Ruth Speaks Out

This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.

Target of the SPLC's Notorious 'Hate List' Speaks Out

by Jennifer Roback Morse

This article was first published at The Stream on August 23, 2017.



I categorically condemn the Alt-Right, white supremacy, racism, Nazism and all violent totalitarian political movements. But I am a bit confused. I thought I was supposed to be a member of the Alt-Right, or a racist, or a Nazi, since I voted for Donald Trump. I guess I am even supposed to be in sympathy with the Alt-Right marchers in Charlottesville.

Dealing With the “Hate” Label

People like me who have had the “hate” label pinned on them face a dilemma: we can defend ourselves and say, “I don’t hate anyone. I just don’t agree with you.” In my experience, this strategy goes nowhere. The more we attempt to defend ourselves, the more we appear, well, defensive. Hence, not believable.

Our other choice is to say, “The heck with it. I know I’m not a hater, bigot or racist. I officially no longer care what anyone thinks of me.” This second course has a certain nobility to it. But it presents dangers of its own. People can easily become jaded and cynical about the whole concept of “hate” and “bigotry.”

In the interests of full disclosure, I should reveal that this has been my preferred strategy. You see, the organization I lead, the Ruth Institute, is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map.” I don’t know how one gets on the SPLC’s “Hate Map.” And I certainly do not know how one gets off it.

Is It “Anti-LGBT” to Say Children Need Their Own Parents?

I suppose I am an “anti-LGBT” hater, because I believe children need their own parents. So here is my question: If believing children need their own parents lands the Ruth Institute a spot on the “hate map,” what words adequately describe white supremacists or neo-Nazis?

I am clear on one point: Sexual revolutionaries gain a strategic advantage by labeling people like me. Guilt by association is irrational, but powerful. The fear of being labeled a racist provides a potent disincentive for people to voice the view that children need their own parents. Silencing people relieves the Identity Politicians and Sexual Revolutionaries from the effort of having to defend their ideas.

This is convenient for said Identity Politicians and Sexual Revolutionaries, because their ideas are indefensible. Children actually do need their own parents. Sexual orientation is not the equivalent of race. Two mothers do not equal two fathers do not equal a mother and a father, and certainly not one’s own mother and father.

One typical Revolutionary response at this point is, “Why are you singling out gay people? What about divorce?” Please be aware that the Ruth Institute spends a LOT of time talking about divorce and other forms of family breakdown. Don’t change the subject. Society’s injustice to children through divorce is proof-positive that depriving children of a parent through genderless marriage will also be unjust.

This “Hate” Labeling is a Dangerous Game

But what does any of this have to do with being a Nazi? Or a racist? Or advocating violence? Nothing.

Our “opinion-makers” in the media, academia and assorted left-wing think tanks are playing a dangerous game. They have told us that the views of many ordinary decent Americans are the equivalent of racism. Some of those same ordinary decent Americans are fed up. They know they are not racists, haters or bigots. But we no longer have an adequate public vocabulary to describe actual haters, bigots and racists.

As I said, I categorically condemn the Alt-Right, white supremacy, racism, Nazism and all violent totalitarian political movements. You may search the Ruth Institute’s website all day long, and never find a racist word. Instead, what you will find are reasons and evidence to support sentiments that align with the vast majority of Americans, black and white, male and female. Children need their own parents. Men and women are different. Sex makes babies and therefore society has every right to expect people to control their sexual impulses.

The advocates of the Sexual Revolution cannot defend their ideas. That is why people with my views end up on their “Hate Map.”

On Wednesday, August 23, the Ruth Institute released a statement on being included on SPLC’s “Hate Map.” You can read that statement here. The Ruth Institute has also created a special page called “Where’s the Hate?” which lists items that some have deemed “hateful.” They invite the public to review these items and determine for themselves who is actually “hateful.”

But What About Abusive Marriages?

by Jennifer Roback Morse

This article was originally posted at Crisis Magazine August 3, 2017.

When people learn that I oppose no-fault divorce, some will say, “You have forgotten about abusive marriages.” When the Ruth Institute, the organization that I lead, describes itself as “The World’s Only Campaign to End Family Breakdown,” we hear again, “But what about abusive marriages?”

So, let me deal with this important issue. What about abusive marriages?

First off, let me assure you: I am certainly aware abusive marriages exist. I hear a lot of these stories. There are valid reasons why sometimes, spouses can, and should live separately. I am not opposed to separation in these cases. In some cases, a civil divorce can be justified, and even necessary.

The real question is this: who “broke” this family? Remember, I’m working to end family breakdown. In my opinion, the person throwing furniture through the wall, broke the family covenant. His wife has every right, and perhaps even a responsibility, to ask him to move out. If he refuses, she may need the help of (our admittedly dysfunctional) legal system. But make no mistake: she is not breaking up the family. He is.

