The Ruth Institute (RI) is a Louisiana-based Catholic organization aimed at halting the “sexual revolution” – a catch-all concept that has become an axiom on the Christian Right and is used to describe an apparently conspiratorial project to undermine the “traditional” heterosexual family in the name of sexual freedom.
The group is largely a vehicle for spreading the Catholic right-wing Gospel of its founder, Jennifer Roback Morse, a former hardline libertarian and professor of economics at George Mason University, where she was mentored by fellow economist and Nobel Prize-winner James Buchanan, one of the influencers of the Koch networks.
Roback Morse left the academy to pursue family life and, eventually, right-wing activism. The Ruth Institute was originally a project of the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage (NOM), created to conduct youth outreach, and to warn young people about the dangers of divorce, sexual promiscuity, and, especially, to recruit them in the fight to block the legalization of gay marriage.
During her career, Roback Morse has said that same-sex relations are “intrinsically disordered acts and can never be morally acceptable,” claimed transgender people suffer from a “psychological condition,” promoted the false linkage between homosexuality and sexual abuse, and claimed that children raised by same-sex parents are likely to experience a number of emotional problems later in life – all ideas she introduces to teenagers at lectures, on podcasts, and at the RI’s It Takes a Family Conferences.
In its own words
“Transgender is a political category. Invented for political purposes. It has nothing to do with either psychology or medicine. It is a political category. So you need to see that so you stop feeling sorry for these people.”
–Jennifer Roback Morse, “Understanding gender ideology-the propaganda of the sexual revolution,” talk given at Teens4Truth conference, San Antonio, Texas, November 18, 2017
On “the transgender issue”: “It’s the next step in the Sexual Revolution. ‘Gay marriage’ was the big prize; it institutionalizes the idea that marriage has nothing to do with children. Once that was in place, the movement didn’t head towards polygamy, although the legal principle is in place. What has come next is gender ideology, the idea that the human body is getting in the way of human freedom. The idea of being a male or female is oppressive. It is the last step in deconstructing the human body and human life. It’s crazy and makes no sense.”
–Jennifer Roback Morse, interview with the Catholic World Report, March 21, 2017
“If you hear something like ‘You guys just want to pray away the gay,’ you need to stop them right there, and say ‘we think people should pray, but what we think is that gay is a decision. Whether you identify you identify yourself as gay or straight is a decision.”
–Jennifer Roback Morse, at the Vox Vitae camp for teens, July 21, 2017
“If you experience same sex attraction, you have choices beyond the Grand Narrative. Even if you have experienced same sex attraction all your life, so consistently that you think you must have been “born that way,” you still have choices about what to do, what to think, and how to describe yourself.”
–Jennifer Roback Morse, “The Medical Risks of Homosexual and the Value Voters Summit,” The Stream, October 24, 2017
“Compared to children raised by their own biological parents, married to each other, children whose parents had a sex same relationship are at elevated risk for the following…emotional problems, pleading guilty to a non-minor offense, learning disabilities, having an affair while married or cohabitating, family of origin provided less safety and security, difficulty trusting others, identifying as something other than exclusively heterosexual…”
–“Children and Same Sex Parenting,” Ruth Institute pamphlet, 2015
“It’s really important to be well informed about what the church actually says about homosexual practice….The church is very clear that same-sex sexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can never be morally acceptable.”
–Jennifer Roback Morse on “Catholic Answers Live,” 2012
Jennifer Roback Morse took a somewhat circuitous route to Catholic right-wing activism. In college, she embraced libertarianism and, after earning her PhD from the University of Rochester, eventually joined the Economics Department at George Mason University – one notably dominated by free-market economists and public choice theorists. But after leaving her post and starting a family, she told the National Review, “I was losing my libertarianism – or rather, it was losing me. Without strong families, you can’t have free markets or limited government.” And so Roback Morse focused her effort on strengthening the family, which in practice meant adopting an especially uncompromising version of the Catholic faith of her youth, which she does through college lectures and workshops she offers.
The Ruth Institute was originally founded in 2008 as a project of the anti-LGBT group National Organization for Marriage. Formerly based in California, the organization currently calls Louisiana home. The RI split from NOM and became independent in late 2013.
As a project of NOM, the RI worked to warn young women “about the careerist trap” and, more broadly, to undertake the mission of “Making Marriage Cool” among high-school and college-aged men and women. But soon the Ruth Institute, and its parent organization NOM, were drawn into the increasingly heated debate surrounding the legalization of same-sex marriage. Talking points were quickly assembled: marriage is based on procreation, same-sex marriages are unstable, and children raised by same-sex couples are more likely to be promiscuous, suffer from depression, and engage in criminal behavior, among other negative outcomes.
