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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: Monday, April 17, 2017
A Child of Divorce Speaks Out on the Importance of a Family
Jennifer Johnson is Director of the Children of Divorce Project at the Ruth Institute. She is an author, whose interests include homeschooling (she homeschooled her three children), children’s rights and family structure issues. She has worked full time with the Ruth Institute since 2010, an organization founded by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse “dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown.”
Johnson’s most recently published work is “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” She recently talked about divorce and its effect on her life.
What is your own personal experience of divorce?
I have a lot of experience with divorce, far too much to ask of any one person in my opinion. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos. By the time I was about 22, I had experienced three divorces: my own parents’ divorce and my dad’s two subsequent divorces. I am divorced as an adult and there is quite a bit of divorce in the rest of my family.
How did it affect you, and how have you been able to recover?
That is a whole story that I tell in my Special Report, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children”. The short version is that I did not have a family; I was the lone member of my family. The family experience that I had was shared by no other person. I include diagrams in the report to show what I mean.
That experience taught me to suppress my true thoughts and feelings about the original divorce and the remarriages. That chaotic situation taught me to ignore my own intuitions, taught me that letting my intuitions bubble to the surface of my mind was dangerous. Had I examined and revealed my intuitions about all that to my parents, it would have jeopardized my already-tenuous relationship with them. Learning to ignore my thoughts, feelings and intuitions about things that bothered me made me extremely vulnerable once I became an adult. I joined a cult at the age of 19, had an arranged marriage there, and participated and endorsed some horrific abuse and exploitation of others so that I could fit in and not be thought of as an outsider. The cult appealed to my deep need for belonging, for being a full-fledged member of a family.
Anthropologists have a concept that applies here. It is called “liminality.” Limin is Latin for the threshold of a doorway. The threshold is not one room or the other. It is the in-between place between two rooms, or between the outside of the house and the inside. Liminality is the condition of being between states or statuses. Sometimes it is referred to as being “betwixt and between.” When somebody is in a liminal state, they are no longer what they were and are not yet what they will be. The old rules no longer apply, and the new rules do not apply yet.
When my parents divorced, I ceased to exist as a full-fledged daughter in my family, because my family ceased to exist. I never again entered a full-fledged status with either of them. Their divorce and subsequent remarriages pushed me into a liminal state from which I have never emerged. Joining the cult was my attempt to exit the liminal state, to become initiated as a full-fledged member of a family, even if it was an abusive family.
There have been many studies about the effects of divorce on children. What are some of the findings?
It’s bad. It is worse than the average person wants to realize. Divorce shortens people’s lives. That alone should get people’s attention. Plus it increases the risk factors for addictions, not finishing high school, getting divorced as an adult and losing contact with grandparents. Children of divorce report feeling a lack of empathy from their churches, and don’t go to church as much as kids from intact families.
“No fault” divorce came to California in 1969, and the rest of the country soon after. How do you think divorce has affected society as a whole?
In order to talk about society, we need to talk about the mechanics behind the changes of “no-fault.” No-fault changed an important legal presumption in marriage. A presumption is a starting-point, a place where we say, “Here is where we begin, and we can make adjustments to individual circumstances from this place, but we need a beginning point so we always begin here.” Prior to no-fault, the legal presumption, the legal beginning point, was that marriage is permanent. It was viewed as a truly life-long commitment and the family courts honored this, at least in principle. Of course, there was divorce and separation prior to no-fault, but the presumption of permanence was honored by the courts. In order to get a divorce, that presumption had to be overcome by demonstrating why the marriage had failed. Such circumstances included adultery, addictions and abandonment.
No-fault changed the legal presumption. Now marriage is no longer legally presumed permanent by the family courts. The courts get involved in the minutia of family life at the behest of one spouse. One spouse has the power to harness the family court to destroy the family, like wielding a sledge hammer, and the family courts must comply. They no longer side with the family, giving preference to its legitimate claim on wholeness. They side with the person who wants to destroy the family. If the other spouse wants to keep the family together, that person has no legal remedy. The divorce will be enforced in all cases if one spouse wants it.
In this respect, no-fault divorce is like abortion. That might sound like a dramatic claim, so let me spell it out.
In both cases, the State sides with one person (the pregnant mother, the petitioner in a no-fault divorce action) to uphold or enforce the action that the person wants (the abortion, the no-fault divorce), while simultaneously providing no legal defense for the other person (the unborn child, the respondent in the divorce action). The individual who wants the action (of the abortion or to be divorced) must be “freed” from every restraint that he does not explicitly want. Even if he chose the restraint at a point in the past, if he changes his mind, then the State’s duty is to free him from it if this is what the individual wants.
