Jennifer Roback Morse on the mess we're in
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Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD is the founder of the Ruth Institute, an inter-faith organization that addresses the lies of the Sexual Revolution. She has authored or co-authored four books and spoken around the globe on marriage, family and human sexuality. In this interview with Aleteia, she talked about her newest book, “The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims,” and what the future may hold.
How did a nice economist like you transition to being a culture critic? Was there a defining moment or trigger event?
The trigger event for me was motherhood. I have told this story in many of my talks, including this talk for the Magnificat Catholic women’s organization in San Diego. The short version is that we adopted a badly neglected toddler from a Romanian orphanage in 1991, the same year we gave birth to our daughter. Raising those two children together taught us how much children really do need their mothers and fathers, and that if mom and dad aren’t there for the kids, the substitutes are pretty lousy. That convinced me that the “laissez-faire” attitude we’ve developed toward the family simply does not work. That set me off on the trail of analyzing the family from the perspective of social science or a social institution. Economists had not really done that before.
Some of the most helpful analyses of social problems arising from the sexual revolution, contraceptive use at the country-level, abortion, STDs, etc. are being written by economists — George Akerlof, David Paton, Peter Arcidiacono, Catherine Pakuluk and many others — what do economists bring to the discussion?
I would add Douglas Allen and Joe Price to that list. Economics taught me two things. First, we learn to think analytically and in a logical sequence. Second, we learn to pay attention to incentives. How will changing the price of X ripple throughout the economy? It is natural for me to ask, “How will changing the rules around marriage and its definition change the incentives for people’s behavior?” Once you start asking that question, you see that the issues are far more complex than the current discussion would suggest. Removing the gender requirement from marriage doesn’t just change incentives for same sex attracted people: it changes incentives for everyone. Just like changing the rules for getting a divorce did not just affect the handful of people who would have gotten divorced anyway. It changed the rules for everyone, and changed pretty much everyone’s behavior.
As you were reviewing past articles for inclusion in this compilation, were you surprised by anything? How quickly your predictions were coming true, for example?
I was surprised by how long I have been talking about these issues, and how the same issues keep coming up again and again. If we don’t learn the first time, we have to keep going and going until we finally figure out that kids have some needs that really can’t be negotiated away by adults.
Your introduction describes an ideal society and I can see that it’s important to give people a vision of how things ought to be. But what makes you think that the toothpaste can get back into the tube?
Honestly, I do not know what toothpaste has to do with a failed social experiment. I find that people bring up that analogy when they don’t really want to consider whether or not the Sexual Revolution is a failed experiment. The toothpaste is a diversionary tactic.
Why do you have an image of Marilyn Monroe on the cover?
When Art Director Todd Bingham came up with the cover for this book, I knew the concept was perfect. Who better to represent the empty promises of the Sexual Revolution than Marilyn Monroe? She remains an iconic figure of sex appeal. But there was a darker tragic side to her life.
Marilyn Monroe’s childhood included: a mentally unstable mother, a completely absent father, a disorganized childhood that included two different foster homes, probably sexual assault at the hands of adults in those homes, and an early marriage that she hoped would create stability. The “glamorous” side of her adult life included movie stardom, modeling, appearance in the first issue of “Playboy” in December 1953, three marriages, and an uncertain number of affairs. The dark side of her adult life included sexual exploitation by rich and powerful men, drug use, and her own cavalier disregard for the feelings of others. And in spite of all her fame and success, she had an unsureness of herself and her own value that included stage fright and finally, an early death. [Her biographer Norman Mailer wrote that she’d had twelve abortions before age 29.—ed.]
Her life and death is a metaphor for the Sexual Revolution. The “glamour” and the empty promises get the full attention of the media. The downsides, not so much. The sexual exploitation that led to so much of the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe’s life does not get the blame that it deserves. Neither does the brokenness of her early family life. We just keep looking at the carefully-crafted images and ignore the dark underside.
Likewise, the media still do not connect the dots between the poisonous ideology of the Sexual Revolution and the pain and grief and ultimately the loneliness that are endemic in our society. This book tries to fill that gap.
How is your message being received on college campuses? What kind of ratio do you see between overt hostility and acknowledgement that you’re on to something?
It depends on the issue. I find that young people are very receptive to hearing that something is dreadfully wrong with our divorce culture: many of them have been wounded by their parents’ divorces. I talk about cohabitation in this book: some women grasp that something is wrong with cohabitation. Some are open to hearing about alternatives to the hook-up culture. But on the issue of a gender requirement for marriage, many young people are deeply committed to removing the gender requirement out of solidarity with their friends. I find they have not really thought about it very deeply. And I also find that the Gay Lobby has drawn so much attention to “their” issues that it takes up all the air in the room, making it very difficult to have reasonable conversations about a whole variety of issues.
