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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.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 21, 2018
by Ruth Institute Circle of Experts Member, Bill Duncan
This article was first published Nov. 21, 2018, at News Max.
The U.S. Supreme Court does not often address divorce. In 1992, the Court specified that the federal courts do not have authority to rule on most divorce cases since the Court’s jurisdiction required a dispute between citizens of different states.
This is not say that the Court has never discussed it, though, because it has and those instances are very instructive.
In 1888, Justice Stephen J. Field (who had been appointed to the Court by Abraham Lincoln) wrote an opinion in a dispute over the ownership of a land grant in Oregon. Although not required to decide the case, Justice Field described the nature of marriage (and, by implication, the nature of divorce): “it is something more than a mere contract. The consent of the parties is of course essential to its existence, but when the contract to marry is executed by the marriage, a relation between the parties is created which they cannot change. Other contracts may be modified, restricted, or enlarged, or entirely released upon the consent of the parties. Not so with marriage. The relation once formed, the law steps in and holds the parties to various obligations and liabilities.”
In this case, the Court upheld the validity of the divorce in Oregon, holding that the legislature had the authority to grant divorces and, despite some misgivings about the behavior of the ex-husband in the case. This might seem curious to modern readers who are used to divorces in the court system, but this was not always the case.
The United States did not really inherit a practice for granting divorce from England where divorce was rare, granted by Parliament, and most would either have to be granted an annulment or a legal separation. Some of the states adopted the English approach, others allowed courts to grant divorces and others reserved grants of divorce to the legislature. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, legislative divorce had essentially disappeared, but the legislature provided clear standards for the courts considering a petition to divorce.
As a legal historian has noted, these statutes “were never simple, facilitative laws.” Rather, they specified that a spouse would have to demonstrate that there were serious grounds to justify a court in granting the divorce, such as adultery or abuse.
This is consistent with the rationale for legal divorce recognized in the earliest Supreme Court opinion to mention the topic.
In that 1819 case, Chief Justice John Marshall argued that legislative power to grant divorces only allowed an injured spouse to be leave the marriage because the marriage agreement “has been broken by the other.” Crucially, the opinion continues: “When any state legislature shall pass an act annulling all marriage contracts, or allowing either party to annul it, without the consent of the other, it will be time enough to inquire, whether such an act be constitutional.”
Eventually, though, states began to do just that, to allow one party to end the marriage without the consent of the other. This occurred through the no-fault divorce revolution. Now, if one of the spouses wants a divorce, that divorce will be granted even if the other objects and even if there is no serious fault alleged. It is not just that this kind of “no fault” divorce is allowed, it is the formal or de facto law of divorce in every state.
Now divorce is not a legislative or judicial proceeding as much as an administrative procedure, a mere clerical process where a court always says yes as long as someone asks and then the dispute shifts to splitting up property and child custody.
This is a drastic development given the multiple interests affected. Divorce implicates religious considerations for the parties, property rights, time with children, and on and on. A spouse may lose their opportunity to repair a relationship, may lose the ability to live with their children, may have to pay support to a former spouse when they did nothing to end the relationship, may have to sell their home, and much more, all without a finding that they did anything wrong.
This is a matter of simple justice and it corrodes the perception of fairness in our court system. The law must again recognize that marriage is “more than mere contract.” At the very least, a unilateral divorce should not be granted on no-fault grounds. The spouse who objects deserves a fair hearing. That is simple fairness.
Bill Duncan is director of the Center for Family and Society at Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 09, 2018
By Tyler O'Neil
This article was first published October 4, 2018, at PJMedia.com.
In 21st century America, sex is all around us: on television, in movies, in classrooms, in politics, and even in churches. Sex permeates our desires, our expectations for relationships, even our identity. The Sexual Revolution goes far beyond the LGBT movement, and it has fundamentally reshaped American society. But few Americans actually grasp exactly where this revolution came from. An explosive new book reveals that government and wealthy donors, rather than impersonal historical forces or newly liberated women, propelled the Sexual Revolution.
"The State bears the greatest responsibility for the toxic sexual culture in which we live," Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute (RI), writes in "The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologues Are Destroying Lives And Why the Church Was Right All Along." She presented five other explanations for the Sexual Revolution, and found each one wanting.
Many have suggested that the Sexual Revolution came about through the inevitable and impersonal "march of history." This view does not work "because it robs us and our forbears of human agency." Even the over-hyped birth control pill "is just an inert piece of technology" that people could decide to use or not use, or use in different ways.
Morse also rebuts the feminist narrative, which suggests that "these changes have been one long string of victories for the benefit and advancement of women." Ironically, the very success of women's liberation "undermines the claim that women have been completely powerless and dominated by the patriarchy throughout all of recorded history." Furthermore, the author argues that "the pro-life movement is dominated by women," suggesting that not all women want more of the Sexual Revolution.
Perhaps the most common explanation for the Sexual Revolution is the "liberationist narrative," which posits that everyone is more free thanks to new sexual norms. This view also cannot explain how age-old oppression was immediately dissolved in one generation, Morse argues.
