions he had felt since he was 11 “skyrocketed.” He confided his attractions to a gay relative who in Dale’s words, “convinced me that I needed to be who I was — that that’s who I am and I needed to live my life that way.” She arranged for him to meet someone so he could investigate his feelings. Seated together at a performance, Dale saw a family similar to his own. He recounts, “I saw my own family there and the words that came into my mind were, ‘If you continue down this path, and you can, you will lose them.’ At that time, I made a decision that … I was coming back home — I wanted a family so bad and I wanted my wife.”

Kory and Colleen Koontz have been married for more than 18 years. From a very young age, Kory recognized attractions that made him different, but he also felt that he had the power to overcome them. Kory has felt condemned by others for his choice to marry his wife. In his video, he speaks humbly to those who judge him: “I don’t condemn you for your choice. … Why can’t you openly love and accept that this is my choice? Yea, I deal with the attraction, but it’s about my choice of what I do with that, just like it was yours of what you do with it.”

Jeff and Tanya Bennion discussed Jeff’s attractions before their marriage. That openness has led to many questions since. Once Tanya asked Jeff if he missed the possibility of being in a gay relationship. In his video, Jeff answers, “Well, I still do experience those feelings, but the better question to ask is: Jeff, have you ever looked out there and seen one of those [gay] couples and wished you weren’t married to me? The answer is no. Eight years on, I’m so glad I’m married to you, and the love we have now, it just keeps getting better, it keeps getting deeper.”

We wish there was space to share more of these inspiring, uplifting stories. Theirs are lives of hope and joy. For more understanding about this important issue, we recommend watching these and other videos at www.ldsvoicesofhope.org.

Some will argue that these are just “exceptions,” that most gays and lesbians will choose same-sex partners and that the law should recognize their relationships as marriages. Marriage, however, is about more than relationship choices. After being separated from his wife and pursuing gay relationships for many years, Doug Mainwaring explains his decision to put his family back together: “I returned to my wife not because of a dramatic change in my sexual orientation, but because of a dramatic change in perception of what is best for our children and for our two lives as well.”

Children need mothers and fathers, and that’s why society needs marriage. With more understanding about the diverse lives of same-sex attracted men and women, our society can learn how to recognize the equal dignity of gays and lesbians without redefining marriage to eliminate mothers and fathers.

Michael Erickson is an attorney. Jenet Erickson is a family science researcher. They live in Salt Lake City.

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