Nonetheless, we at the Ruth Institute have found quite a few very bright and talented students who are deeply committed to the Ancient Teachings of the Church on marriage, family and human sexuality. And I find these students among most of the major faith traditions: Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints and observant Jews, as well as Catholics.
Have you been back to Yale to speak during Sex Week?
I have not been back to Yale during Sex Week. I was, however, invited to Harvard during their first similar event. I was part of an alternative program, sponsored by students from the Love and Fidelity Network club there called The True Love Revolution.
Wasn’t contraception supposed to free women from poverty because pregnancy and childbearing would no longer interfere with their education and careers? So it seems counter-intuitive that contraception would result in child poverty. Could you explain for our readers why you believe there’s a link between contraception and children living in poverty?
Yes, I consider this one of the big empty promises of the Sexual Revolution: every child a wanted child. What a joke that turned out to be.
Here is the basic problem. Sex makes babies. Contraception only reduces the risk of pregnancy, but not all the way to zero. However, the Sexual Revolutionaries wish to create a society in which sex is a sterile recreational activity. This is what they constantly preach. So, people have sex in situations that cannot sustain a pregnancy. When the inevitable happens, the woman has some unpleasant choices: put the baby up for adoption, single motherhood or abortion.
That is how both single motherhood and abortion increased during the period of the widespread promotion of contraception. And single motherhood is a serious risk factor for child poverty.
What does contraceptive sex have to do with the gay rights movement?
Look at it this way: the contraceptive ideology says that sex and babies can be safely separated. This is one of the key ideas that people have to absorb in order to believe that a same sex couple can be treated as the legal equivalent of an opposite sex couple. If everyone is having sterile sex, the essential public purpose of marriage becomes almost invisible.
You wrote long ago that homosexual lobbyists would never be satisfied with the compromise of civil unions. And now we’ve seen judges mandate gay "marriage" in 26 states, while legislatures enacted gay "marriage" laws in another 10 and the Supreme Court appears poised to nullify all state laws defending traditional marriage. What’s more, bakers, florists and facility owners who rent out their premises for wedding parties are being forced out of business or forced to pay crippling fines for refusing to accommodate gay "weddings." Where do you think this is going to end?
Well, I called that one right, didn’t I? Haha.
The Sexual Revolution does not end with removing the gender requirement from marriage: that is for sure. The next dominoes to fall will include more changes to marriage itself, a series of gender issues, and the redefinition of parenthood.
On marriage itself, removing the dual gender requirement from marriage will induce the loss of the number “two” as the presumed size of a marriage.
On gender issues, the fallout will include removing all gender distinctions and designations from the law, and the active promotion of transgender issues.
And most chillingly of all, from my point of view, is that redefining marriage will redefine parenthood. Rather than simply take biological parenthood as a pre-existing reality that the state simply recognizes, the parenthood will become the object of adult “choice.” The function of the state will be to create parenthood, giving adults what they want, rather than giving children a relationship with their biological parents. This is the meaning of “intended parents.” Watch for that term. And as part of this whole legal reconfiguration, children will increasingly become commodities to buy if we want them. This is also the flip side of children being a “choice” to dispose of if we don’t want them. I talked about that in an article about “Octomom” back in 2009.
People often say that allowing gays and lesbians to marry doesn’t affect straight marriages. How do you respond? Are they forgetting anyone?
They are forgetting children and their rights. Children are the same people who have been “forgotten” or “overlooked” or “set aside” since the beginning of the Sexual Revolution. My perspective is that children have a right to a relationship with both of their biological parents, and that the essential public or social purpose of marriage is to make good on that entitlement. If you look back over the Sexual Revolution, you will see that pretty much every issue sets aside the interests of children in some way or another.
I don’t’ want to give people the idea that this book is about “gay issues,” because it is not. That is the amazing thing in a way. Very few of these essays were written with anything about genderless marriage or related topics in mind. Yet, as I read back over them, I can see very clearly that the demand for genderless marriage flows quite directly out of some of these other issues. For instance, I wrote an essay called “Striving for the Marriage Ideal: What Straight Divorce has to do with Gay ‘Marriage.’” I noted that people’s reluctance to face up to the divorce problem was crippling their ability to speak candidly and forcefully about removing the gender requirement from marriage. No fault divorce removed the presumption of permanence and the presumption of sexual exclusivity. Why not remove the presumption that marriage includes both sexes? I made that argument in an article in 2006, based on a talk I had given in 2004! And that problem of being tongue-tied by a guilty conscience and a muddled brain is still very much with us.
And that is why telling the truth is the key to putting a stop to the Sexual Revolution and its lies. I hope readers of this book will be inspired to get involved with the Ruth Institute and become Truth-Tellers themselves.
Susan Willsis a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.
More about Dr. Morse: She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Rochester and taught economics at Yale and George Mason Universities. She was named one of the “Catholic Stars of 2013,” on a list that included Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Dr. Morse and her husband are parents of an adopted child, a birth child and a goddaughter; they were also foster parents for San Diego County to eight foster children.