Ruth Speaks Out

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


I had Masha Gessen’s dream of five parents… and it sucked

By Originally posted June 25, 2014 by Jennifer Johnson.

Around March of 2013 I came across the words of a prominent LGBT activist named Masha Gessen:

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.

Imagine having five parents! Here’s what it means: it means going back and forth between all those households on a regular basis, never having a single place to call home during your most tender and vulnerable years. It means having divided Christmases, other holidays, and birthdays–you spend one with one parent, and another with the other parent, never spending a single holiday or birthday with both parents. Imagine having each of your parents completely ignore the other half of you, the other half of your family, as if it did not even exist. Meanwhile, imagine each parent pouring their energy into their new families and creating a unified home for their new children. These experiences give you the definite impression of being something leftover, something not quite part of them. You live like that on a daily basis for 18+ years.


As a child, would you choose a family structure advocated by Masha Gessen? Does this look fun?

I don’t have to imagine, because I had five parents. I had five parents because my mom and dad divorced when I was about three; my mom remarried once and my dad remarried twice. So I had a mom and two step-moms, and a dad and one step-dad. In this day and age children can already have five parents. That’s how badly marriage has deteriorated already. The main difference between what Gessen advocates and my experience is that my step parents were not legal parents; she advocates for all of the adults in her situation to be legal parents.

Having more than two legal parents will be a nightmare for a child. Of course, I am making the reasonable assumption that the legal parents will not be living under the same roof, because there is no longer any societal accountability for adults to create a unified home for children. Thus, adding additional legal parents will create more disruption for children’s daily lives, more chaos, more confusion, less unity. And why are we doing this? So that adults can have the sexual partners they want.

Masha Gessen had a mom and a dad, so it appears that she benefitted from the socially conservative family structure--it appears she was not raised under the family structure she advocates. That sounds about right. I’ve talked to many people who think deconstructing the family in favor of adult sexual choice is a good thing… and these very same people lived under the socially conservative family structure with their one mom who spent her life with their one dad, and they all lived together in their unified home. Since I lived under the family structure they advocate, I will sometimes ask them: would you trade childhoods with me? They either say no or they don’t reply.

If what I had is so great, then why don’t they want it as children? Here’s my conclusion: they want it as adults but not as children. They want the benefits of the socially conservative family structure when they are children. But as adults, they want sexual freedom, or at least they want to appear “open minded” and “tolerant” about others sexual choices, even at the expense of children, even though they themselves would never want to live under what they advocate. It’s a bizarre sort of a “win-win” for them, I guess.

It’s very painful for me to have conversations with these people. They don’t understand what they advocate, and they don’t seem to want to understand.


Dear Heterosexual Community: Your Kids Are Hurting, Part 2

by Jennifer Johnson, Associate Director

How savvy are you about step-families? Do you understand the structural similarity between step-families and same-sex marriage? Take the Step-Family Quiz to test your knowledge.I created this quiz as an engaging way to help defenders of marriage understand the cultural blind-spot that we have about step-families. Of course anybody is welcome to take it. But it is geared towards those who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. By the end it should become apparent why I have focused on marriage defenders. There are five questions and their answers, plus a bonus question at the end.

1. Which group was the first to claim there is “no difference” between the intact family founded on natural marriage and other family structures?

  • a. Heterosexuals
  • b. Homosexuals

2. When was that claim first made, and what form did it take?


3. You may recognize the following photo as being from a famous TV show:

brady bunch

If you do, set that aside for a moment and pretend you are a casual observer. You notice this family at church, at a restaurant, or at a sporting event. Can you tell if this was an intact family, or a step-family? Name the visual clues that helped you make that determination.

4. One of these families is an intact family. The other is a step-family. Which is which? Name the visual clues that helped you make that determination.

step family

Bush Family

5. One of these families is an intact family. The other is a step-family. Which is which? Name the visual clues that helped you make that determination.

blended family huffpo-b

My Family c 1969

Here are the answers:

1. Heterosexuals.

2. Early 1970s with the TV show, “The Brady Bunch.”

3. It is a step-family. There are no visual clues to help the casual observer discern that this is a step-family.

4. In the first photo, we see two men as the parents. Since two men cannot procreate together, that is the visual clue that this is a step-family. The taller man is the natural/legal father of both children. I believe the girl was adopted during his marriage to the boy’s mother. The other family is an intact family.

5. We see a man and a woman in each photo. Since men and women can procreate together, it is harder for a casual observer to discern which is which. The first is the step-family. The second is the intact family. (Yours truly is the child in the second photo–that’s my first family.) In the first photo, all of the children are the woman’s from a prior marriage.

Bonus Question:

6. From the child’s point of view, what is the structural difference between the two step families shown in questions 4 and 5? Most marriage defenders argue against the former quite vehemently and are largely silent about the latter. But from the point of view of the child, how different are they? Here are the photos again:

step family

blended family huffpo-b

Answer: from the child’s point of view, they are not as different as might be imagined. Consider these similarities:

  • In both cases, we see three “positions” in the family: 1) the natural parent, 2) that parent’s children, 3) a new marriage partner who is not the children’s other natural parent.
  • In both cases, the children do not have a single full-time home, but the adults do.
  • In both cases, the child’s other natural parent has been “photoshopped” out of that half of the child’s life and somebody new was “photoshopped” in.
  • In both cases, the children have two male figures (the bio father and the step-father), neither of whom are full-time fathers for the children.
  • Reverse the idea: If the first photo showed a lesbian marriage, and if the second photo showed a man with his kids and his new wife, then in both cases the children have two female figures (the bio mother and the step-mother), neither of whom are full time mothers for the children.

Might these similarities explain why the younger generation favors same-sex marriage? Perhaps their experiences (or the experiences of their friends) do not match our rhetoric. By not embracing arguments that defend the rights and legitimate entitlements of children, are we missing an opportunity to reach the younger generation? Given that 1,000,000 kids annually experience their parent's divorce, I think so.

How did you do? Thanks for taking the quiz!

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Upcoming installments:

I may continue to address the cultural blind spot we have in regards to step-families. Have not decided. If I do, then this will be the next installment.

Either way, after that we will examine the actual structure of step-families, with diagrams. This will make it clear that they are not remotely same as intact families.

After that, we will explore how the widespread acceptance of the step-family structure has weakened our ideas of “mother and father,” how it has weakened the idea of “two” parents for children, and the way these dovetail with the structural changes required to embrace same-sex couples into the institution of marriage.

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