Furthermore, many people "have become less free, in fact actually oppressed, by the very forces that are supposedly liberating us. The breaking of family bonds has increased the size and scope of the State, including the intrusion of the State into the everyday lives of ordinary people." She mentions college sex tribunals, family courts — which even rule on which schools and churches children can attend — and higher taxes to pay for social workers who manage tough divorces and family breakdown.
Morse also rejects the "over-population narrative," which suggests that "too many people create ecological disaster and economic backwardness," so the State needs to control population through birth control and abortion. Interestingly, advocates of this narrative "haven't been able to adapt the narrative to the changing circumstances of population decline, which the Over-Population Narrative itself helped bring about."
Finally, the author turns to a "steal capitalist narrative," explaining the Sexual Revolution by pointing to the many people who benefit financially from family breakdown. Abortionists, pharmaceutical companies, the fertility industry, pornographers, divorce professionals, family court judges and lawyers, medical professionals who specialize in sexually transmitted diseases, and social workers all perversely benefit from family breakdown, contraception, and abortion.
Even higher education and employers benefit from women choosing to get married later, to go to school and to work, rather than raising a family. Morse claims that employers benefit from easy divorce as well, as women are less able to rely on their husbands to financially support them. She suggests that these factors cement the Sexual Revolution, but they do not explain it.
The author boils the Sexual Revolution down to three basic "ideologies:" the Contraceptive Ideology separates sex from childbearing; the Divorce Ideology separates sex and childbearing from marriage; and the Gender Ideology eliminates the distinctions between men and women that individuals do not explicitly embrace.
"The Sexual Revolution needs the State for one major reason: the premises of the Sexual Revolution are false," Morse declares. "Sex does make babies. Children do need their parents, and therefore marriage is the proper and just context for both sex and childbearing. Men and women are different." The Sexual Revolution requires "reconstructing society" around a rejection of these basic truths, so it involves a great deal of propaganda.
"If you can make people believe Bruce Jenner, the 1976 male Olympic decathlon winner, is a woman, you can make them believe 2 + 2 = 5. If you can make people afraid to say, 'Bruce Jenner is a man,' you can make them afraid to say anything," Morse quips. "The Sexual Revolution is a totalitarian ideology with a blind commitment to the implementation of its tenets, regardless of the human costs."
The book begins with a list of victims of the Sexual Revolution, a topic for a future article. Those victims include children of divorce, spouses who did not want to get divorced, women who waited too long to have children, young women who wanted to abstain from sex, and more. Suffice it to say, the Sexual Revolution has harmed many people.
Morse narrates how the state unleashed the Sexual Revolution, beginning with the Supreme Court contraception case Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). The Contraceptive Ideology predated this decision and played a large role in pushing the Court to change the law on contraception.
The author cites liberal attorney Leo Pfeffer and conservative historian Allan Carlson, who agreed that governments will consider contraception necessary once they have established welfare states — in order to prevent the subsidized poor from having children. Tragically, the U.S. government pushed contraception before Griswold, pushing contraception in post-World War II Japan and other foreign countries considered to be U.S. interests.
In the 1960s and 1970s, USAID started pushing contraception and abortion, thinking these "family planning" efforts would help other countries defeat poverty. These policies were also wrapped up with the ugly eugenics movement in America.
In order to downplay the ugly history of eugenics, contraception activists turned to the work of Alfred Kinsey, an academic who claimed that "up to" 67 to 98 percent of American men ha had premarital sex and that 69 percent of American males had at least one experience with a prostitute. His claims were shot down by other researchers, who exposed his shoddy methods. But the Rockefeller Foundation funded his research and sent his crackpot theories mainstream.
Planned Parenthood and its allies enjoyed connections to elites, and helped push the Court in the direction of legalizing contraception for anyone across the country.
Similarly, elite institutions and big donors pushed no-fault divorce, Morse argues. After Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law in 1968, the American Law Institute (ALI), founded with support from the Carnegie Foundation, crafted model legislation to insert the state in between husbands and wives — and favor the spouse who wanted a divorce.
The ALI pushed for decriminalizing private sexual acts between consenting adults, a key plank that struck down states' ability to regulate obscene materials and contraception.
By 1974, all but five states had adopted a form of no-fault divorce.
Morse argues that no-fault divorce positions the power of the state on the side of whichever spouse least wants the marriage to continue. This damages spouses who are committed to the marriage, but it also damages children who do not grow up with both of their parents. It also empowers the government, which now mediates between divorced mothers and fathers.
The author argues that the claim "the kids will be all right" is propaganda. She cites the work of Judith Wallerstein, who found that divorce has a long-term impact on children — damaging their prospects for romantic relationships in adulthood. Similarly, the worries about husbands abusing wives are overblown, as studies have shown that women and children are more likely to be abused in cohabiting relationships than in marriage.
Finally, Morse argues that the government and elites pushed the "Gender Ideology" — long before transgender identity went mainstream — in order to encourage women to be "ideal workers:" "a person who never takes time off, is never sick, whose mental and psychological focus is entirely on the job."