Roback Morse began pushing the kind of rhetoric she continues using to this day: positioning anti-marriage equality and anti-LGBT activists as martyrs while demonizing those who advocate for equal rights. During a 2011 episode of her radio show, for example, she went so far as to compare modern America to Nazi Germany. After equating defenders of “traditional marriage” to Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a German pastor and staunch opponent of the Third Reich who was executed by the regime – she continued by arguing that “the parallels are really quite chilling because the Nazis were able to scare people into being silent…I hate to say it but it is happening to us.” At a Catholics At Work breakfast in 2012, she likened priests loyal to the Nazi regime to Christians who failed to oppose the “pagan ideology” of marriage equality.
Meanwhile, she characterized those in favor of marriage equality as being “at war with Mother Nature” and engaged in a “hostile takeover of the whole civil society.”
And even while Roback Morse continually asserts that her organization feels only compassion for those who “suffer from same-sex attraction,” the Ruth Institute often reprinted anti-LGBT columns over the years that denounced the decriminalization of homosexuality, claimed the most loathsome people in the world are gay activists and that gay couples would use marriage equality to acquire and sexually abuse children.
The RI also created a “Circle of Experts” that includes a plethora of virulently anti-LGBT activists. Their stable includes the likes of Robert Gagnon – an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who has argued that same-sex relationships are “repulsively contrary to nature,” that those who engage in sexual relationship with same-sex partners “have no excuse for not knowing that those who do such things are worthy of death,” linked homosexuality to pedophilia, and advocated for “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Another in the RI “Circle of Experts” is Pat Fagan, formerly of the Family Research Council (FRC), who once argued that homosexual activity correlates positively with “more family brokenness.”
Also among their experts is Stephen Baskerville, a professor of government at Patrick Henry College, who in a student body address in 2013 claimed that homosexual activists played a role in the rise of fascism, including in Nazi Germany. Baskerville was also listed as a speaker at the 2013 white nationalist H.L. Mencken Club annual gathering.
Still another is Anthony Esolen, professor of classic literature and the English Renaissance at the hardline Catholic Thomas More College. Esolen has referred to homosexuality as an “abnormal behavior” and has claimed that gay men, especially, engage in a “promiscuity that beggars the imagination” and that masochism and sadism are a marked part of “the lifestyle.” He has also linked homosexuality to pedophilia.
These were also the kind of anti-LGBT speakers featured at the Ruth Institute’s “It Takes a Family Conference,” held annually until roughly 2013, where teens and young adults spent several days listening to lectures about the dangers LGBT individuals pose to civil society. A blogger who in 2012 went undercover at the event reported that speakers told attendees that gay people were not “born that way,” compared same-sex relationships to incest, and peddled pseudoscientific studies to back up their arguments.
The Ruth Institute even opposed the 2011 “It Gets Better” campaign, which aimed to curb instances of suicide among LGBT youth, as a ploy to “aggressively promote deviant sex.” According to the essay reprinted in the Ruth Institute’s blog, the “LGBT culture is all about sex…where nothing is off-limits or immoral.” While condemning the campaign, the Ruth Institute provided no actual solution for struggling LGBT youth, only offering the suggestion that gay and lesbian teens should suppress any attraction to the same sex and remain silent about their sexual identities.
The Ruth Institute has avoided directly voicing the most egregious views of homosexuality. Rather, they simply endorse books that promote, for instance, a false linkage between homosexuality and pedophilia, like the 2004 work by Mathew “Mat” Staver, Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk. Staver is president of the anti-LGBT hate group Liberty Counsel.
Staver claims that “having a homosexual parent(s) appears to increase the risk of incest with a parent by a factor of about 50.” The statistic is based on a debunked study by the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Institute’s Paul Cameron, one of the most prolific anti-gay propagandists in the U.S., and one whose work has been repudiated by professional organizations, including the American Psychological and American Sociological Associations. Nevertheless, Staver argues that “Once the same-sex marriage barrier is broken, a wide range of sexual paraphilia rights are sure to follow, including, but not limited to, sex with children.”
The RI has promoted other sources that push the idea that gay people are more likely to abuse children. One 2013 piece reprinted in the Ruth Institute’s blog alleged that children were being created through IVF and surrogates “as an industrial product in overseas baby farms” for “the express purpose of being abused” by gay adoptive parents. Another echoed Staver’s argument and suggested that pedophiles were “following the same game plan” as gay activists in order to pave the wave for the legalized abuse of children.
