At 31, Ryan Anderson has become one of the leading millennials debating gay marriage. Photo by Benjamin Myers

Ryan Anderson’s uphill fight to change young minds on gay marriage

(RNS) Ryan Anderson has planted himself on arguably the most unpopular stance for his generation: opposing gay marriage.

At 31, Ryan Anderson has become one of the leading millennials debating gay marriage. Photo by Benjamin Myers

At 31, Ryan Anderson has become one of the leading millennials debating gay marriage. Photo by Benjamin Myers

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At 31, Anderson has become one of the leading voices in the
"millennial" generation against the legalization of gay marriage. With the upcoming Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, his ideas have been circulated in conservative circles, giving him an influence beyond his years.

“Debating marriage is probably not what I would have chosen,” said Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “It’s the question that most likely gets you kicked out of your law firm.”

Anderson’s path began as a research assistant to Robert P. George, a Princeton professor who's been called “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker” by The New York Times.

“Ryan is on his way to establishing himself as the leader on those of the conservative side of the spectrum,” George said. “He is both brilliant and brave, a powerful combination for a young and emerging public intellectual.”

CNN's Piers Morgan invited Anderson to debate same-sex marriage on his show, but seated him in the audience, not at a table alongside gay financial guru Suze Orman. The idea was to get Anderson to debate from a distance. “He held more than his own, kept his composure and answered their abuse with arguments,” George said.

In brief bullet points, Anderson offers three reasons why he opposes gay marriage:

1)   There would be no government institution that defends the idea that children deserve both a mother and a father.

2)   The redefinition of marriage won’t stop with gay marriage.

3)   The impact it could have on religious liberty and rights of conscience for opponents.

But proponents of gay marriage like Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, find the arguments ineffective. According to the Pew Research Center, support for gay marriage has jumped from 33 percent to 51 percent over the past 10 years. Among Anderson's millennial generation, that figure hits 70 percent.

“If you look at the way the polls are going, the way politics are changing, it’s pretty clear that the wind is not blowing in their direction,” Rauch said. “I don’t think they’re winning the argument, though they’ve made it in an articulate way.”

Together with Princeton Ph.D. candidate Sherif Girgis, George and Anderson released “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense,” a 150-page book that has become go-to material for conservatives looking to argue against gay marriage. The trio also wrote a similar article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Like his Princeton mentor, Anderson is a devout Catholic -- a factor that influences his thinking and arguments.

“Ryan’s Catholicism gives him a special bent toward not just having theological views but trying to get to the deep naturally available rationale for those views,” Girgis said. “He combines a deep appreciation of the role of religion in society with the sense of the special value and possibility of reasoned arguments for his conclusions.”

Anderson’s influence crosses over into some evangelical camps. He gave the commencement address at Regent University, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, and appeared on this month's cover of Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink magazine.

His evangelical friends say he often half-teasingly encourages them to convert to Catholicism.

“Ryan is kind of evangelical in his Catholicism,” said Eric Teetsel, an evangelical who heads the Manhattan Declaration, a movement that focuses on marriage, sanctity of life and religious freedom. “He is a true believer and wishes the rest of us would come on board.”

When he was a 29-year-old assistant editor at the conservative Catholic journal First Things,  Anderson was a leading candidate to head the financially struggling magazine. Both parties decided it was too soon.

Anderson is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame. He is developing a thesis on economics and the common good, one he says avoids the popular categories of social welfare or libertarianism.

Vincent Munoz, a political science professor at Notre Dame, said Anderson is one of the brightest students he has ever met. “He possesses a remarkable ability to translate philosophical principles into public arguments,” Munoz said. “Faith is certainly an integral aspect to Ryan, but his arguments are grounded in philosophical reasoning.”

Anderson’s thesis, however, has taken the back burner to the issue of marriage, an issue he sees as in urgent need of defense. “Even though I don’t like talking about it in social situations, I will,” Anderson said. “We have to explain it in a way that makes sense.”

It’s a question he’s addressed at congressional hearings, lectures at law schools and in media interviews following President Obama's public support for same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court's hearings on two gay marriage cases.

Poll numbers that favor the other side don't dissuade his activism. With a cheerful disposition, he indicates long-term optimism.