"We've built a society around the premise that our educated women must be permitted to time their 1.6 pregnancies right down to the minute when it's most convenient. But convenient for whom? All too often, it means the convenience of the employers, or the interests of the career path, or of those who hold the student debt which the young woman or young couple must pay down," Morse claims.
The author does not lament the fact that women have entered the "managerial class," highly paid professions which do not involve manual labor. She herself is a member of this class. Rather, she suggests that the pressures of work and the benefits of this class enable people to overlook the obvious differences between men and women.
"People who do manual labor aren't deluded for a moment that men and women are interchangeable," Morse quips. For this reason, men are vastly over-represented in the dangerous professions.
Women's involvement in the workforce need not be connected to the Sexual Revolution's Gender Ideology, the author argues. "I claim the right to participate in the labor market as women, not as men in skirts." She suggests that "educated women would be better off if they accepted that their fertility peaks during their twenties and planned their lives around this fact."
Morse lays out a basic life plan: Women should go to college for a liberal education, not a vocational one. They should et married and have kids early, using their higher educations to be involved in educating their kids. "Let your husbands support you. Trust them. Be grateful for them," and when the children are older, go back for an advanced degree and work.
Tragically, activists are pushing on all these issues and more. Morse discusses same-sex marriage in a chapter on the Gender Ideology. She recalls the battle over California's Proposition 8.
"The 'Yes on 8' campaign was arguably the largest grassroots campaign in history," she writes, noting that California's secretary of state website crashed because there were over 5,000 pages of contributors to the campaign. Yet modern "progressives" "took Proposition 8 to court on flimsy pretexts and rich people's money."
After Proposition 8 passed and the people had amended their constitution, California's attorney general refused to defend it. The people's will failed thanks to an effective pocket veto. in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that proponents of ballot initiatives like Proposition 8 could not defend such laws in court, enabling Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) to resume same-sex marriage in the state. Now-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) performed the first same-sex marriage after this ruling.
As with Proposition 8, wealthy liberals continue to push Sexual Revolution issues, particularly abortion and contraception. George Soros and Warren Buffett continue to fund abortion groups, and they use their money to "shape political institutions so they can use the government to recreate the world in their own image and likeness," Morse alleges.
Importantly, the book notes that contraception carries health risks for women, and some studies have shown that hormonal contraception is as likely to cause cancer as smoking. "Smoking has been all but banned, tobacco companies have been sued, and smokers have been socially shunned," Morse writes. "By contrast, the government actively promotes the use of hormonal contraception while the media plays down the risks."
Abortion, often considered an alternative should contraception fail, also carries tremendous health risks to the mother, which medical associations keep secret for political reasons, the author argues. She also notes that wealthy donors funded abortion activists who convinced the Supreme Court to strike down Texas regulations treating abortion clinics like any other medical facility.
"When the people of Texas, acting through their duly elected state legislators, enacted health and safety legislation for abortion clinics, the elites of society knocked it down," Morse declares.
"The Sexual State" makes a compelling case that state power and wealthy elites pushed the Sexual Revolution, and people should fight back. While Morse does address LGBT issues, her book mostly focuses on the negative impacts the Sexual Revolution has had on family life, harming faithful spouses, children of divorce, and many others.
Morse, a Roman Catholic, presents a very Catholic view of these issues and champions the Catholic Church's approach. Her book was ill-fated to release shortly after the sexual abuse scandal broke, but her points still stand.
The book may be too polemical, but it raises important questions about the hidden harms of the Sexual Revolution and who benefits from this humongous social change.
"The Sexual State" is an important book for libertarians to wrestle with, as it presents a compelling case that big government benefits from the Sexual Revolution, and that marriage and family would help weaken the power of the state.
Posted on: Monday, March 19, 2018
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published March 14, 2018, at Crisis Magazine.
Cardinal Cupich has been holding seminars on implementing Amoris Laetitia. These “New Momentum Conferences” will “provide formative pastoral programs.” I wonder whether these seminars will include anything for reluctantly divorced persons. No one else seems to be doing anything for abandoned spouses. Perhaps Cardinal Cupich and his friends will step up to the plate.
The public, including many Catholics, has the impression that no-fault divorce allows two sensible and mature adult people to agree to end their marriage. We imagine that the state must not interfere in this mutual decision. No one should cry over the spilt milk of a “dead marriage.” Many in the Church tacitly agree.
But setting theology aside, let’s challenge the basic premise of no-fault divorce. What if one person wants a divorce and the other wants to remain married? Dr. Stephen Baskerville, frequent contributor to these pages, made me aware of this possibility in his first book, Taken into Custody. If the spouses do not agree, justice requires adjudication by a neutral party. But on what basis would that neutral party decide which spouse to side with: the spouse who wants the divorce, or the spouse who wants the marriage?
The Grand Divorce Narrative offers no answer. The official ideology of no-fault does not acknowledge that such a case can even exist. And if we add the (highly dubious) claim that “kids are resilient,” then there is no reason for anyone to favor preserving a marriage, even one with children. As for adjudication between the spouse who wants the marriage and the one who wants divorce, forget it. No-fault divorce means the state always sides with the party who wants the marriage the least.
