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The Ruth Institute’s ‘Circle of Experts’ on Homosexuality

The California-based Ruth Institute (RI), a former project of the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund, split off from NOM and became  independent on Nov. 1. Like NOM, while ostensibly working to strengthen marriage (for heterosexuals), it works against marriage equality. And like NOM, the RI has tried to soften its anti-LGBT image through tactics like selectively quoting from virulently anti-gay sources and claiming to support LGBT individuals while simply opposing their right to marry.

The RI’s founder and president, Jennifer Roback Morse, whose academic background is in economics, has mostly steered clear of the kind of vicious anti-LBGT rhetoric employed by some on the religious right. She has, for example, referred to “our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction” as victims of the “sexual revolution.” Nonetheless, she has earned an entry in GLAAD’s commentator accountability project for anti-LGBT statements she has made over the years.

The RI claims that it is “Making Marriage [for heterosexuals] Cool.” The tagline on its website banner states “One Man One Woman For Life.” Thus, heterosexual marriage is the only “proper” context for sex and childrearing. The RI encourages “respect of contributions of men to the family” and using “lifelong spousal cooperation” as a “solution to women’s aspirations for career and family.”

In keeping with its focus on reaching college-aged people, the RI has several projects listed on its website, including such initiatives as a campus speakers’ bureau, which brings lectures and debates to “pro-life, pro-marriage student groups around the country”; a workshop series that explains how gay marriage affects everyone and why “man-woman marriage” is important; and student essay contests.

The RI also holds a student conference every year, called “It Takes A Family” (ITAF), at which speakers discuss things like marriage (and why marriage equality is a bad thing), family life, divorce and society, and the Bible and its role in sex and marriage. Speakers also have warned about the dangers of homosexuality in general, which raises the questions: Is the RI simply trying to shore up heterosexual marriage? Or is its focus on heterosexual marriage a cover for its campaign against marriage equality and LGBT people in general?

Perhaps the RI can answer for itself. The organization draws many of the speakers for its ITAF conferences from its own “Circle of Experts,” listed on its website. Below are listed some of the members of the “Circle,” along with some of the things they’ve claimed about LGBT people – things the RI does not include on its website.

  • Robert Gagnon is a theologian and professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who has also spoken at ITAF conferences. Media Matters has a list of the things Gagnon has written about homosexuality over the years, including falsely linking it to pedophilia, and claiming that homosexuality has a pathological side,” that it is “harmful” and that there is a “significant deficiency in homosexual relationships.”

  • Stephen Baskerville is a professor of government at Patrick Henry College. In a September 2013 lecture delivered to the student body at the college, Baskerville invoked the “homosexual agenda” a few times and claimed that homosexual activists played an integral part in the rise of fascist politics, including Nazism (a false claim that originated with anti-LGBT activist Scott Lively). Baskerville also claimed that “sexualisation [sic] is also rapidly transforming our armed forces into a gargantuan welfare state whose generous benefits, intended for real families, act as a magnet for single mothers and homosexuals with sexually transmitted diseases” (read the text of the speech here). Baskerville runs in other circles, as well. He was listed as a speaker at the white nationalist H.L. Mencken Club annual conference, held in November in the Baltimore area.

  • Douglas Allen is a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Allen, who is listed in the RI’s 2010-2013 strategic plan as being on their board of advisers, is best-known for his flawed anti-gay studies, in which he claims that children of same-sex couples fare worse in various aspects of life than children of opposite-sex married couples. Allen has also claimed that LGBT people are promiscuous and that same-sex relationships are unstable.

  • Jenet Erickson teaches in the school of family life at Brigham Young University and has referred to same-sex relationships as inherently unstable and erratic. In August, Erickson wrote that same-sex relationships “depart from the marital norms of prevalence, monogamy, and permanence.” Though she tries to soften that statement by claiming that such shouldn’t be considered as attributable to one’s sexual orientation, she nevertheless does so further in the article, when she writes that higher rates of monogamy and permanence exist among heterosexuals because of “complementarity and mutual dependence of the genders.”

  • Pat Fagan is the senior fellow director at the Center for Family and Religion, a project of the Family Research Council (FRC). Fagan received a lot of attention last year when he claimed that nobody has a right to have sex outside of marriage. In 2010, Fagan co-authored a study released through the FRC that claimed lesbianism is “learned behavior” and that women who grow up without their biological parents are, for some reason, more apt to engage in homosexuality. According to Fagan, “more family brokenness in family of origin and less frequent worship correlate positively with homosexual activity.”

  • Lynn Wardle is a professor of law at Brigham Young University who  has written extensively over the years on the “harms” same-sex marriage and homosexuality bring to society. His 1997 article in the Illinois Law Review presaged further anti-LGBT studies that purport to demonstrate that same-sex parenting harms children. Wardle claimed that same-sex parenting leads to “increased homosexuality” among children and “emotional and cognitive disadvantages” to the children of same-sex parents. In a 2007 article in the North Dakota Law Review, Wardle claimed that the dangers of same-sex marriage are gradual, like the dangers of smoking, and that “promiscuity, infidelity, multiple sexual partners, and dangerous sexual practices are the behavioral norms among gay couples (and also, to a lesser extent, lesbian couples).” “Modification of marriage to make it more like gay-relations [sic],” Wardle states, “will cause serious harm to society, families, and individuals.” Most recently, Wardle showed up in Hawaii in October to testify against marriage equality.

  • Anthony Esolen is an English professor at Providence College in Rhode Island. He wrote a screed titled “Same-Sex Marriage: Anthony Esolen’s 10 Arguments for Sanity,” which has been making the rounds since about 2006. It was also published as “Sanity and Matrimony” in Touchstone Magazine in the July/August 2010 issue. In it, Esolen refers to homosexuality as an “abnormal behavior” and claims that gay men, especially, engage in “a promiscuity that beggars the imagination,” that “masochism and sadism … are so marked a part of the lifestyle,” and that theories about genetic roots of sexual orientation do not explain “a host of psychological syndromes heavily represented among gay men, including narcissism, self-mutilation, coprophilia, drug use, alcoholism, exhibitionism, and suicide.” Homosexuality, Esolen says, “is an aberrant eroticization of male friendship,” and that explains “the unimaginable promiscuity.” Esolen also links homosexuality to pedophilia, and calls lesbianism “the more dangerous” aspect of homosexuality because it “involves the rejection of the opposite sex.” In February, Esolen continued to link homosexuality to pedophilia when he wrote at the conservative Witherspoon Institute about the Boy Scouts loosening their restriction on gay Scouts and leaders: “The Boy Scouts retain the commonsense notion that it is not wise to bring boys into close quarters with men who are sexually attracted to boys, regardless of whether they act on those attractions."

  • Reverend Donald Welch is, according to his bio on the RI website, a “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” in California. The bio doesn’t mention that Welch, who is also an ordained minister at Skyline Church in San Diego, was one of the plaintiffs who sued the state of California over its ban of ex-gay therapy for children under age 18.

  • Todd Hartch is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University. He wrote in 2011 that when seminary professors support homosexual behavior, “they are not just expressing a personal opinion; they are leading their students and those students’ future parishioners into untold depths of misery.”

Given some of the people who sit in this circle – allegedly to “make marriage cool” – perhaps we shouldn’t wonder what the Ruth Institute’s mission is regarding LGBT people. After all, Morse herself has stated that she wants gay people to stop being gay or, alternatively, be celibate. Should we be surprised, then, that the Ruth Institute has stacked its “Circle of Experts” with people who have for years denigrated and demonized LGBT people with all manner of unfounded claims and warned darkly about the “dangers” of homosexuality? Probably not.

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