Or what about this case? A woman becomes addicted to drugs. She spends all the family’s money, runs up credit card debts and acquires new lovers. Her husband may very well need to kick her out, sever all their financial dealings, and take steps to keep her away from the kids. He may need the help of the government to accomplish this. And yes, a divorce may be the only way to disentangle her from the family finances.

Who broke this family? The person who broke the covenant: the wife. The husband is protecting himself and his children.

I’m against the behavior that led to the family breakdown. I’m not against the innocent party doing what they need to do to protect themselves and their children. Yes, I’m so much against family breakdown that I want to see abusive behavior end.

I stated right up front that I am opposed to no-fault divorce. I stand by that. No-fault divorce was a radical restructuring of the institution of marriage. Under the no-fault regime, the State takes sides with the person who wants the marriage the least. The State not only allows, but actually assists, the least committed party to unilaterally ending the marriage.

Under a fault-based regime, an abused spouse could get a divorce. Abuse, adultery, abandonment, addiction: these were considered marital faults in virtually any jurisdiction. The person claiming a fault would have to offer evidence, to prove the faults had indeed occurred. But a fault-based divorce regime does not mean divorces never happened. Nor would a reintroduction of marital fault mean that “women would be trapped in abusive marriages.”

Under the no-fault divorce regime, the State pretends to be unable to discern an abusive marriage, from one that is not, or an offending party from an innocent party. The State then turns around and presumes to discern parenting plans, child support plans, and living arrangements of entire families. According to the State, no one has done anything wrong. Yet, the State assigns itself the right to send children for psychological evaluations, and to investigate all the family’s financial records.

It is true that the State does not use all this authority in every instance. This does not negate the fact that they still have that authority. No-fault divorce is a highly intrusive, privacy-invading legal structure.

Finally, some will ask, what about the Catholic Church’s annulment process? The annulment process is conceptually separate from discerning whether a marital fault has taken place. I realize this may sound harsh. But adultery or abuse has no direct bearing on whether the marriage was canonically valid in the first place.

The annulment process seeks evidence about the conditions surrounding the marriage itself. Did both parties freely consent? Were there any defects of form? Were both parties free to marry? Whether one or both became mentally ill or abusive or adulterous or anything else is not, strictly speaking relevant. If a person is too dangerous to live with, the couple can licitly live separately.

So why is annulment such a big deal in the Catholic Church? An annulment gives a person the Church’s permission to contract a Catholic marriage, just as a civil divorce grants a person permission to contract another civil marriage. But bear in mind: no one ever has to get married again.

This is why I am persuaded that abusive marriages do not present an exception to Jesus’ law of the indissolubility of marriage. Nor does the existence of abusive marriages dissuade me from my belief that family breakdown is something every decent person should work to end.

Breaking up a family in the absence of marital fault is unjust to the innocent parties, especially the children. And when abuse does take place, the person filing the divorce papers is not the person breaking up the family. The abuse that led to divorce is what needs to stop. Surely everyone can agree to that.

Euthanizing the Unhappy: The Urgent Need for Love

by Jennifer Roback Morse

The case of a Belgian woman who committed physician-assisted suicide after a sex-change operation reveals that we must not only look more closely at the causes of gender dysphoria, we must also offer all people the love that they so deeply need.

The recent physician-assisted suicide of a deeply depressed Belgian woman made worldwide headlines. But the headlines didn’t say a thing about depression. The headlines read, “Belgian killed by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation.”

This is not a story of medicine gone wrong. It is a story of a world where the light has gone out.


Everything about this headline is a euphemism or half-truth. The author couldn't figure out whether to describe the individual as a man or a woman. So, in keeping with GLAAD guidelines, the author used the gender-neutral term “Belgian,” to describe a generic person, and later describes the individual as “Nathan, born Nancy, Verhelst.” The story never tells us exactly what was “botched” about the operation, except that Nancy was unhappy with the result. And the term “euthanasia” obscures the fact that a physician killed a perfectly healthy woman who happened to have been extremely unhappy for a long time.

Let's read past the headline and consider the story more deeply.

Nancy was the daughter of a mother who wanted sons.

“I was the girl that nobody wanted. . . While my brothers were celebrated, I got a storage room above the garage as a bedroom. ‘If only you had been a boy’, my mother complained. I was tolerated, nothing more.”

Nancy’s mother confirmed Nancy’s story in this article.

“When I first saw ‘Nancy,’ my dream was shattered. She was so ugly . . . I had a ghost birth. Her death does not bother me.”