The Grand Divorce Narrative, subtly or not-so-subtly, suggests people who complain about divorce probably did something to bring it on themselves. They need to stop whining and get with the program.
I wish I could tell you whether the abandoned spouses are a misbehaving lot. I wish I could tell you anything systematic about the reluctantly divorced. Unfortunately, all I have is anecdotal information. The people who normally collect and analyze this kind of thing seem to be completely uninterested.
We don’t even know how many reluctantly divorced or abandoned spouses there are.
Here is one snippet. I once bemoaned the fact that we have no data on the number of reluctantly divorced persons. My friend, University of Texas sociology professor, Mark Regnerus chimed in that he had some data on this question in his new book, Cheap Sex.
I checked it out. In Figure 5.2 on page 161, he asked this question of divorced spouses, “who wanted the marriage to end, you, your spouse, or both of you?” Only 24 percent of women and 27 percent of men said, “we both wanted it to end.” In other words, in his survey, over 70 percent of divorces have a reluctant partner.
The CDC reported over 800,000 divorces from 44 states and the District of Columbia in 2016. If 70 percent of those divorces had a reluctant partner, that is over a half million reluctantly divorced people, in a single year. Add that up, year after year for forty years. That is a lot of broken hearts and wounded souls, walking around, socially invisible, and isolated.
Please note: counting reluctantly divorced persons was not the focus of Dr. Regnerus’ study. God bless him, he stumbled across it while studying something else. I don’t know of any other large scale, representative study of this question. This lack of professional and scholarly interest testifies to the power of the Divorce Ideology.
We also know very little of the lived experiences of the reluctantly divorced or abandoned spouses. We do know that divorce doubles a man’s probability of suicide and has essentially no impact on the woman’s chance of suicide. But we don’t really know why. As to spiritual life, we know that children of divorce are less likely to practice any religion. But as far as I know, no one has ever asked how divorce affects the religious commitments of the adults, particularly, one who was divorced against their will. The category, “reluctantly divorced persons” does not even exist in the minds of the scholars who have the expertise to study this sort of thing. After over 40 years of no-fault divorce, I am appalled that we have so little information about the reluctantly divorced or abandoned spouses.
And I might add, I’m also appalled at the lack of pastoral concern for the reluctantly divorced, blameless, or abandoned spouses. In all the uproar over Amoris Laetitia, in all the endless yammering in favor of “accompaniment” and “discernment,” for the divorced and civilly remarried, one can find almost nothing about the spouse of the original union.
I know an abandoned spouse who changed parishes. She couldn’t bear to see her spouse receiving communion with his new cohabiting girlfriend. He evidently “discerned” that this was hunky-dory. The pastor wasn’t much help to my friend. He told her the “people fall out of love,” and that “everyone gets an annulment.” He assumed that my friend was also dating someone else, which she had no intention of doing.
What was this pastor thinking? Why didn’t anyone ensure she feels “fully integrated” into the life of the parish where she and her husband were married?” Will anyone “accompany” abandoned spouses like her? Why is the Church abandoning them to the brutal injustice of the divorce culture?
At least on paper, the Church still holds to the radical teaching of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage. I hope Cardinal Cupich and his friends
pay attention to the reluctantly divorced, though I’m not holding my breath. Catholics, of all people, should be paying special attention to abandoned
spouses. Their pain proves that Jesus was right all along.
Posted on: Saturday, March 10, 2018
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published February 28, 2017 at Crisis Magazine.
I see where Cardinal Cupich is planning a series of seminars on Amoris Laetitia. According to a letter obtained by the Catholic News Agency, the “New Momentum Conferences on Amoris Laetitia,” will “provide formative pastoral programs.” As someone who has listened to many victims of the Sexual Revolution, I am eager to learn about the “pastoral practice” these seminars will promote. I wonder if they will feature adult children of divorce or unmarried parents among their presenters.
I can still recall the first time a young person came up to me in tears after one of my talks. “This is the first time I have ever heard an adult say that divorce is hard on children.” She went on to describe her father’s intention of entering yet another civil marriage, this time, to a woman in her twenties.
My young friend was twenty-one.
Since that incident, I have heard from many people of all ages, whose parents divorced and remarried. I can remember sitting down to a post-conference dinner with one of the other speakers and his wife. She confided in me that she had run out of the room in the middle of my talk. She couldn’t bear to hear my description of children’s hurt from divorce. My talk stirred up pain from her parents’ divorce.
She was in her sixties.
I don’t see any mention of Leila Miller or Jennifer Johnson among the proposed speakers on the traveling Amoris Laetitia Road Show. Both Mrs. Miller and Ms. Johnson have written poignant works on the experiences of children of divorce. You may imagine what the adult children of divorce have to say about second “marriages.”
Or perhaps you can’t. So, let me tell you: they feel their parents’ selfishness and excuse-making made their childhoods miserable, and continue to cause problems even in adulthood. One anonymous author titled her essay, “How my parents’ divorce ruined holidays and family life forever.”