In February, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput published a book called, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. He makes this same point when he says: “Without the restrains of some higher moral law, democracy instinctively works against natural marriage, traditional families and any other institution that creates bonds and duties among citizens. It insists on the autonomous individual as its ideal.”
Thus, as a society, we believe that the State’s duty to the individual is to annul or at least modify his familial obligations whenever he chooses in order to free him.
I’ve heard it said divorce may be a necessity when “the 3 A’s” are involved: addiction, abuse and adultery. Do you agree?
This is a complex question since it touches on a variety of issues. We can talk about it from the State’s perspective or the perspective of individual families. Taking the State’s perspective, we might ask: what is the State’s role in divorce? Should the State be involved? If so, at what point? I would say that yes, there is a role for the State, but to restore some semblance of justice in divorce we need to restore the legal presumption of permanence. I do not know how that should be done. Should we go back to some sort of fault-based system that relies on “the 3 A’s”? Should we at least eliminate the unilateral aspect of divorce and require both spouses to consent to it? I would say yes to both of those questions.
We can also consider the perspective of individual families. Perhaps somebody reading this article is experiencing one or more of those things right now. It is difficult to give blanket advice since each case is unique. Even so, I have heard many reports about couples who recovered from adultery. For addiction issues, help can be found through groups such as Al-Anon.
The good thing about the old fault-based system is that somebody was legally culpable. This person was then penalized by the courts. This deterred bad behavior. For example, if the child is not living with that person post-divorce, then this makes sense. Children should not be living with addicts or with abuse, especially when their other parent is not there to serve as a buffer.
What might you say to couples with children considering divorce when less serious issues are involved?
That triad of your family matters a great deal. It matters to your children, to all of the people around you, and to your grandchildren and the rest of your posterity. So try harder to work things out. I know you’re tired and you probably want to go find somebody else. But your kids need you there, at home. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your situation will beat the odds for your kids. Are you willing to implicitly tell them that you don’t want to live with them for half of their remaining childhood? Because that is what you will be communicating to them if you split up. Do you want to throw away their sense of being your full-fledged child?
You will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce, and you will have less say-so in the lives of your children than you do now. Your ex-spouse might bring undesirable people into your children’s lives, and your children will feel pressure to accept and love those people. Some spouses resort to parental alienation tactics, which means that you run the risk of losing all contact with your children for a very long time.
Please do not make the child live in “two homes.” Do not break up their daily life like that. Consider keeping the family home, letting the children live there full time, and getting a small place nearby that you share with your ex-spouse. Each of you takes turns going back and forth between the family home and the other place. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then please reconsider making your kids do the same. Apply the same standard to your children that you want applied to you.
What help/advice would you offer children of divorced parents to help them recover?
I don’t have any magic words here. Healing is an ongoing process. The first steps were the hardest for me:
I recommend my reading my book for more details about all of these concepts, plus many diagrams that make it easy enough for a child to understand.
Posted on: Monday, March 27, 2017
Dear Dr. J,
What do I say to a same-sex married lesbian niece whose mother (my sister-in-law) just left a phone message saying they “are expecting twins”? Congratulations just doesn’t seem right but it’s not the children’s faults. It doesn’t seem right to create a family rift over this but neither can I be happy about it. I have no idea who the father is, which of the females in the relationship is carrying the children, whose eggs were used, etc. Nor do I know if I will ever be told because the family knows I do not believe in gay ‘marriage’. I can’t just ignore this, but do I say nothing? What do I say when the children are born? Any kind of congratulatory words would come out as fake, & they would be falsely said.
Your problem is becoming increasingly common. We are all figuring this out on the fly. So, let me offer a few suggestions for you to consider.
In general: keep your powder dry. Save it for when you really need it. There is absolutely nothing you can do right now to prevent this situation from unfolding. A time will come when you may be able to make a truly unique and valuable contribution. Prepare yourself for that time, through prayer and charity. Who knows? Maybe your preparation will allow you to help someone outside your family.
Do you have a question for me? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 21, 2017
by Jennifer Roback Morse
We have a petition that anyone can sign. It just says we support Rep Krause’s effort to limit no-fault divorce. You do not have to live in Texas to sign it.
Conservatives complain and wring their hands over “losing the culture wars.”
We can’t honestly complain about losing a battle we never even fought.