She said the farewell letter that Mr. Verhelst had written to her explaining his reasons for choosing euthanasia had not yet arrived, adding: “I will definitely read it, but it will be full of lies.

“For me, this chapter closed. Her death does not bother me. I feel no sorrow, no doubt or remorse. We never had a bond which could therefore not be broken.”

It is painfully obvious that Nancy needed love. What she got was a highly invasive set of medical procedures.

The typical justification for the amputation of perfectly healthy breasts and the prescription of powerful hormonal treatment is “gender dysphoria.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual describes gender dysphoria this way:

there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Looking through the DSM online, I did not find reference to the idea of trying to understand why the person experiences gender dysphoria. Nor did I find any reference to the idea of exhausting less invasive solutions to the distress or impairment before embarking on such a radical process as sexual reassignment surgery and a lifetime of hormone treatment, even on insurance company websites. One might think that an insurance company would want to know that less expensive alternatives had been attempted, before agreeing to pay for sexual reassignment surgery.

Admittedly, this online version of the DSM is for laypeople, not professionals. And also admittedly, insurance companies typically require "two referrals from qualified mental health professionals who have independently assessed the individual." But in the absence of objective criteria that would establish gender dysphoria apart from the individual's feelings, it is not clear what this very open-ended referral requirement exactly accomplishes.

The colloquial version of gender dysphoria is that the person feels “trapped in the wrong body.” But this does not apply to Nancy's case. The overriding fact of this woman's life was that her mother rejected her because she was a girl. We now know that millions of baby girls have been aborted worldwide, simply because they were girls. Nancy’s story is the slow-motion Western European equivalent. Her mother wanted a son, or at least a better-looking girl. She feels no remorse, even after her daughter’s suicide.

What exactly was “botched” about the sex change operation? I could find no allegation in the published accounts that the doctors did anything wrong or were negligent in any way. It appears that there was nothing medically abnormal about her body. The operation was “botched” only in the sense that Nancy was not satisfied with the outcome.

In the hours before his death he told Belgium's Het Laatse Nieuws: “I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself.

“My new breasts did not match my expectations and my new penis had symptoms of rejection. I do not want to be . . . a monster.”

Nancy needed to be affirmed in her femininity. She had internalized her mother’s view that she was defective. Not surprisingly, her surgical attempts to correct a moral and psychological problem did not succeed. Changing her body did not resolve the problem of her mother's rejection.

Why no one saw this, I cannot say.

Dr. Paul McHugh was Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins University from 1975 to 2001. During that time, he made the decision and led the department in shutting down the sexual reassignment unit. Here is what he said, years after the fact:

As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.

However you may feel about Dr McHugh's argument as a general proposition, we can say that he is absolutely correct in Nancy Verhelst's case. This particular woman was not “really” a man “trapped” in a woman's body. She was “really” a woman “trapped” in a world in which the most important person in her life did not love her.

Nancy did not need surgery. She needed her mother’s love. And short of that, she needed other people to care for her, to reach out to her in love, and assure her that she is loved by God.

The Christian community should have and could have reached out to a little girl whose mother was disgusted by her female body. Christians of all denominations need to start creating their own structures of service to those who are so wounded that they want to mutilate their own bodies or kill themselves.

More cases like Nancy’s are inevitable. Sexual reassignment surgery for any reason is already here in America. Euthanasia for any reason is coming down the pike. These trends are driven by the modern obsession with personal autonomy, uncoupled from any objective notion of the good. You don't like your body? No problem. We'll change yours to your specification. You don't want to live? No problem. We will help you die. Giving people what they say they want is becoming the sum total of our idea of helping people.

Not long ago, I gave a talk at a university titled “Healing the Family of the 21st Century.” In the question period, I laughingly said that we need a new religious order to reach out to people hurting from family problems. (Listen to this around minutes fifty-four through fifty-eight.) In that context, I was talking about the millions of people who have been wounded by the Sexual Revolution: children of divorce, reluctantly divorced or abandoned spouses, heartbroken career women.

But I'm not laughing now. We really do need a group of people whose job it is to reach out to those who need love, for whatever reason, from whatever cause. Pope Francis has recently said that he views the church as a field hospital after battle. “Heal the wounds! Heal the wounds!”

There is a town where the Christian people pride themselves on the care of the mentally ill. This town was the site of the murder of St. Dymphna by her mentally deranged father in the ninth century. Ever since, the residents of this town take mentally ill people into their homes. Coincidently, this town is in Belgium, the country that now euthanizes depressed people like Nancy Verhelst.

The modern world promises health and happiness through science. Science is supposed to deliver human control over the constraints of nature. This, in turn, will make us happy, since the free exercise of our will is supposed to be the key to human happiness.