Perhaps some of the presenters at the Amoris Laetitia gabfests will offer practical tips for what a child, of any age, ought to do when their parents decide they can’t stand each other anymore. Will Cardinal Cupich “accompany” the children of divorce when they see no photos of themselves with both parents, in either of their parents’ homes? Will any of the presenters help the children of divorce “discern” where to direct their anger when their stepfather brings home gifts for his children and his wife, but nothing for them?
I wonder if Cardinal Cupich and his friends will discuss the inequalities that divorce creates among children, and between children and adults. Jennifer Johnson argues passionately that natural marriage and only natural marriage, can create and preserve equality among children, while divorce creates deep and lasting inequalities. Here is just one example:
I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided holidays, and divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “two Christmases” or “two birthdays” in some divorce literature as a way to sugar-coat the vertical inequality. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. When I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. None of the adults in my life had to do any of those things. It was a requirement placed on me that made their lives easier.
No, I suppose they don’t have room for children of divorce and their lived experiences. After all, the seminars are already full of experts on women’s ordination, contraception, non-binary gender, and God knows what else.
Speaking of God: I have an idea that Jesus (remember him?) knows exactly what these children of divorce are going through. He told the apostles “in the beginning, it was not so,” when he instituted that whole one man, one woman, for life, thing. The apostles were freaked out. They thought it was too hard.
I bet Jesus saw the pain a little girl might feel when her mother asked her to be the flower girl in her second wedding. Even as a preschooler, she knew this ceremony meant that her parents would never get back together. She knew she was supposed to be happy for her mother on her special day. She faked it, but her heart was breaking.
Jesus foresaw every painful little incident, like this one:
When I was six or seven, I woke up from a bad dream in the middle of the night. I went looking for my mom but couldn’t find her. I wandered from room to room crying, disoriented and scared. But Mom wasn’t there because I was at Dad’s place, an apartment I went to once a month. My dad couldn’t understand why I wanted my mom so much. Nothing in the apartment was familiar, not even dad. He was hurt because of my longing for my mom, my house, and my own bed, so I did what a lot of children of divorce do: I bottled up my emotions to try to make one of my parents feel better.
Jesus saw how attempts at re-partnering would create a lifetime of difficulties:
At my biological grandma’s funeral, my siblings and I were left out of the family pictures. We watched our cousins treated differently just because their parents had remained married. We stopped getting invited to family reunions. Today I’m a stranger to most of my relatives on my dad’s side because growing up I saw him so little and them even less.
Maybe this sort of thing is why Jesus made such a stink about the indissolubility of marriage.
Perhaps some adult children of divorce will just show up at one of the meetings at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, or Santa Clara University. I wonder if anyone will let them have a turn at the microphone.
Maybe not. That might be just a little too much “accompanying” and “synodality,” even for Cardinal Cupich.
Posted on: Monday, January 08, 2018
Posted by Marc & Julie Anderson on in Archdiocese, Leaven News
What part will you play in the future of the family?
It is a question that is on the mind of more than a few Catholic leaders these days, as we see the primary institution of our society fracture under seemingly insurmountable stress.
But the Catholic Church is not the only institution unwilling to throw in the towel on the institution of the family.
The Ruth Institute, founded in 2008 by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, is a global nonprofit organization aimed at ending family breakdown by energizing survivors of the Sexual Revolution.
And it’s a movement that is coming to the archdiocese next month.
On Jan. 27, the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life will host the institute’s “Healing Family Breakdown” spiritual workshop at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
The event is open to all, Catholic and non-Catholic, and, according to Morse, is meant to accomplish three goals: (1) heal families; (2) help participants prevent family breakdown; and (3) help participants become agents of healing within society at large.
When families attend the workshop, Morse added, something important and life-changing happens to them.
“You realize you and your family are not the only ones,” she said. “For a lot of people, that is huge.”
That realization is an important first step in healing, she said, and is often made manifest to her in a tangible way in the seating arrangement of workshop participants.
“The Holy Spirit has a way of seating people at the table who belong together,” Morse said.
For example, at a past workshop, she witnessed a teenage girl’s perspective change as a result of a conversation she had with a man at her table.
The girl was the daughter of divorced parents. She blamed her father for the situation and did not want anything to do with him.
However, also seated at her table was a divorced man experiencing loneliness as his children would not talk to him. A conversation between the two, Morse said, led the young lady to consider the hurt and loneliness her father might be experiencing, a perspective the teenager had not considered previously.
And that’s just one type of healing and paradigm shift The Ruth Institute is trying to bring about in the world.
On the nonprofit’s website — www.ruthinstitute.org — Morse identifies a dozen different types of survivors of the Sexual Revolution, ranging from children of divorce and of unmarried parents, to a pornography addict or a post-abortive man or woman.
If you recognize yourself, a family member or a friend in one of the 12 survivor descriptions, Morse discourages you from trying to go it alone. Participate in the workshop and begin the healing process, instead.
“We need [survivors’] participation,” she said. “We need you to be witnesses to say the church was right all along [about its teachings on family and sexuality].”