“Kids need a mom and a dad,” the constant mantra of the pro-marriage movement, is not nearly strong enough. “Kids need their own mom and dad,” is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I’m sorry to get in your face about this. But children are entitled to a relationship with both parents, unless some unavoidable tragedy takes place to prevent it.
These are the divorces that no-fault protects. When people say, “but we need no-fault divorce because fault is too hard to prove,” adultery and selfishness are sneaking in the backdoor.
Conservative Christians complained about “gay marriage” harming children.
No-fault divorce harms children.
Conservative Christians complained about “gay marriage” being un-Biblical.
No-fault divorce is un-Biblical. See Matthew 19. Don’t whine to me about the so-called “exception clause,” aka “escape hatch big enough to drive a Mac Truck through.”
Why were people against gay marriage? I don’t know about you. But I know why I was. I saw that it would harm children’s legally-recognized rights to have a relationship with both parents.
We at the Ruth Institute were virtually alone in the “Marriage Movement” in arguing this way. And I am pretty sure I know why. Once you say, “Kids have a right to their own parents,” you have to be willing to start talking about divorce, single-parenthood and donor conception. Most of the Marriage Movement bobbed and weaved to avoid these topics.
The Ruth Institute did not. I am grateful to our supporters who have stood by us as we made these arguments. I am not ashamed to say:
The Gay Lobby accused us of hypocrisy, saying we didn’t really mean it about any of those other topics. We just really hated gay people. Divorce and single-motherhood and all the rest were just window dressing.
Too bad. We talked about children’s rights then. We continue to talk about children’s rights, now, long after the dust has settled on the whole gay “marriage” controversy. We intend to keep talking about it.
What about you? Will you sign our petition, supporting Rep. Krause and his divorce reform?
Posted on: Friday, November 13, 2015
COMMENTARY: A tenured professor of English is threatened with dismissal because he challenged one of the sexual revolution’s core assumptions.
Robert Oscar Lopez, a tenured English professor at California State University-Northridge, is on the verge of being suspended without pay, ostensibly due to a conference he organized a year ago. In fact, I believe this is not the real reason why this man of Puerto Rican and Philippine heritage, who knows six modern languages as well as Latin and Greek, is being hounded out of his job.
Professor Robert Lopez of the University of California at Northridge
Lopez’s parents divorced when he was a toddler. His mother formed an intimate relationship with another woman. His father disappeared from his life for a long time. Lopez believes that these events were traumatic for him, and he has been outspoken in saying so. His countercultural views are an embarrassment to the Sexual Revolutionary Establishment at his university and beyond. They believe he must be silenced. Getting him fired is one step toward that end.
I was one of the presenters at the conference in question, “Bonds That Matter.” And, unbeknownst to me, I was one of the sources of controversy in Lopez’s interaction with the Cal State administration.
Lopez invited me to present at the conference on the topic of divorce. I was eager to be part of the event, as my organization, the Ruth Institute, agrees with his general perspective: that it is unjust to deprive a child of a relationship with his or her parents without good reason. Millions of children have their relationship with a parent damaged by parental divorce.
I agreed to waive my usual fee, as a way of supporting this initial effort of Lopez’s new organization, the International Children’s Rights Institute. As part of our agreement, the Ruth Institute was permitted to have a display table. We did not sell anything, nor did we offer participants the opportunity to sign up for our newsletter, activities we normally do when I speak at events. I did not mention anything regarding homosexuality, gay marriage or gay parenting during my talk, which you can listen to for yourself.
Imagine my surprise when I received a call from Lopez, many months later, asking me about some Ruth Institute brochures.
“Did you pass out this brochure called ‘77 Non-Religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage?’” he said.
“No. They were probably lying on our book table. Why do you ask?”
He asked because a student had filed a complaint against him. These brochures were submitted as evidence that his conference had created a hostile environment. Mind you, the student who lodged this complaint received an A in the course in question and did not file her complaint until after she had graduated.
I confirmed that I did, however, pass out and discuss another pamphlet, “Are You a Survivor of the Sexual Revolution?” — which you can look at for yourself. We have revised the artwork since the conference and made modest changes to the content. In fact, the version the students saw did not include the last sentences about children of same sex-parents, under “Gay Lifestyle Refugee.”
I believe the sexual revolutionaries despise Robert Lopez because he challenges one of their core assumptions. The sexual revolution is based on the idea that all adults able to give meaningful consent are entitled to unlimited sexual activity with a minimum of inconvenience. What they never mention is this: Children just have to accept whatever adults choose to give them.
