(Originally published in The American Conservative)

When Katy Faust spoke at the third National Conservative conference in Florida in 2022, her speech had a simple refrain: “This is a child.” Applying the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers story (“Gentlemen, this is a football!”) to the marriage debate, Faust sought to recenter a movement she described as distracted and bring it back to the fundamentals. Propping a posterboard picture of a little girl next to the podium, she proceeded to repeat the phrase some 30 or more times: “This is a child.”

For all her verbal punch, Faust is surprisingly feminine when we meet up at her hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. She has just come from breakfast with Carl Trueman and his wife on morning two of a Lutheran conference where both she and Trueman spoke and admits to feeling like a fan girl around the Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self author.

Faust is not a woman who has become like a man in order to win her argument. The effect is undeniably matriarchal as she glides from a pocket explanation of natural rights theory to images of child exploitation at the hands of the surrogacy industry, neither missing a word nor filling the air with empty ones, all while fishing a pen from her purse when she notices my ink running out. It’s a rhetorical strength that has set her apart from almost any other voice on the subject. There are countless conservative commentators, advocates, and politicians with less zeal and less finesse than this pastor’s wife from Seattle.

It seems to come naturally, but Faust has also had a decade or more of practice. Years before founding her child’s rights organization, Them Before Us, and co-authoring a book by the same title with a foreword written by Robert P. George, Faust was raising her kids in Seattle and debating with her friends in Facebook threads.

“I was so naive,” Faust says. “I thought, ‘They can’t really believe that bigotry is behind traditional marriage support. I mean, kids need moms and dads!’”

It was 2012, and President Barack Obama had just switched his position on gay marriage. Faust described sensing a “sea change” in media. Overnight, anyone who did not support same-sex marriage could only be described as unreasonable. Her response was to try to find ways to convince her friends of the legitimate reasons marriage advantages children. Keeping her Christian faith out of the picture, focusing solely on social science studies and data, and being as gracious and understanding as possible, Faust sought to win them to her side.

“In the end, they were like, ‘So, you’re a bigot. What you’re saying is you’re a bigot. You’re a bigot, bigot, bigot.’ And it broke me,” she said.

That’s when Faust started her blog, AskTheBigot. “I was pissed.”

The goal of the blog was simple: Embrace the mantle of bigot in order to prove it was not what her opponents imagined. The evidence would be hard hitting, but in the comments section, Faust said she wanted to be “beautiful,” “the most unbigoted person that you’re going to encounter.”

She had already come a long way. Neither politics nor religion were a part of Faust’s childhood in Washington State. When she was 10, her parents divorced. Her father eventually took on some New Age philosophies while her mother partnered with a woman. Then, as a junior in high school, Faust became a Christian. A few years after that, she chose to study political science at a private liberal arts college in Minnesota. While there, she met her husband, Ryan, and the two married right after graduation.

Between her Fulbright study in Taiwan, having three kids and adopting a fourth from China, and serving more than a decade in youth ministry, Faust says the real moment that forced her to figure out what she believed was moving to Seattle in 2010.

“I had some idea about being conservative, and about things I wanted to conserve, but I wasn’t zealous about a political party at all,” Faust said. “Once I got to Seattle, it’s a very political environment, and you had to figure out what you believed very fast. The need to be able to stand firm led me to start following and listening to a lot of podcasters.”

She joked about having to learn the hard way that mainstream media was biased: “It took me a while to catch on that NPR did not really consider all things in their ‘all things considered’ shows.”

Everything began to change again in 2014, when the “Bigot” was outed. A gay blogger, writing under the moniker Pink Agendist, had identified Faust by tracing her husband’s IP address and began doxxing Faust, her husband, and other members of their church in an attempt to threaten her into silence. The result, of course, was quite the opposite, as Faust embraced writing and speaking publicly.

“God used it for good,” she said. “Now I could write amicus briefs for the Supreme Court. Now I could go and speak to members of parliament in Australia, and speak to the legislative body in Taiwan, and conduct workshops at the United Nations.” And she did.