Morse calls survivors “the secret weapon” to restoring the family to its greatness and its rightful place in society.
“All these wounded souls need to speak up,” she said.
“Many people leave the faith over sexual issues,” Morse explained. “I know. I stormed off in a huff.”
But just as people leave the faith over sexual issues, Morse said, countless people later realize the beauty of church teaching and return to the faith.
“I was completely wrong, of course,” she said of her departure from the faith.
Later, by studying the church’s teachings and by watching her adopted and biological children grow, Morse said she realized how much children need their father and mother as well as how much they want their parents.
“That’s how I got interested in the family and how the family fits into society,” said Morse.
As she has watched the family structure in modern society continue to deteriorate, however, Morse is not without hope.
“A lot of what society is trying to do is undoable,” she said. “We believe it is possible to make the family great again.”
Posted on: Monday, September 25, 2017
Interview with Brenda Baietto, Esq., (left) coauthor with Jennifer Johnson (right) on the American Bar Association Journal article advocating for Family Structure Equality
I was blessed with an opportunity to coauthor an important article for the American Bar Association Journal regarding the “family structure equality” argument I make in my book, Marriage and Equality.
Brenda Baietto, Esq., of Tampa Mediations, is the lawyer who spearheaded this opportunity. She reached out to me in May. We worked collaboratively to get the article published, and it was published in September. You can read the article here.
I want to introduce Brenda to our Ruth Institute audience. Here is an interview I conducted with her about the article.
Jennifer Johnson (JJ): Tell me about the opportunity you had to write for the ABA Journal. When and how did that opportunity arise?
Brenda Baietto (BB): This opportunity arose back in May of this year as a result of a very good friend of mine named Florence M. Johnson, Esq who I met in law school and have stayed friends with since.She is an accomplished litigation attorney in Memphis TN, active in her local and state Bars, the national American Bar Association (ABA) and, for the last year or so has headed the Practice Pointers section of the Minority Trial Law Section of Litigation for the ABA.She asked me to consider writing a practice pointer piece on mediation for the target audience of trial lawyers.She wanted to give me an opportunity because she is a generous person and trusted me that I would produce a solid piece.
JJ: Of all the interesting people and legal topics you could have chosen to write with and about, why did you pick me and the "family structure equality" (FSE) that I make in my book?
BB: I picked you and your argument to write about because after reading it I knew you had put to words concepts that had been ﬂoating around in my head for some time especially as these concepts relate to family law, speciﬁcally divorce.And you were so very authentic.Your personal story has big impact precisely because it is so real.It cuts to the heart.More to it, after the decision in Obergefell [Editor’s note: Obergefell was the Supreme Court decision in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States], it was becoming more and more common to hear (from potential clients, other attorneys and in continuing legal ed seminars) about the creation and dismantling of new and different family structures and that these new structures have legal protection, deserve legal protection - all this with no discussion about the children other than an underlying belief that when adults are happy so are kids.So the predominant theme I am seeing in my legal community and reading about nationally is to support these new structures strictly based on compassion/sentiment for adult choices.It was surprising to me.
Your topic touched on these issues and I knew I had something to add.It was just a matter of putting it together such that it could ﬁt into what Florence was asking of me.Since it was not going to ﬁt into a practice pointer context, we discussed making it a short article and submitting it for consideration.
JJ: Your insight was to apply the FSE argument to the "best interests of the child standard." Why is that standard a good area to apply the FSE argument?
BB: In the context of divorce law, the best interest of the child standard is something we family lawyers and judges really see as the cornerstone of child custody/timesharing decisions. Judges and lawyers take very seriously their respective roles in determining what exactly is in the best interest of a child and work with a generous spirit to do what they think is “best.”However, the best interest standard traditionally focuses on “factors” that spring from either a previously accepted or “legal” arrangement whether or not the arrangement is “good” in and of itself for the child or from a decision to divorce which is accepted without question.Never are these accepted arrangements or decisions analyzed from a best interest of the child standard and it seems only logical to do so.Jennifer’s article made that easy because it gracefully begs the issue of what is in the best interest of the child and highlights a glaring deﬁciency in limiting the best interest standard to a sort of “after the fact” analysis.
JJ: What do you foresee as a positive outcome that can happen in the life of a child if a judge relies on the FSE argument?
BB: It is my belief that with rampant no fault divorce as well as the emergence of more and more diverse “family systems,” as they are called, children are being valued more as a commodity and not as human persons with dignity.In surrogacy contract cases, for example, children are property and where a dispute over custody arises between the surrogate and the buyer, many state laws subject the child only to property laws based on the contract and refuse to even entertain a best interest analysis at all.This loss of dignity brings with it the loss of understanding of what is truly in their best interest as humans who are alive in society as children, teens and adults.How we see children’s best interest is part and parcel of how we see the best interest of the family in society.