Lopez believes that children have rights to a relationship with both of their parents, in the absence of some unavoidable tragedy. Children have a right to know their identity, so that all adults without exception can know their cultural heritage and genetic identity. These entitlements of children impose legitimate obligations and limitations on adult behavior, including, potentially, public policy and personal sexual behavior.
All of us who presented at that conference agree with this basic point. We disagreed among ourselves about the exact nature and contours of those obligations and limitations. But this common ground created a fruitful avenue for serious discussion.
The very concept of children’s rights that impose limitations on adult sexual behavior threatens the fragile intellectual structure of the sexual revolution. The true revolutionary is counting on no one noticing that sex makes babies and that children need their parents.
The true revolutionary needs to change the subject away from this topic,and on to any other topic. For example:
Here is a link to a summary of the case. Here are the letters filed on behalf of Lopez by attorney Charles LiMandri of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund and by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Looking at these documents, any sensible person must conclude that the answer to all these questions is “No.” Yet these are the questions the sexual revolutionaries, including the students with their frivolous complaints and the University Equity and Diversity Establishment, would prefer to discuss.
Never mind whether children are traumatized by the divorce of their parents. Never mind whether children feel wounded by the state-sanctioned loss of one parent through third-party reproduction. Never mind whether surrogate mothers are fully informed about the health risks they face. Never mind whether some adoption practices improperly commercialize and commodify children and harm their mothers.
The university should drop all charges against Robert Oscar Lopez. Please sign our petition to the chancellor of the California State University System, asking him to drop all charges.
Posted on: Monday, July 20, 2015
This article was first published July 9, 2015, at The Federalist.
Some same-sex marriage supporters say redefining marriage will strengthen it. Others say it will destroy marriage. They can’t both be right.
Some who support same-sex marriage argue it will strengthen the family. For example, President Obama said this on June 26, 2015 regarding the SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the United States: “This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land… It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other.”
Others take a very different view. Masha Gessen, for example, is an author who is perhaps most well-known as being an expert on Vladimir Putin. She was honored at the State Department in June 2014 for her gay-rights activism in Russia. She is a same-sex marriage supporter who believes the institution of marriage should not exist. She had this to say about marriage in 2012 at a writer’s conference in Sydney:
Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist….
I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.
Obama’s view is not compatible with Gessen’s view. How do we know which is correct?
If somebody wants to destroy marriage, would they support a policy initiative that strengthened marriage? Of course not. Thus, Gessen really does believe that same-sex marriage will harm if not destroy marriage.
Second, Gessen’s goals are coming to pass as a result of same-sex marriage. Here are two examples. In response to a lesbian marriage and custody dispute, California enacted a bill that allows a child to have more than two legal parents. Gessen correctly argued that man-woman marriage is not compatible with her desire for an unlimited number of legal parents for children. Same-sex marriage has accomplished this goal in California. The state of Alabama tried to abolish marriage licenses as a response to same-sex marriage. Gessen wants to abolish marriage, and abolishing marriage licenses is a step towards abolishing marriage.
Remember Gessen’s desire for five legal parents for her children? Let’s examine how much damage to the family is already possible before same-sex marriage came along. The following diagram is not hypothetical. This is a real-life situation.
Locate the oval that says, “Older half-sister.” This diagram is based on her experience. She has her mom (Wife 1) and dad—those two are her legal parents. She also has three step-parents: one step-dad and two step-moms (who are labeled Wife 2 and Wife 3). This looks quite fractured, doesn’t it? But consider that several popular cultural ideas made this possible:
Gessen advocates that all of the adults should be legal parents, not just the natural mother and father. So instead of the older half-sister living between (only!) two homes from the time she was three years old, she would live between three or more homes. Would adults ever choose to spend years living like that? Of course not. That is one example of the new kind of family breakdown.
Another example: after what he has said about his father’s absence from his life, would President Obama choose to be raised as a child in a lesbian marriage? I can’t see how he would, since he has spoken about how painful it has been to live without his father. He has made remarks about the importance of fathers on more than one occasion. In 2013, for example, he said: “I was raised by two wonderful grandparents. But I still wish that I had a dad who was not only around, but involved, another role model… That’s why I try to be, for Michelle and my girls, what my father was not for my mother and me.”
I commend President Obama for being that kind of man for his family. When a child is raised in an intact home with his married biological parents, it’s like winning the lottery. But fewer and fewer kids have access to that kind of life. Why? One reason is that kind of life creates demands that may go against the adults’ sexual identities and sexual desires. That’s what marriage is about now: to affirm adults in their identities and their choices. What happens to kids is an afterthought.