Over the next four years, Faust would get her movement education while helping to design the teen edition of the CanaVox curriculum for Robert P. George’s Witherspoon Institute. (The curriculum, which teaches young adults about sex, gender, marriage, and relationships from a natural law perspective, includes a “Dear Katy” video series, in which a younger Faust, often recording from her kitchen, answers audience questions such as whether or not to attend a gay family member’s wedding.)

In 2018, she founded Them Before Us, formalizing her children’s rights argument for traditional marriage in the shape of a nonprofit. In her last blog post at AskTheBigot, she summed up her goal: To co-opt some of the left’s most powerful tactics, the same ones that gave them the rhetorical upper hand in the marriage debate.

“We lost the marriage battle because we got a few critical things wrong,” Faust wrote. “First, we thought that studies, logic and tradition would be enough. The reality is that none of that holds a candle to the persuasive power of story… Second, we allowed the other side to frame adults as victims. And while many adults on both sides of this issue have experienced hardship and loss, the real victims of the marriage battle are children.”

Faust credits George, along with Ryan Anderson, founding editor of the Witherspoon Institute’s journal, Public Discourse, with discipling her in the natural law framework. That framework is essential to the part of her argument, which defines what is, and what is not, a right. In the natural law framework, a natural right must exist independent of government or culture, be equally distributed, and be incapable of being repealed by law.

“What has the ‘right to marry anybody’ resulted in?” Faust asked. “It has resulted in the loss of children’s actual rights. When you misidentify rights, when you characterize as an adult ‘right’ something that is not really a right, very often the result is that children lose their actual rights. Properly defining rights is very, very important.”

This is especially relevant in the conversation about surrogacy, which Faust describes as “slicing what should be one person, Mother, into three purchasable and optional women”: egg donor, birth mother, and social mother. Faust uses the language of the primal wound, the idea that an adopted child experiences deep emotional and psychological damage as a result of losing their mother or father, to explain the damage done to the child by this fragmentation.

“Any time these three women are not found in the same person the child is going to experience loss,” Faust said. “Children should not lose their birth mother. Children have a natural right to be connected to, known and loved and raised by the woman who gave them life.”

Faust has firsthand experience with the effects of this primal wound on children, having spent four years working at Chinese Children Adoption International, one of the top Chinese adoption agencies in the world, and having adopted a child herself. The injustice of creating children with all the damage she worked to mitigate makes Faust a passionate voice against the practice. This is why, while arguments against surrogacy are often made from the perspective of women’s rights and the potential for exploiting a woman who acts as a surrogate, Faust says the children’s rights argument is the stronger one.

“The only effective argument against surrogacy is the child centric argument, because children would never consent to losing their mother,” Faust says. “They don’t consent to losing their genetic mother, and they don’t consent to losing their birth mother, and they would not consent to a motherless existence. If they are able to order their own world, every child would order their world to be one where their own mother and their own father are loving them every day of their life.”

The data is all on her side: Where it has been studied, the outcomes for children in any arrangement other than that of their married biological mother and father are undeniably worse. Social scientists don’t dispute this when they study crime, or poverty, or teen suicide. It’s only when they study traditional marriage in comparison with same-sex or other couples, as sociologist Mark Regnerus did in 2012, that the findings are deemed to have been “cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LGBT partners and their families.”

But even children raised by LGBT couples affirm the data. Samantha Weissing, a stay-at-home mom from Clarksville, Tennessee, lost her birth mother at 8 months old when her parents divorced, and would spend much of her childhood being raised by her father and his boyfriend. The tragedy of the loss of her mother hit Weissing in kindergarten while watching the 1988 movie The Land Before Time.

“I realized at that moment that, wow, there’s such a thing as a mom, and I don’t have one,” Weissing said. “By the end of the movie, I was so completely devastated that I ended up crying in the lap of one of the teachers until my dad came to get me.”

Weissing’s dad and his boyfriend would move her frequently from house to house before getting into trouble with the Department of Child Services. After a brief stint in foster care, Weissing was adopted by her aunt and uncle, but while their home was stable, Weissing was getting into trouble: “I was struggling to find out who I was, where I belonged.”

Among the biggest harms children born in broken families experience is this loss of identity. Many fantasize about their mothers or wonder if their hair, eyes, or affinity for music comes from their father. This often also leads to lashing out: Among teens who are homeless, drop out of high school, abuse drugs or alcohol, commit suicide, are in poverty, are incarcerated, or get pregnant out of wedlock, the vast majority have lost a biological parent, typically their father. “I definitely checked several of those off,” Weissing said.