If judges and lawyers begin relying on the FSE argument several positive outcomes will result:ﬁrst, society will have to face the very real issues children suffer as a result of no fault divorce and diverse family structures including the grief so many adult children have experienced due to structural inequality.This could very well lead to a renewed interest in natural marriage and a rethinking of the import of children in society; second, the “best interest” standard will broaden and deepen bringing meaningful protections to children who as of now are wholly subject to the whims and desires of adults; third, the legal system will no longer be a wedge between a child and his biological parents blocking a child’s most natural desire to know who he is and creating stressors in the child that he would never dream could happen, i.e. will I marry my sister without realizing it? ; and ﬁnally, and so important, children will regain their dignity as humans and not a “thing” that is more and more being viewed only as a byproduct of adult desires.
JJ: Why do you think the Minority Trial Lawyers picked up the article, and not some other group within the ABA Journal?
BB: Because, as I understand better now and did not realize before, my friend Florence is particularly involved with the Minority Trial Lawyer section and she submitted the article directly through that channel. I do think, however, it is a gift that the article is published in the Minority Trial Lawyer Section.The FSE argument is meaningful to minorities when it is part and parcel of an overall understanding of the disproportionate impact of the welfare state on black families followed by the legalization of abortion in 1973 which had and continues to have a devastating effect of the black family. Supporting policies that reverse these programs and encourages a return to the natural triad family will help strengthen inequalities felt by children in the black community and begin to create generations that are more stable.
“According to a recent PEW report, 48% of nonwhites want to get married but say ﬁnancial instability is the reason they do not.One factor, which must be taken into account, is the disproportionate impact of the welfare state following the civil rights movement. Major welfare programs established in the late 1960s, which required recipients to be unmarried to qualify, followed shortly thereafter by the legalization of abortion in 1973, had a devastating effect on the black family.Data we have today should provoke a sense of urgency to focus policy on reversing the damage done by years of programs that have hurt the very low-income communities they were supposed to help.” From: https://townhall.com/columnists/starparker/2017/09/20/marriage-collapse-white-andblack-n2383765
We need policies that protect life and encourage marriage, ownership and individual responsibility and that includes the FSE argument.
JJ: Is there anything else you want our audience to know about the article?
BB: I want the audience to know that the truths in this article must get out into the world and be discussed.This article is a ﬁrst step to beginning a dialogue that heretofore was just not done and can focus on real analysis and exchange about the welfare of the family and children. Even more than that, it is about each of us living the truth of the natural family and letting others know that you do so in a spirit of love and devotion to the Lord whose precepts we accept and live out loudly.
Posted on: Monday, September 25, 2017
by Jennifer Johnson (left) and Brenda A. Baietto, Esq.
This article was first published September 11, 2017, at Americanbar.org.
Due to no-fault divorce and "diverse family structures," children often experience a form of inequality that is largely ignored. With lawyers and judges focused on a liberty that is defined as adults' happiness with their family structure choices, there is little focus on the inequalities these choices create for children. The legal profession readily supports the thinking that a happy adult makes for a happy child, yet we disregard a century of jurisprudence linking the state's interest in natural marriage to children and their formation and the substantial body of literature linking children and communities flourishing with the stable presence within a family of married, biological parents. Nor does the "best interests of the child" standard address this form of structural inequality. Finally, it is only fair to consider the testimonies of the children affected, especially once they are old enough to separate appropriately from their parents, examine their childhoods in an objective manner, and then decide for themselves how fair and just it was.
Family Structure Equality for Children
There is a kind of equality for children that deserves attention. It is called "family structure equality." It is the idea that most children should have the same kind of family structure, one founded on the lifelong marriage of their own married mother and father, also known as natural marriage. This is humanity's anthropological truth, our foundation—preexisting the law of marriage. Diagrammatically, this is represented as an inverted triangle, with the couple's child or children at the third point. This triad, in line with overwhelming social science evidence (both past and present), is the family structure that best ensures equality for children—equality of love, belonging, and security. When the family breaks down or doesn't form according to the triad, the inequalities for children multiply. Here are three ways this happens.
1. Two half-time dads do not equal one full dad. When parents divorce, a child can spend his or her childhood going back and forth between "two homes." If both parents remarry, that child can conceivably have a male father figure in each home. So the child has two half-time dads: a dad and a step-dad. For that child, however, having two half-time dads does not equal having one full-time dad. To a casual observer, it might seem as though the child being with each of them half the time would be the same as having one whole dad. But for one of the authors of this article, Jennifer Johnson, who was raised by divorced parents, it was not:
I am not 100 percent sure how I came to this realization, but I do remember thinking it as I stood in the driveway one day when I was about 12 years old. I remember feeling terrible about the messed-up nature of my family, how alone I was in it, and how it was never going to change.
Perhaps I came to this realization because I was an eyewitness to what a full-time dad looked like. My step-dad was a full-time dad to my half-sister. She lived with both her married parents, my mom and my step-dad. I could see that what she had and what I had were two different things. In each home, I needed to pretend that my other parent (and that parent's family) did not exist, meaning they were not welcome. Family photos of other people's whole families were on the walls, but not of my whole family. Group family photos were taken and hung on the walls, but I wasn't in them. I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided birthdays. While all this was going on for me, I am acknowledging everybody's mother and father and their whole families. But mine was not acknowledged. Thus, I had no real sense of family and home.