Gessen was raised with her own married parents, and I’ve never seen her state that she wished it were otherwise. She wants to destroy marriage as an ideal, not only for her own children but for everybody’s children. President Obama was not raised with his married parents. He has lamented the absence of his father and he wishes to strengthen marriage.
Gessen is correct about same-sex marriage and Obama is not. When will same-sex marriage supporters realize they’ve been naive?
Posted on: Monday, July 20, 2015
An interview of Dr. Morse by Zoe Romanowsky at aleteia.org.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse believes we are experimenting with vulnerable children.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, the court heard testimony from adult children who grew up in same-sex relationship households. The Washington Post ran a piece about this just before the SCOTUS ruling.
On one side were the advocates—those who claim to be living proof of the words Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote when the federal Defense of Marriage Act was struck down two years ago: that the law as it was “humiliat(ed) tens of thousands of children” being raised by gay parents.
As part of legal briefs in the Obergefell case, some of these adult children shared their experiences of feeling marginalized, less-than, and unwelcome because their families weren’t recognized as "real" families.
Others who oppose gay marriage and were also raised by same-sex couples told their stories, too. One of them was Katy Faust who was raised by a gay mom in Portland, Oregon. Although Katy’s father remained involved in her life, when she began to reflect on her childhood and became a mother herself, she became convinced that no child should be deprived of a mother.
Robert Oscar Lopez also gave testimony. A professor at California State University at Northridge and an outspoken critic of gay marriage, he believes same-sex parenting can even constitute child abuse. In July 2013, he wrote:
"Single-parenting and divorce have always been understood as a breakdown of the married mom and dad ideal, but the demand to view same-sex parenting as “normal” imposes a silence on children about the wound caused by the loss of one parent or the other."
Lopez has also said that he believes many adult children of same-sex parents like himself feel the way he does, but don’t speak up in order to protect their parents, "whom they love despite their ambivalence."
The Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage is now a reality, but the question remains: How does same-sex marriage change the rights that children do—or should—have as it relates to their parents? Do children have a right to know and be raised by their biological parents? Is marriage an institution designed solely for adults, or do children’s rights factor into it—and what exactly are those rights?
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, president and founder of the Ruth Institute, an organization that promotes life-long marriage, says that what the Supreme Court has done with its decision is say that there is no necessary connection between marriage and natural parenthood.
"Marriage has always helped assign parental rights. So when a baby is born, the mother is the person who gave birth to the baby—that’s the typical rule—and then after that we answer "who’s the daddy?" by saying the mother’s husband; he’s presumed to be the father of the children the women gives birth to during the lifetime of their union. With marriage now a genderless institution, we have broken that connection between marriage and parenthood. Children don’t have natural parents anymore; they have legal parents."
Morse says the idea that children have the right to know their biological identity, or to receive support, care and identity from their biological parents, is now in the process of being written out of the law.
Some may point to adoption as a clear example of children being raised by non-biological parents where ties to biological parents are often completely severed, In adoption, however, the loss the child has experienced is recognized and acknowledged and it is understood that his or her new parents are stepping into the shoes that biological parents can’t fill for one reason or another.
"Adoption is a child-centered, child-oriented set of legal rules, rather than adult-centered. And that is the difference between adoption and third-party reproduction," says Morse.
With same-sex marriage, it’s now discriminatory to say that the ideal family arrangement for a child is with his or her biological parents.
Related to this is the issue that Professor Lopez brought up: a child's right to both a mother and a father. With marriage "equality," it is now discriminatory to say that a child is better off, or has a right to, both a mother and a father.
In the interview above, Dr. Morse says married gay parents is a societal experiment and we shouldn’t be experimenting on children, especially those who too often have already experienced the profound loss of their natural parents.
"What I see happening rhetorically, and probably even legally, is people saying that biology isn’t all that important; that we need to break our social belief in bio-genetic parenting as the norm. I think this is a very dangerous place to go. I think it’s just wrong for adults to say children have no right to their natural parents."
Posted on: Wednesday, July 01, 2015Dr. Morse posted this on Facebook:
"No evidence that children of same sex couples negatively impacted, study shows." This headline is very misleading. The study does not present new data on outcomes for children. Instead, it studies the date at which the research community achieved "consensus" on the "no difference" claim. If the community systematically censors dissenting views, it can achieve consensus on just about anything.
I find it interesting that people presented this headline at this particular time, don't you?
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