Science did not deliver happiness to Nancy Verhelst. Science helped her to exercise her will, all right—but that was not enough.

The psychological sciences are inadequate for dealing with the existential problem of lovelessness and loneliness. The medical sciences are not the solution for a spiritual problem. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us. Only God's love can sustain us in loving others when all hope of love seems lost. This is precisely when the need for love is the greatest. We who have experienced this love need to be more assertive about sharing this astounding fact with others.


Recognizing Propaganda for Divorce

An excerpt from “The Sexual State,” a forthcoming book by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

At the heart of the Divorce Ideology is one simple idea: kids are so resilient that they do not really need their own parents. This idea salves many a guilty conscience over making these choices. This is the idea that allows adults to divorce, remarry, become single parents by choice, and use third party reproduction. This idea allows people to have sex with people they are not married to: they presume the resulting children, (if any) will be fine. They presume that their currently existing children will not mind them taking up with new lovers, forming new households and all the rest. Kids are resilient.

This idea is completely false. All its variants are equally false.

“I can safely abandon the mother of my child, and my child.”

“I can safely kick my child’s father out of the house.”

“As a judge or social worker, I can separate children from their parents, support one blameless parent against the other, and nothing bad will happen.”

“As an academic or journalist, I can safely promote the idea that marriage is unnecessary, probably oppressive, and after all, just a piece of paper.”

“The kids will be better off if I am happy.”


It takes a lot of propaganda to maintain the myth that the kids will be fine.

The victims of the Divorce Ideology number in the millions. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by this ideology. All these people need to be silenced to maintain the fiction that the kids will be fine as long as their parents are happy. But over-writing nature on this scale is no small matter. The Revolutionaries need to enlist a lot of social effort, since their ideas do not accord with reality. The True Believers in the Sexual Revolution regard doing the impossible as a high moral duty. They believe themselves entitled to use all available social and political power to achieve their impossible goals. They believe working toward these high moral ends will give meaning to their lives and salvation to society. Since their premises are false and their goals are impossible, they will never be satisfied, no matter how much social change they generate. In fact, since the premises are false, every mistaken step compounds the previous mistaken steps. The True Believer becomes even less happy with every step of the “March of Progress.”

Some of this is masked by the fact that they sometimes have legitimate goals wrapped up inside their ideology. For example, many people agree that increasing women’s participation in higher education and the professions is a good thing. The Sexual Revolutionaries claim credit for every woman who has graduated from college since 1965. But they never stop to assess any collateral damage that their methods may have generated. Nor do they ask whether these legitimate objectives (behind which they hide their Revolutionary agenda) could have been achieved in some other way.

The Sexual Revolution needs the State because it needs enormous amounts of power to accomplish its impossible objectives. This one insight unlocks the key to the whole course of the Sexual Revolution. We are now in a position to see why the Sexual Revolution has morphed into a power grab, why it seems so overwhelming, why it is so seductive, why its propaganda seems so relentless, and why the downhill slide seems to be accelerating.

Propping up this combination of half-truths and flat-out lies requires a lot of propaganda. Every TV sitcom showing the happy fatherless family is part of this effort to remake human nature. Ditto every movie showing jolly blended families. Speaking of, The Huffington Post has a regular feature called “Blended Family Friday.” They describe it this way:

As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we’ll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your own story? Email us at

Most of these accounts are chipper reports from the adult’s point of view. I have not seen too many accounts written from the child’s perspective. The articles tend to downplay the problems, suggesting that with tenacity and determination, these problems can be overcome. This feature outrages my friends who are adult children of divorce. They feel it diminishes the negative experiences they had as children.

The propaganda for the divorce ideology causes real pain to real people. Those who have been harmed by family breakdown feel isolated. “If only my family was cooler and more together, we could be like those people on TV. We would not be having all these problems.” What if you and your family are more common than you believe, and the TV show characters are the unusual ones?

People who have made decisions that result in family breakdown undoubtedly sometimes do so based on the cultural narrative supporting the “freedom to divorce” and “the kids will be fine.” When they discover that all that freedom didn’t make them happy, that the kids really aren’t fine, many of these people feel cheated, like freaks, like outliers. What if the difficulties you encounter are the norm and the TV characters are the freaks?

Every instance of this propaganda victimizes the already-victimized. Besides being hurt by their parents’ divorce, the children of divorce are subjected to the continual claim that they really are all right. And if they are not all right, there is something especially wrong with them. We take them to therapy. We prescribe medication for them. We ask them to deny the reality that is right in front of them. No wonder they are upset. No wonder they have stomach cramps, sleepless nights, psychological problems, and trouble with their school work. The divorce ideology and the propaganda that supports it is crazy-making. Honestly, it is a wonder that so many of the children of divorce do as well as they do. I cannot even imagine what they go through.