Roback Morse has always insisted that she harbors no ill will toward LGBT people; she instead condemns their “choice” to identify as gay or transgender. “You don’t have to act on whatever sexual feelings you may have,” she once told a group of teenagers, “And you don’t have to call yourself gay or lesbian or anything else. That, too, is a decision. These are all decisions.” Indeed, she suggests, gay relationships and transgender identities are only creations of the “Sexual Revolutionists” allegedly determined to undermine opposite-sex marriage and victimize children.
As gay marriage gained greater acceptance – and was eventually legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 – the Ruth Institute’s rhetoric began to shift. In 2013, they parted ways with the politically-oriented NOM in order to focus more overtly on influencing cultural norms and, according to Roback Morse, adopted a strategy “that focuses on the entire sexual revolution, not just the gay parts.” The Ruth Institute is now entirely dedicated, according to its website banner, to “Inspiring the Survivors of the Sexual Revolution,” who include children of divorce, pornography addicts, women who have had abortions, the “heartbroken career woman,” and “refugees” of homosexuality and the “hookup culture,” among others.
Any deficiency in emotional fulfillment, it seems, can be explained by RI as a byproduct of the “Sexual Revolution.” It’s a “totalitarian ideology,” Roback Morse says, that attempts to separate sex from procreation, separate procreation from marriage, and portray men and women as “interchangeable.” It’s also apparently an invention of “elites,” imposed from the top by government, and “a lot of people with wealth and power,” in order to insidiously gain power over “traditional” and thus “normal,” familial relationships, according to those on the anti-LGBT right.
Though the RI’s strategy seems designed to downplay their animus toward LGBT individuals in order to broaden their appeal in a society that is moving toward greater acceptance of LGBT people, Roback Morse continues to push the notion that feelings of attraction toward the same sex are something that can be overcome or, at least, stifled. “You don’t have to act on whatever sexual feelings you may have,” she told a group of Catholic teens attending a summer camp in 2017. She strays dangerously close to advocating for conversion therapy, but rather than telling people they can, in her words, “pray the gay away,” the RI tells young people “that gay is a decision,” urging them to choose to identify as straight no matter what their true feelings might be.
Roback Morse also endorsed The Health Hazards of Homosexuality (2017), an anti-LGBT book published by Mass Resistance, an anti-LGBT hate group headed by Brian Camenker based in Massachusetts. The book is filled with distortions of legitimate research as well as pseudoscientific claims to promote the idea that homosexuality is “dangerous” and that LGBT people themselves are promiscuous, violent and diseased.
The Ruth Institute has become especially vocal about the issue of transgender rights, which Roback Morse sees as the “next step” in the sexual revolution. “It is the last step in deconstructing the human body and human life,” she told a reporter at the Catholic World Report in March 2017. “It’s crazy and makes no sense.”
“The gays and lesbians were useful at one point,” Roback Morse explained on a recent podcast that aired just months later, but “now they’re not useful anymore, now the ‘T’ people are useful.” She’s gone so far as to insist that “transgenderism is a political category, this is a political movement, not anything else. And people are, in a sense, being recruited to be part of a political movement that they may or may not really be involved in.”
Transgender individuals, she tells young people, suffer from a “psychological condition” likely brought on by some kind of childhood trauma – ranging from failure to associate with same-sex peers to parental rejection. Indeed, she suggests, no one is really transgender, but just a victim of “the sexual revolution.” With that being the case, she repeatedly warns young people that they might ultimately change their minds, and promotes an anti-trans website called “Sex Change Regret.”
Roback Morse is extremely active as a speaker at various events, including workshops the RI advertises called “Healing Family Breakdown. She also speaks at conferences, including the November 2017 anti-LGBT Teens4Truth gathering in San Antonio, Texas, organized by the Texas chapter of the anti-LGBT hate group MassResistance. At that event, Roback Morse spoke on the perils of “gender ideology” (a conspiracy theory the right uses to discredit LGBT equality) and its ties to the sexual revolution. Roback Morse sees “gender ideology” as another attempt by LGBT people to erase gender and make men and women indistinguishable from each other through concerted efforts by LGBT people and their allies, though she connects this conspiracy to the state. She has special warnings regarding trans people and the transgender movement, which she refers to as “political” and in her talk exhorted people not to feel sorry for trans people.
The RI also has a book club page on their website that allows people to register a book club and then provides instructions for people to organize discussion sessions around specific topics. In early 2018, the book clubs included a focus on “What you need to know about gender identity politics: Bathroom Bullies to Pronoun Police.”