“People called Marxism, socialism, the Equal Rights Amendment, now abortion rights inevitable,” he said. “I don’t think anything in life is inevitable.”



  1. Anytime you are grounding your argument on faith, you are not grounded at all. There are, according to Christianity Today, over 33,800 sects of Christianity. That establishes the fact that none of them agree on the details. Now why should we trust anything important to their scrutiny? It’s pure nonsense and worse, it’s dangerous nonsense. Christians can believe whatever they want, but keep your puerile thoughts out of my life.

  2. Keep up the great work guys! You have much more support than you think!

  3. Excellent and well backgrounded story. I wonder when Anderson’s 3 bullet points will be given as much play in the mainstream media as it gives to gay “marriage” propaganda.
    No.3 is especially relevant here in Ma. where parent’s rights involving the education of their own children are regularly trampled on, derided, ignored, and insulted loudly .

  4. Now THAT’s an inspirational article. If Ryan Anderson chooses to run for President someday, he’s automatically got my vote. (Assuming that America survives long enough for Anderson to run, of course. Right now things are looking a bit iffy.)

  5. Really? Same-sex marriage has absolutely ZERO negative impact on anybody’s religious freedom or “conscience” of opponents. Churches will continue to be permitted to follow their own rules without interference. Individuals will continue to follow their own conscience as to how they choose to live. The ONLY difference (and it’s a positive one from every conceivable angle) is that same-sex couples will be treated under the law the same as hetero couples, and people will no longer be able to use religion to justify blatant and irrational discrimination.

    More importantly, EVERY generation in American history has one one or another “issues” that seemed to divide the nation, and yet every generation somehow manages to grow up and make social progress when necessary. There will always be opponents to same-sex marriage, just like there are people still privately opposed to racial equality, or drinking in public. But they can no longer treat minorities differently in the market place, and they cannot close down the bars and liquor stores. All they can do is tell their children: “Yes, these things exist and some people approve, but we do not.” It will be up to the children to make up their own minds.

  6. I don’t know a thing about Mr. Anderson, other than what was presented in this article. However, I hope he comes up with better arguments against gay marriage than was presented in the three bullet points

    The first point is irrelevant since there is currently no government institution which defends the notion that a child deserves both a mother and a father.

    The second point lacks credibility since, at least in the US, we have never had a legal definition of marriage. And the “traditional marriage” which some proclaim lacks an inherent justification, unless marriages were to end when children left home.

    The third point has some credibility, but it isn’t because of gay marriage. The debate is really about the boundary between an individual’s religious liberty and the right of the public not to be bound by that person’s religious beliefs. Gay marriage might be part of this debate (e.g. whether a baker needs to sell a wedding cake for a gay marriage), but so are things such as the provision of contraception in Obamacare or the right of a pharmacist not to sell the morning after pill.

  7. Being conserve with membership in the Heritage Foundation and opposing gay
    marriage are all a part of the same political theology. Though more young people are having experience with gays and learning and accepting situations different their own, it should be no surprise that one’s own condition remains the biggest obstacle to the open-mindedness that is required by learning. Consequent ignorance contains, as usual, the prejudice that prevents the understanding and acceptance of differences.

    Because a person becomes known, or notorious, due to a loudly preached position of negativity, it does not follow that they are “brilliant” or “brave.” To the contrary, what passes as brave brilliance usually covers the lack of experience and the consequent ignorance that is the basis of their prejudice.

    Having a mother and father is the normal start for all children. That’s biology. Marriage is not required. That’s sociology. After birth, conditions often change. Death interrupts. Lack of preparation for parenting and poverty often intervene. Let’s not claim that procreation and birth are the only elements of healthy human development.

    Does Anderson brilliantly and boldly claim that if we dismantle the closets that allow gays to live regular, open lives and love each other, in the distorted thinking and and suggestions of his confreres, that bestiality will follow. If not, what other mating is beyond gay marriage? Oh, I forgot, parent and child, brother and sister, brother and brother, all sorts of incest. Well, Mr. Anderson, the fact that is already happening does not mean it must be accepted or legalized. Anderson, like most conservatives, demand regulation against what they oppose, but the elimination of all government and its interfering regulations otherwise. Very Ayn Rand-ish!