I don’t care how often it happens. I don’t care how much propaganda attempts to normalize it. I will never consider it “normal” for children to be asked to do without one of their parents, without a really, really, good reason.

1. “Meet the Blended Families We’ve Featured in the Past” is a montage of 156 stories of stepfamilies. The description quoted in the text appears in the tee-up of each one. accessed November 16, 2016.)

101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person

A chat with one of the authors.

by Tamara El-Rahi

This article was first posted at Mercatornet on December 5. 2016.

Betsy Kerekes is Director of Online Publications at the Ruth Institute and co-author with Dr Jennifer Roback Morse of a new book: 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each Other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do (find a few of those tips here). With so much out there on marriage and relationships, I asked her a few questions about the book and how it is different to other material.

What made you and Jennifer think there was a need for this book? Are there any other books like this out there and if so, what makes this one different from the rest?

Too many people get divorced. That's clear enough. We hope that with this book we can help people take the preventative measure of giving this decision the seriousness and discernment it requires. We've seen far too often the heartache of family breakdown and the devastating effect divorce has on kids. If we can do something to help end that vicious cycle, we'll do it. Our first book, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage, has that goal as well. This book is like the prequel to that book.

Undoubtedly there are books out there along the same lines as ours. What makes ours different is how compact it is. We don't mince words. We tell it like it is as quickly and concisely as possible. We've been told this is a great strategy for male readers, which wasn't our aim, but is a happy side-effect.

Also, our book is undoubtedly Catholic. Without being preachy, we convey the tenets of the faith, not because we think this book will only help Catholics, but because the long-standing teachings of our faith have proven correct. People are happier when they do things the right way, in the right order. A lot of heartache can be prevented by people following the guidelines of the Catholic faith. Along those lines, we delve extensively into the harms of cohabitation - a misstep that affects otherwise faithful Catholics because it's become so commonplace. Commonplace does not equal a good idea. In this case, quite the opposite actually, and we give evidence from secular studies to back up what the Church already says in this regard.

101 tips sounds an awful lot - is marriage that complicated these days?

Maybe not that complicated, but that important. We start at the level of a single person, with tips on where to look and how to get yourself into a marriage-ready position. Then we discuss questions to ask if you're dating someone and are thinking he or she might be The One. When things get more serious, we lay out the major areas where agreement and compatibility are crucial. We have tips running the full gamut of readers: single, dating, formerly married, older seeker, etc. We made sure there's something in here for everyone.

How do singles keep a balance between being too picky and not being picky enough when it comes to dating?

The simplest answer is, there are tips for that. A large portion of the book helps individuals answer these questions. In some cases, you should be picky. In other areas, you need to relax your aim. There's no real easy answer for this, but our tips help readers know how to walk that fine line.

Do you believe there is one right person for everyone?

I believe that God has a plan. If he wants you to get married, there's a person he has picked out for you. Finding that person requires prayer and careful discernment. It is possible to fall in love with the wrong person and miss the right person in the meantime. That's why prayerful openness and patience for following God's will are crucial.

If your spouse dies and God intends for you to remarry, lo and behold, you will discover another right person for you. He doesn't intend for you to do something and then make it impossible to carry it out. It's not about soulmates, it's about God's plan for getting you to Heaven. Marrying the right person ensures your vocation is on the right track. And your vocation, regardless of what it may be, is designed to get you to Heaven. If your vocation is marriage, this person will help you on your path to Heaven, and vice versa. Since God is infinitely wiser than we, not asking for his guidance is folly.

How did you compile your tips? From your own experience or perhaps that of friends and family?

Both. I remembered a lot of stories from others that helped contribute to my portions of the book, as well as a few from my own experience. My co-author, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, is more into the research aspect of things, so the "heavier" tips near the end of the book are mostly from her vast scientific knowledge of all-things marriage.

If a reader could come away from this book with one tip in mind, which would you want it to be?

Pray. Life is hard. Trying to go it alone adds undue stress. Maybe prayer doesn't magically make your life easier, after all, no one gets to Heaven without some measure of suffering, but it gives clarity and consolation. Know that God wants you to be happy, and if being married is his plan for your happiness, it will happen. Just be open and pay attention to him. My mantra for years and in all matters has been: patience and trust. I invite frustrated singles to use it as well.

Recognizing the rights of children in the fight for marriage

by Leslie Fain

This article was first published at Catholic World Report on July 7, 2017.

In cases of divorce as well as same-sex marriage, our culture is more concerned about sexual happiness for adults than about what happens to kids.