Jennifer Johnson, Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children (Ruth Institute 2017).
2. Non-triad arrangements. Other types of non-triad arrangements have inequalities as well. Children who are conceived from anonymous gametes must pretend that half of who they are does not exist.
If the parents were raised inside the intact triad, then there is an inequality between the parents and the children because there are two different standards being applied. The child must pretend that half of himself or herself does not exist, while the child's parents do not. A study was conducted in 2010 of young adults who had been conceived through sperm donation. Two-thirds of them agreed with this statement: "My sperm donor is half of who I am." Elizabeth Marquardt et al., My Daddy's Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation (Inst. for Am. Values 2010).
"It's going to be heartbreaking for him (Zachary) to grow up and realise he hasn't got a mummy." —Elton John (quoted in Sarah Nathan, "It Will Break My Son's Heart to Realise He Hasn't Got a Mother," Daily Mail, July 15, 2012).
The wedge between a child and the gamete donor represents the legal system. It permanently blocks children from knowing half of their family trees. In some cases, this includes falsifying the child's birth certificate with the social parent's name. Consider the additional stressors these kids endure:
Who is my donor?
Who are my half-siblings?
Will our paths cross?
Will I accidentally marry one of them?
This is an inequality in their family structure that neither their parents nor their peers share, with stressors that their parents and their peers can hardly even imagine.
3. Disenfranchised grief. If a child thinks or feels something about the inequality he or she experiences, the child's thoughts and feelings may not be welcome. To welcome those thoughts and feelings might cast doubt on the structure of the family and call into question the adults' freedom to make those choices. Thus, the child suffers a disenfranchised grief, one not accepted by the wider culture. Part of the healing process for these people is having the freedom to talk about the inequalities without being judged or pathologized. This is a kind of equality that is now denied in the popular culture.
Even if our society agreed with all of this, there would still be a small amount of structural inequality among children. Death, rape, ignorance, and human weakness mean that some family structure inequality will always exist. Adoption serves as a remedy for this kind of inequality because it provides parents to children who need them.
We must distinguish between adoption and other instances where children are not being raised with their own married parents. Anonymous gamete donation, for example, is not analogous to adoption. It is when adults want to become parents and use money and business contracts to create children. Consider the screening process. In adoption, adults are screened. Those who are deemed unfit to be parents are excluded, at least in principle. In anonymous gamete donation, the children are screened. Those deemed unfit to be children are aborted, thrown away as embryos, or permanently frozen. Adults with enough money can be parents using this technology, including those with criminal histories or personality disorders. People with criminal histories and personality disorders can become parents under natural marriage, but they must secure the cooperation of the child's other genetic parent, which mitigates the child's risks.
The Legal Community's Responsibility
The "best interests of the child" standard, which is used where there are custody and time-sharing disputes, focuses on individual "fitness" to parent or what parenting arrangement would benefit a child in the future (or both). It does not address the family structure itself. Nearly all states share a codified list of factors to determine the best interests of the child that serves to remind parents of their parental responsibility to the child—"while marriages and relationships may dissolve, parents are forever." Implicitly, the assumption is that children need "parents," but what that means is untethered from familial structural equality and tied more closely to the freedom of adults to make those choices, regardless of the social science.
St. Pope John Paul II has said that the future of the world passes through the family. If, in that future, our children grow up accustomed to inequality and injustice, what can they pass on to the next generation? Adult children of divorce and other non-triad arrangements are speaking out. It is incumbent on us to review that literature, whether it is the six adult children of gay parents who filed amicus briefs against gay marriage in the Obergefell case or the video by Zach Wahls advocating for his lesbian parents and separately pointing out the joy of having and knowing about a biological sister (a shared sperm donor) or author Jennifer Johnson's testimony about her negative experiences with no-fault divorce. See also Leila Miller's new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak (LCB Publishing 2017).
The legal community is ethically bound to uphold truth and justice for all citizens—adults and children. We have accepted children's inequality as part of the landscape of contractual families that provide unbridled freedom to the adult. Should the legal community reevaluate when to apply the best interest standard? Should it be applied before an adult is given autonomy with a child's family structure? Can a guardian ad litem focus on these inequalities and be a source of education for parents? Are the child's true best interests being sacrificed at the time an alternative family is founded, where that child is without any legal protection? We in the legal community must reevaluate our duty to children when we are involved in the formation and dismantling of families.
Jennifer Johnson is the associate director for the Ruth Institute. She was raised by divorced parents and is the author of Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children. Brenda A. Baietto, Esq. is a family law attorney and mediator for Tampa Mediations, LLC, in Tampa, Florida.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-blended-family-motto-this-mom-swears-by_us_55fb25fce4b0fde8b0cd9012?slideshow=true#gallery/559ee9b3e4b05b1d02900b90/0(Last accessed November 16, 2016.)
Posted on: Wednesday, August 02, 2017
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.
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.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 02, 2017
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.