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Wednesday, 14 July 2010 00:47

The Ruth Institute: Anti-Gay Public Policy Institute Stepping Out of the Shadows

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH

The San Marcos, California-based organization, a project of the controversial National Organization for Marriage, has a new ‘strategic plan’ which it hopes will make it a national force in the pro-marriage movement

The passage of California’s Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage, was an indicator to the folks at the Ruth Institute that a bright future may be looming. These days, armed with a new four-year strategic plan; a leader, who, in addition to having a sparkling resume, is hoping to forge a national reputation and is sporting the nickname “Dr. J”; and a full-bore affiliation with the National Organization for Marriage, the Ruth Institute is putting the finishing touches on its “It Takes A Family to Raise a Village ’10 – training the next generation to be marriage champions” event, and has every intention of becoming a major player in the national pro-marriage movement.

The Ruth Institute, whose tag line at its website reads “One Man. One Woman for Life,” was unknown to me until I wrote a recent piece about Better Courts Now, the group that tried unsuccessfully to unseat four Democratic-appointed judges in San Diego’s Superior Court in the June 8 election, and replace them with four Christian conservatives. In the piece titled “San Diego Anti-Gay Religious Zealots Launch Judicial Crusade” (http://blog.buzzflash.com/contributors/3245), I pointed out that Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, the founder and president of Ruth Institute appeared on the Better Courts Now website.

What is the Ruth Institute, and what are its prospects for becoming a national player in the debate over marriage?

The San Marcos, California-based Ruth Institute (http://www.ruthinstitute.org/index.html), founded in 2008 to “promote lifelong married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage,” is a project of Maggie Gallagher’s highly controversial group, the National Organization for Marriage (http://www.nationformarriage.org/site/c.omL2KeN0LzH/b.3836955/k.BEC6/Home.htm), one of the national groups leading the charge against same-sex marriage. 

In a document titled “Ruth Institute – Strategic Plan 2010-2013,” the group claims that “No other organization deals with such a broad range of issues surrounding marriage – including premarital sex, same-sex marriage, pornography, no-fault divorce, child-custody practices, multi-partner fertility, and the coming demographic winter – while focusing on the rising generation.”

In an early-May post at the Daily Kos titled “Ruthless” (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/5/9/863946/-Ruthless), Dante Atkins took a close look at Morse’s Ruth Institute, and discussed the Institute’s “Strategic Plan.” Atkins, who is active in Democratic Party politics in California and runs a research/marketing firm called The Pollux Group, Inc., began by pointing out that the National Organization for Marriage along “with the aid of substantial funding from Mormon and Catholic churches and organizations, was the organization primarily responsible for passing Proposition 8 in California and approving Question 1 in Maine, both of which eliminated the legal right for same-sex couples to marry in their respective states.” Atkins noted that “In each case, the campaign tactics used were despicable: both campaigns sought to convince the electorate that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to second-graders being recruited into a lifestyle of sodomy and depravity.”

Atkins wrote that he “recently received from an anonymous source a scanned document of an internal communication from the Ruth Institute: their strategic plan for the years 2010-2013 (http://www.scribd.com/doc/31090758/Ruth-Institute-Strategic-Plan).” The intent of the “Strategic Plan” is to bring the Ruth Institute out of the shadows, and provide it with a “road map” to becoming a national player in the so-called pro-marriage movement. According to the document, the Plan will “guide” the organization through “the initial phase of its existence” which will lead to a rapid expansion of its “programming to become one of the nation’s leading pro-marriage educational organizations.”   

Near the end of Section II, the Institute maintains that it “aims to work hand-in-hand with other organizations in the marriage movement to: Decrease the divorce rate; Increase the marriage rate; Decrease the cohabitation rate; Increase the number of children who grow up with both married parents; Reduce the lag time between the age of sexual initiation and the age of first marriage; Maintain at least a replacement-level birth rate, so that the devastation of a European-style ‘demographic winter’ is avoided.”

While most of these are pretty straightforward goals, the last one, avoiding a “European-style ‘demographic winter,’” was a bit confusing. I asked Devin Burghart, the vice president, Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, to explain the concept. "’Demographic winter’ is a new phrase to describe the old alarmist ‘birth dearth’ concept - the idea that we're facing declining birthrates which is supposed to portend all sorts of cataclysmic events,” Burghart said in an email.