(Left) The Ruth Institute's Jennifer Johnson; (right) the cover of her new book, "Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children"


Jennifer Johnson, director of the Ruth Institute’s Children of Divorce Project, is the author of Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children, a short book that presents the case for natural marriage based on equality. It is one of two new books by Catholic authors on the subject of divorce and its effects on children; CWR also interviewed Leila Miller, author of Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, about her book.

CWR: In your book you lay out the case that in the fight over same-sex marriage, the arguments most often presented in favor of traditional marriage, although not wrong, did not win the day because they did not appeal to people’s sense of justice. Can you explain?

Jennifer Johnson: Our movement is beset with internal contradictions that worked against us. We tried to make an argument about children by saying things like, “Kids need a mom and a dad.” This is a perfectly true statement, but given our sexually lax culture, it takes too much for granted. For example, from the point of view of the child, what is the difference between the following two scenarios? A child living in “two homes” where the mom and step-dad are in one home, and the dad and step-mom are in the other home; a child living in “two homes” where the mom and lesbian lover are in one home, and the dad and gay step-dad are in the other home.

Both situations fulfill the slogan “Kids need a mom and a dad.” So the complementarity of the sexes is present in the child’s life, at least in principle. So simply saying that “kids need a mom and a dad” does not account for divorce, remarriage, out of wedlock childbearing, and anonymous sperm and egg donation. Why should children raised under those scenarios go along with the argument for complementarity of the sexes when their own experience of complementarity has been diluted or harmed without protest from social conservatives?

CWR: Can you describe the inspiration for developing your argument?

Johnson: I have a devotion to the Holy Family and I pray from time to time for wisdom in defending marriage and the family. One day I was looking at an image of [the Holy Family] and I saw a triangle between all of their heads. And I thought, “Wow, the family structure is a triangle!” There are a lot of details that I explain in my book, but the short version is that I saw how the Sexual Revolution has meant that more and more children are not raised inside of their own “triangle” of mother, father, children. I like being able to use the triangle to explain our argument, since it makes the argument very visual and easy to understand.

CWR: I know we can’t do it justice in this brief interview, but in a nutshell, how does natural marriage uphold structural equality for children?

Johnson: “Structural equality” is a phrase I use to describe what historic Christian sexual ethics provides to children. We don’t have to quote any Bible verses to understand how natural marriage provides a legitimate form of equality for children, and how the inequalities among children multiply when a culture disregards natural marriage and historic Christian sexual ethics. I list a number of structural inequalities in my book drawn from my own life experiences as a child of divorce. For example, there is a structural inequality when it comes to grief. Kids raised outside the marriage of their own mother and father are not permitted to openly grieve that loss. They are required to endorse whatever family arrangement their parents have chosen and are not permitted to feel anything about it other than what the parents want them to feel.

Another form of structural inequality among children who are raised outside the marriage of their own mother and father is that they have to pretend that half of themselves does not exist. For example, a child of divorce must pretend that his mother does not exist when he is in his father’s home, and he has to pretend that his father does not exist while in his mother’s home. In each home, family photos won’t show the child’s full family. This is confusing in its own right, but it gets compounded because the parents don’t have to do that same thing—family photos on display in the home will show the parents mothers and fathers, and those corresponding family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). There is no home where the child’s full family is on display.

Looking at the photos on the walls is a good way to see the kind of dynamic the child is living under.

CWR: You are a child of divorce yourself, more than one time over. There is a poignant scene you paint in your book in which you have the epiphany that your family isn’t like other families. Can you tell us about that?

Johnson: There were two times that I had painful realizations about my family structure, and they are related. The first was when I was 12. I was standing in the driveway at my mom’s home and I had a realization that something was terribly wrong with how my family was structured but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My mother had remarried and had a new child with this new husband. I could see that what this child had and what I had were two different things.

The other painful realization proved to be the answer to the first one. It was when I saw the triangle between the heads of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that I mentioned above. I was in my late 40s when this happened. I went home that evening and applied the triangle concept to my situation by drawing it all out. I had no idea what to expect, but ended up being extremely shocked and saddened by what I saw. My family structure was not the simple triangle that I had seen. It looked more like a malformed spider’s web. It was ugly and I felt ashamed of it. Later in the book, I explain the way that God used this image to show me other important things about what the radical Left is doing to marriage and family. So God had a plan, even though at the time I had no idea what it could be.

CWR: In my interview with Leila Miller, she talked about adult children of divorce being afraid to tell their parents how they felt about the divorce. You refer to this as “disenfranchised grief,” another form of inequality. Can you explain this phenomenon?