    It is the epitome of selfish ignorance to inject religion into this argument. How does the marriage of anyone else interfere with Anderson’s religion. Is anyone suggesting that Anderson or his church participate in a gay marriage? He sounds like Tim Dolan, the cardinal archbishop of New York who hid tons of money in his Milwaukee diocese to avoid paying court-ordered reparations for the sexual abuse of minors. Benedict XVI rewarded Dolan by moving him to New York and changing the color of his hat from purple to red. And Bill Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, was rewarded with that diocese for being Benedict’s and Dolan’s mouthpiece on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops–those experts at the cover-up of the sex crimes of themselves and their priests.

    Someone needs to explain to Anderson that religion has nothing to do with government legalization of marriage, regardless of sexual orientation. There is only a religious aspect to marriage if one wants to include religion in their marriage. It’s the same as church and state. They are constitutionally separate. The legalization of marriage has no essential relationship with religion. Marriage is civil law. Anyone, like Anderson, who wishes to add religion to their marriage is free to do so. So his shoes are on the wrong feet. It is Anderson and his positions that are interfering with the religious freedom of others, their right to freedom from religion.

  8. I live near Chicago’s Boystown, and have often seen the claims that the legalization of gay marriage will mean that any church which does not recognize gay marriage will automatically lose its tax exemption. That will definitely have a negative effect on my religious beliefs.

  9. I live in Chicago too. I’ve seen all kinds of claims in Chicago. People have claimed the world is ended soon, which I guess would effect my religious observances. Doesn’t make those claims true though.

    But, assuming that some anonymous claims you heard from somewhere near Boystown that churches are going to lose their tax exemptions are true (which they are not), I can hardly see how an increase in taxes to your church means you are suddenly going to believe differently.

    These tax exemptions have not always existed, and don’t exist everywhere in the world.

    You know what else doesn’t exist? A single case in the United States of a church being penalized by the government for not changing its beliefs .

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  11. There are a few problems with these assertions:

    Banning gay marriage hasn’t/won’t stop children from having a parent of only one gender. It won’t even stop children from being raised by two parents of the same gender. Whether gay marriage is legalized or not, people will continue to have children and some will go on to form same sex relationships after coming out (or become single parents.) All gay marriage does is provide these children with greater legal protections and more stability which is a good thing.

    The second is based on slippery slope thinking: “It won’t stop here…” The problem with slippery slope thinking is that it doesn’t address the issue at hand but some imaginary thing off in the distance. Proponents of this kind of thinking are never able to demonstrate that A must lead to B but assume that it does and drive the discussion toward the merits and consequences of B. It’s pure obfuscation.

    The third ignores that there are religious communities (Quakers, Episcopalians, ELCA Lutherans, Presbyterians, UCC, MCC, independent churches, Reform and Conservative Jews, Buddhists, pagans, etc.) who together make up tens of millions of members in this country who *want* to perform legal gay marriages but can’t against their consciences. There are plenty of others, including Catholics, who would like to see this happen as well. (I was just at a same sex wedding of two devout Catholics in New York City last weekend in fact.) Religious freedom cuts both ways. It doesn’t mean that big religions get to force their beliefs on smaller religions, much less onto the non-religious. Also, the Catholic Church doesn’t marry divorced people, nor does it ordain women, yet the government has never enforced anti-discrimination laws based on marital status or gender against religious institutions and there is no reason to believe that it would do so with a much smaller group of gay and lesbians. (What gay and lesbian person in their right mind would want a priest to officiate a wedding against their will anyway?) So this is just fear mongering.

    Most young people have heard his arguments before and know their flaws.

  12. Here in Ma. Gay propaganda is now in parts of the school curriculum. When some parents went to object to school officials they were told to get lost -parents have no rights.– The state decides what kind of moral education their kids would get.
    When one parent kept trying to see the officials of his kid’s school he was arrested. They wouldn’t even let the parent opt his kid out of class when state morality and indoctrination was being used to undermine and attack the parent’s moral views.

  13. “Do not put your trust in man, but put your trust in God”. Your lack of trust is understandable. “Seek and you shall find”. Why don’t you just ask God directly, with a pure heart and in faith. Try it and see what happens. Be humble though…if there is a God, He’ll expect humility.