In addition to the social ills are very real personal problems. “I’ve always wanted to be a mom and always wanted to have kids,” Weissing said. “But who am I supposed to learn how to do that from? As a woman being raised by two gay men, there was no way on earth they could have taught me.”

Brandi Walton from Oklahoma was raised by her mom and her mom’s subsequent female partners after her parents divorced. She described feeling the same need for her father that Weissing felt for her mother.

“All I wanted were men in my life,” Walton said. “I wanted my dad, but my mom didn’t allow me to see him until I was 18. I wanted to spend time with my grandpas, who I was allowed to see, and uncles. But she couldn’t understand this need I had.”

Despite being present for a lot of domestic abuse from one of her mother’s female partners, and being exposed to “’80s-level partying” and substance abuse in her childhood home, Walton said one of the hardest parts as a young adult was feeling “invisible” to both her peers and the gay community.

“There was so much support if you were gay, if you were a kid that was gay or something, but if you were a kid that was being raised in it that didn’t like it, well, ‘We don’t want to hear that.’  I’m 42 years old and they still don’t want to hear it.”

Then there’s Katy Francisco from Florida, whose mother conceived her with a sperm donor and who has done work for Them Before Us as an advocate. Francisco’s parents didn’t tell her about her donor dad until she was a senior in college.

“I thought I had a traditional home,” Francisco said. “I thought we had the perfect church family. Well, it certainly wasn’t perfect: There were enough tensions and issues that when I found out, it kind of made sense. It explained my own identity struggles and my feeling that I couldn’t fit in anywhere.”

Several years later, with the help of her brother who was conceived with the same donor, Francisco met the man she now calls “Dad” with no modifiers.

“I really don’t like those terms ‘biological’ or ‘social’ father. It whitewashes the truth, in my opinion,” Francisco said. “You only have one father and mother. Other people can raise you, and they’re your guardians, but they’re not your real father and mother who created you.”

Stephanie Blessing from Memphis, Tennessee, was also conceived with a sperm donor, though her mother didn’t tell her the truth until she was in her 30s, married with five young children. Even then, Blessing said the revelation rocked her world: “I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore, because I was not my father’s daughter anymore.”

Both Blessing and Francisco suffered serious depression upon discovering their fractured family history. Both also found hope in the Christian faith; Francisco specifically found the Catholic Church’s position against reproductive technology to be deeply reassuring. Blessing, on studying the eugenicist roots of donor conception and the life of its pioneer, William Pancoast, concluded that the practice is “demonic.”

“I was created out of an ideology of superiority, and yet God has made me a stay-at-home mom who has homeschooled her five children and raised them with a Biblical point of view,” Blessing said. “I am the exact antithesis of everything that industry hoped to create. I do not value what they value. I do not represent what they want represented. I am not dumb by any stretch of the imagination, but all of the superiority that should have been bred into me has been used to honor and magnify Christ, and not to honor the ideology that created me. I love God’s humor in that.”

In all our talk about surrogacy and reproductive technology, social ills and child suffering, and her new book with co-author Stacy Manning, Raising Conservative Kids in a Woke City, traditional marriage is still clearly the central piece for Faust. That leaves one very big question: How do we restore it?

Not by overturning Obergefell—or rather, not right away. Instead, Faust says she hopes to create new pathways to reinforce the natural family by taking the focus off adult feelings and putting it on child thriving. “In that way, we hope to actually help people rediscover the government’s interest in marriage, which is children.” Though, she adds, she would be happy to see Obergefell fall “if we can do it the way we hope to do it, which is by having the emphasis be on mothers and fathers raising their own kids.”

What this means in terms of policy is something to be hammered out at the state level, with any and every political leader willing to embrace the almost certain blowback. There are a few starting points, however. First, Faust says government may “permit adults to form all kinds of consensual relationships with one another, but it should only promote the one relationship where a child doesn’t have to lose anything to be in that relationship.”

“You don’t get small government unless you have Big Marriage,” she adds.

This is interesting. Does Big Marriage not require big government? Faust says no.