Johnson: There is a socially-approved divorce narrative that everybody follows. It goes like this, roughly speaking: “Kids are resilient. Babies are blank slates. They don’t care about their family structure. They don’t care if their mother is in bed with somebody who is not their father. They don’t care if their father is in bed with somebody who is not their mother. They don’t mind shuttling back and forth between ‘two homes.’ They don’t mind when their parent spends more time with a new love interest and new children than with them. They don’t care about subsequent divorces. Any problems they have after the divorce are due to their own character flaws or mental disorders, and are thus avoidable or treatable. In no way are post-divorce problems due to the divorce. If you question divorce and remarriage, you will be labeled with a psychiatric disorder.”

This narrative is profoundly anti-science. The social science data is very clear that divorce is a huge problem for children, and it dramatically elevates many risk factors for negative outcomes. [But the narrative is upheld] in the face of the data because our culture is more concerned about sexual happiness for adults than about what happens to kids because of the pursuit of that sort of happiness.

CWR: You write that natural marriage creates structural equality for children. When children are raised without the protection of natural marriage, these inequalities multiply. Can you explain how that happens?

Johnson: I have identified a number of inequalities. Two of them are best described as horizontal inequality and vertical inequality. Horizontal refers to siblings or peers. Vertical refers to parents. When the horizontal form of inequality is present among siblings, they are treated differently from each other with respect to how their family is structured. It is present with half-siblings and step-siblings, not full-blooded siblings. For example, one half-sibling may live in a unified home with both his mother and his father who are married while another half-sibling is living in “two homes.” This was the arrangement that I had as a child.

For the vertical form, it means that parents have created a family structure for their children that is worse and more chaotic than what their parents created for them. For example, the parents may have been raised with their own married parents in a unified home, but as adults they are not raising their children with the children’s other genetic parent, and the children [may be] living in “two homes.” They are treating their children worse in this respect than how their parents treated them.

CWR: Your argument not only applies to children of divorce, but also children of same-sex marriage and third-party reproduction. What are some examples of inequality in those cases?

Johnson: In many respects, the inequalities are similar in all three of those situations; it is what happens when genetic parents reject each other. One genetic parent is excluded from daily life for the child of divorce, the child of same-sex parenting, and the child of third-party reproduction. The child must pretend that this half of himself does not exist, since it is unwelcome. This half of the child’s family won’t be seen in family photos in display in the home.

In the case of third-party reproduction, these kids have some of the same issues that adoptees face, such as wondering who they look like and, by law, not having access to their full genetic family tree. They have the added burden of not knowing how many half-siblings they have, and whether or not they might meet one, date one, or marry one. In this respect, it is actually worse than polygamy. In polygamy, at least the kids know who their half-siblings are.

CWR: Who would benefit from reading Marriage and Equality?

Johnson: I think it is good for anybody interested in family policy issues, anybody raised outside of the marriage of their own mother and father, and anybody who believes that equality is an important ideal.

CWR: Not only are you a child of divorce, but you are also a divorced parent. You write that like post-abortive parents and doctors, those who have participated in family breakdown should realize the harm done, and speak out for positive change. What suggestions do you have for a divorced parent who reads your book, or Miller’s book, and wants to make amends?

Johnson: The child’s other genetic parent is half of who the child is, so always make sure that the child knows that you have not rejected that half of them. If possible, try to make amends with that person and to develop a relationship with them. At an age-appropriate time, ask the child how they feel about the arrangement under which they were raised and make sure they can speak openly and honestly. Be prepared to hear things that you might not like to hear, and always apologize for assuming things that were not true (“Babies are blank slates,” “Kids are resilient,” etc.). Be willing to have the child’s other genetic parent be part of family events and family photos, since they are half of who the child is. Finally, become an advocate for just family structures for children.

The Children of Divorce Speak Out

by Rachel Lu

This article was first published July 18, 2017, at Crisis Magazine.

“As a kid I was always sad and always trying to keep everyone else happy. I felt like I had to be one person when I was with my dad and another when I was with my mom.”

So says an anonymous child of divorce, describing how her parents’ divorce impacted her childhood. She is one of seventy anonymous narrators of Leila Miller’s new book, Primal Loss, which offers first-hand narratives of the experiences of now-grown children of divorce. Together with Jennifer Johnson, author of Marriage and Equality, Miller is working to rejuvenate a national discussion about the devastating impacts that family breakdown can have on the lives of children.

The topic of divorce has been oddly eclipsed in recent years within the public square. Homosexuality, transgenderism, polyamory, and other novelties have become the frontline issues of the culture wars. Divorce is an old topic, which is also less controversial than in days of yore. Once, Americans argued about the impact of divorce on kids, suggesting that childhood “resilience” might make it excusable to prioritize adult relationships. Sociologically, there’s not much disagreement anymore that kids suffer when their families break apart.