  14. Actually, there have already been conscience repercussions in several states, and some countries. In Massachusetts, Catholic Social Services was forced out of providing adoption services because the State said they were discriminating by not allowing same-sex couples to adopt. We are not talking about the freedom to worship; we are talking about the freedom to live one’s entire life according to one’s religious beliefs. Churches are already being impacted as to following their own rules. Yes, conscience rights are at stake.

  15. Behind a Catholic thinker’s opposition to gay marriage (including George) is the Catholic Church’s rationalistic (all in the head, no empiricism) philosophical theory of Natural Law: There is a an enduing human nature human and this nature includes unchangeable sex relations based on procreation. The alleged truths of natural law are dictated “by teh anyure of theings.”

    Although science is now describing a human nature that we, as a species, possess like any other species, this human nature is not very changeable but is open to biological (very gradual), social and cultural evolution. Like some primate species we use sex for more than procreation: for mutual pleasure and fun as well as for committed love (which may or may not include procreation). Alone among primates we through biological evolution have abandoned estrus, the biological drive to mate sexually at certain fertile times in order to procreate. We have also culturally evolved beyond the “sex is only for procreation” dictate.

    Lurking behind the theory of Natural Law is the existence of prime mover, God or Fate, that determines human purpose and destiny. This Prime Mover creates essences that are unchangeable and are indwelling in all things.

    Modern western societies have taken a mildly dissenting approach to the theory of eternal essences, namely a more humanistic approach. The humanistic approach is that whether or not there are essences it is up to us human beings to make decisions about our purpose and our destiny and how we should govern our societies for the good of all. Instead of basing morality on the dictates of Fate or God as mediated through Natural Law, we base morality on certain principles: the dignity of all human beings (provable? No, this is a decision), universal and equal human rights, institutions that support human rights, and civil rights. These decisions make for a well governed society that respects both liberty (not defined in an absolutist way) and equality (not defined in an absolutist way).

    These decisions about human responsibility, dignity, purpose and self-governance give rise to the modern theory of Human Rights. under Human rights a woman is sovereign over her own body and possesses, as a full human being, more dignity than a fetus, which is only partly human. No state has the right to take control of her body. Under Human Rights a homosexual person has the same dignity and rights as a heterosexual person, including the right to marry.

    Evolutionary biology tells us that the absis of human morality indeed is built into our human nature, even into primate nature. Inborn morality is based on need for fairness, that is, reciprocity: to live together well we must all give and take. Patriarchal marriage has a version of give and take: he gives protection and the support needed to live and thrive, she gives loyalty and devotion and a commitment to devote herself to his children. But newer versions of the marraige contract are based on very different practices of give and take. The paternalistic marriage contract is not dictated by our nature. It is one way that our inborn need for reciprocity operates. there are others. The need for reciprocity develops very differently in an authoritarian society than it does in a society that believes in a combination of liberty and equality.

    Thinkers liek George try to claim that the Theory of Human or Natural rights is the same as their theory of Natural law. But the two theories are not the same, they are in opposition. George and the Catholic Church use Natural Law to justify an inferior status for women (of course their inferiority will be justified as an idealization of women’s deep morality). Their Natural Law also imposes and inferior status for homosexuals whose, as they see it, essentially “unnatural” and “disordered” sexuality, divorced form procreation but not from love, is not worthy of the marriage contract strangely enough because their marriage, based on love between two humans, would not serve the same sexual purpose as it does in most animal species: procreation.

    Is marriage primarily for procreation? Or is it primarily for companionable love and mutual support whose details are up to the couple?

    Statistically, of course, most marriages ail involve procreation, not necessarily as primary, but there nonetheless. Thus the claim the natural law evangelizers make that gay marriage is a threat to procreation does not hold. Of course statistics are one application of empiricism and empiricism plays no role in their rationalistic , pre-scientific philosophy.