Progressive elites have responded to that realization by working to stabilize their own marriages, fashioning a “neo-traditional” arrangement that is overall fairly stable. That pattern isn’t trickling down, however. Less prosperous Americans are far less likely to marry, and considerably more likely to divorce. In general, liberals don’t seem very interested in discussing this reality. They treat it as a sad inevitability, and make little effort to help working-class Americans enjoy the same communal and social benefits that are available to their own children. Regrettably, that trend has extended to the Church itself, where attention has recently been focused on the accommodations that some would like to make for the divorced. Shouldn’t we be devoting more of those energies to saving marriages?

Miller and Johnson think so. Their books potentially offer a fruitful pairing, especially for Catholics with an interest in this general topic. Miller’s book offers an extended look into the experiences of children of divorce, while Johnson explores some of the arguments for why divorce is unjust to children, and a driver of greater inequality in society at large.

The idea behind Primal Loss is quite simple. Miller sent eight questions to seventy different respondents, all the now-grown offspring of married couples who eventually divorced. What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you? Has your parents’ divorce affected your own marriage or your view of marriage? Are children really “resilient”? What do you most want others to know about how divorce affects children? The book compiles their answers.

Both the differences and the similarities are interesting. Some people, despite their loss, have ultimately achieved a healthy perspective on life and (especially) marriage. Others still struggle to establish healthy relationships, with one man saying he has “holes that will never be filled this side of Heaven.” Some respondents are bitter, while others are more circumspect. A few seem to think that one parent was mostly blameless for the divorce, and even that divorce was better for the parents or family in the long run. (Most often that was connected to very severe problems with one parent, who posed a serious physical threat.) A larger number seem to think that the divorce represented a traumatic event in their parents’ lives as well as their own.

Regardless of the specifics, it’s clear that the cost to children is always significant when the two people who created them decide they want nothing more to do with each other.

Some of the saddest episodes in the book come from people whose parents divorced when they were young children, initially unable to understand what was happening. One remembers telling his friends eagerly how, “We’re getting a divorce!” not knowing what that meant. Many were told as children how the divorce would represent an exciting adventure, or a bright new chapter for the family. In reality, these blithe reassurances are just additional demands that divorcing adults too often place on their children. Even as their whole world fractures, we ask kids to pretend that everything is wonderful, to spare their parents from feelings of guilt.

The unfairness of that demand is a major focus of Johnson’s book. Because the natal family is almost a child’s whole world, the rupture that divorce represents is cataclysmic. Nevertheless, adults expect “resilient” children to accommodate themselves to adult needs and interests, moving between homes and avoiding references that would be painful to their parents’. One respondent remembers congratulating his mother warmly at the end of each day when she “didn’t cry.” Another recalls being told that she and her siblings needed to live with her mother instead of her father because her mother “needed them more.” Is it right to make children the support structure for their parents? It often happens after a divorce.

There are a thousand painful details in both of these books, reminding us of what life is actually like for kids experiencing this kind of loss. For children of divorce, holidays and vacations often cease to be occasions of joy, instead becoming fractious reminders of family brokenness. Adults are permitted to fill their houses with pictures of everyone they love, but the children are expected to divide their photographs and memories into two sets, ensuring their parents’ greater comfort. Their own pain becomes a lonely and isolating secret.

Adults often have a variety of options for rebuilding their lives and identities, or at least seeking reassurance and support. For children, family separation gets written into their lives at a much more elemental level, and they have no real choice but to accept this. This is another serious injustice, as Johnson emphasizes again and again.

In both of these books, it’s remarkable and heartbreaking to see how a truth that Christians express in Biblical and even metaphysical terms (“the two shall become one flesh”) is felt in a concrete way in the lives of the descendants of “divided flesh.” For many of them, the natural permanence of marriage is a haunting truth that was etched across their childhood through their parents’ persistent attempts to deny it. On some very deep level, they were asked to build their childhoods around a lie.

Our failure to respond properly to these injustices, Johnson argues, has set the stage for further assaults on the traditional family. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment. The silver lining is that renewed attention to the issue of permanence might yield a whole range of fruits over the longer run. For instance, I have found anecdotally (and studies seems to confirm) that Millennials are extremely sympathetic to same-sex couples wanting to marry, but that they view divorce quite negatively overall. If same-sex couples have difficulty with permanence, that might influence public views of same-sex “marriage” over the long term.

More immediately, though, we should work harder to ensure that parents across the nation understand the grim effects that divorce can have on children. Many do survive the experience and go on to live successful lives, but that’s not a good excuse for forcing children to shoulder the burdens of fractured adult relationships. These two books provide a compelling argument for choosing a better path, in the Church and in our own lives.


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