  16. Yikes. So, to sum up this diatribe, this commenter is for gay marriage. I agree that marriage does not mean procreation in all peoples cases, but c’mon, let’s face the real facts of it all: Boy parts do not go together. Girls parts do not go together. We can then conclude, with common sense alone (religion and politics aside), that they were not meant to be together; no matter how many agenda-driven “studies” are done. If only companionable love & mutual support defined a marriage, as the commenter stated, this leaves a dangerously wide hole for interpretation. Good luck with that in the future!

  17. David, your remarks are too sweeping because your charge is too general. Anderson’s argument is built on faith, you say, therefore untenable because they are not grounded rightly. Let’s look more closely as one surmises that you probably reserve that comment for any one who argues and in part is motivated by religious faith. I doubt his grounding is faith-in-faith, as mere subjective projection of belief, as you seem to imply. Faith if firm in its trust and motivation is always grounded in the object of faith (and what evidence exists by many to support it). You are no different. Faith grounded in what passes as ‘assured objectivity’ is what gives rise to a a person’s faith. Historical, scientific, mathmatical or testimonial objectivity all arise from your experience of order and reality and a presumed worldview carried into the equation. There are no ‘brute facts’ versus ‘in the dark’ faith. You assume by faith that you know things and understand reality correctly. You assume by “faith” that what you see is only what is, or that your acceptance of reality is completely by your reasoning….but a reasoning that must trust in many things to be true without your measuing them (i.e., emotions and trust in love -got the sure answer?). Science is far from uniform and conclusive given its human ethic and interpretation added into it, yet you readily ground your faith in human interpretation of those fact (like “evolution” which is still unproven yet people – you? -have faith in it and call the theory now a fact. Begin with yourself, and be careful in your assumptions about faith, including religious faith, when they are found in a person who stil takes histroy, cause and effect and coherence about reality seriously, like you. Maybe you are the one missing the bigger, more integrated, picture.

  18. I was going to answer David, but you summed it up well. No one ever decides morality and worldview based on pure objectivity.

  19. Well FFRF really wants to get rid of it of our Tax exemption. But since they can’t legally they our going make us as miserable as they can

  20. @David Thompson — Find me an organization — ANY organization — that does not have factions, disagreements about details, and I’ll accept your statement that Christians’ scrutiny cannot be trusted. Do NOT paint all Christians with the same brush. “You’re a Christian? Then your opinion/scrutiny cannot be trusted.” That is ignorant, hateful and prejudiced!

  21. I have been married for 30 years. I have gay friends. Some of the nicest people I have ever met. I hope my son of 26 finds a nice woman and has some grandchildren. He is my only son. If he told me he was gay, I would learn to deal with it because he is my son and I love him no matter what…..even if he beat up retarded, homophobs like yourself. What is all this mystery about any way? Did anyone go to Sunday school as a kid? I grew up believing that Jesus and God were all forgiving. And yes I did read the “parts” about who lies with whom. How old are you anyway? Do your parent know you are on their computer? “Girl” parts and “boy” parts? You sound at least 8. Hear is an easy one for you young man or whatever you are. What would Jesus do? I honestly think Jesus would slap you silly and tell you to grow up. Know wonder their is some much chaos in the world today. All you religious nuts acting in the name of Jesus or Ali are so full of sh*t you can’t even read you own bibles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How about helping me round them all up and burn them. You know the bibles. Oh my! I can’t believe I said that! You idiots really piss me off. I had a stroke 2 years ago and almost died at that hell hole down there in Atlanta called “Emory.” I was stuck in that damn place for 39 long days. Not like those PUSSY doctors who had Ebola. “I had Ebola for 2 weeks
    and got better.” They got off LIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!! I had multiple gay and lesbian nurses working every day to try and save my life. Do you think I gave a damn if they were gay or not? Do you think I gave a damn if they liked “girl” parts or “boy” parts? You are too stupid to reason with and definitely not worth the time it took to write this. This is time I can’t get back and I am on my bucket list every second of every day now. Thanks for being such an understanding “child of God”………………I think people like you are in for a big surprise when the end comes. You better start thinking about that dumbass. When Jesus kisses that gay guy on the cheek and plants one on the lesbian going through the “Golden Gate” are you really going to be surprised when Jesus says you are not ready to enter yet because of all your prejudice and ignorance? You better change your ways of thinking, change churches or something before it is too late. That is just a fair warning from someone in the know. Have a nice life!

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