“One particular strand of dearthers, lead by folks like Pat Buchanan, focus particularly on the supposed danger of declining birthrates among white people in the United States and Europe, which they argue is leading us towards the impending demise of ‘Western Civilization.’ Buchanan details the argument in his 2002 book, Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil our Country and Civilization. The concept melds nativism and Islamophobia together with the Christian Right's infatuation with procreation and heterosexuality.”

Burghart also noted that “The dearthers also often clash with environmentalists and population control advocates, like Paul and Ann Ehrlich, who've been arguing for decades that population growth is one of our biggest potential problems.”  

In his Daily Kos piece, Dante Atkins saw the “concept of ‘demographic winter’… [as] A right-wing notion with culturalist, if not racist, overtones regarding the end of first-world civilization because of declining birthrates.”

Since focusing on youth – especially college students – is a major part of its work, the Institute’s “Strategic Plan” points out that it intends to take “full advantage of online and new media tools, [social networking] as well as innovative marketing techniques,” including “hosting training and educational webinars,” using its blog, Facebook, Twitter and weekly podcasts, “providing Institute-affiliated experts for radio and television appearances,” and “providing a steady stream of new information and commentary on the news” to media contacts and its e-mail subscribers.     

In addition to being the Institute’s founder and president, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, also known on the website as Dr. J (unless she can dunk with balletic grace like NBA great Julius Erving, she’s no Dr. J!), is also the Senior Research Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, having previously served as a Research Fellow for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from 1997-2005. She is the author of several books including Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World (2005), and Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001), which was recently reissued in paperback, as Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village.

According to her website bio, Morse is “a regular contributor to the National Review Online, National Catholic Register, Town Hall, MercatorNet and To the Source, and her “scholarly articles” have appeared in the Journal of Political Economy, Economic Inquiry, the Journal of Economic History, Publius: the Journal of Federalism, the University of Chicago Law Review, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Social Philosophy and Policy, The Independent Review, and The Notre Dame Journal of Law Ethics and Public Policy.      

Ruth Institute projects include:

§         Campus Speakers Bureau, bringing lectures and debates to pro-life, pro-marriage student groups around the country, at minimal cost to the students.

§         Gay Marriage Affects Everyone: a workshop series explaining the importance of man-woman marriage. Offered to churches and other non-profit organizations.

§         Student Essay Contests, to reward and identify young people who share the Ruth Institute’s vision.

§         “Life in the HOV Lane,” You-Tube Video Contest: Wacky Things That Could Only Happen in a Big Family.

§         PADS: Parents Against Dumb Sex: an advocacy group for parents and grandparents concerned about the culture of sexual license.

§         Week-end Seminars for students and young adults, giving them the tools they need to defend the family to their peers and to prepare for married life.

§         Assist Students in Organizing pro-life, pro-family clubs on their own campuses.

§         Research and Research Dissemination Program.

§         Week-end Seminars for Engaged Couples: potentially for the “tough cases” of the churches, couples who are currently cohabiting, and resistant to Christian teaching.

§         The Ruth Institute Supper Club (RISC) bringing high quality pro-family speakers to San Diego County.

§         Ruth Institute Books publishing project, bringing research to the public in the form of books, booklets, research briefs, audio CD’s and DVD’s.

One of the Institute’s big annual events is “It Takes A Family To Raise A Village ’10 – training the next generation to be marriage champions” conference, which this year will take place at California’s Murrieta Hot Springs, from August 12-15. The three themes of the conference are “Educating: The Conference will provide students with: An intense weekend with top scholars discussing the social significance of marriage and the family. Scholars from multiple disciplines who will relate their specialized field to the social significance of marriage. Applicable books, articles and other materials to take home.”; “Networking: — Students will interact with: Faculty members from across many academic disciplines. Students and faculty from across the faith traditions that support natural marriage Like-minded students from different schools.”; and, “Motivating: By the end of the Conference students will: Understand the urgency for defending natural marriage. Realize that One Man One Woman marriage is more natural and practical. Believe that it is fun to be on the side of marriage.”

The Ruth Institute’s “Strategic Plan” makes it clear that its major goal is to deal with teen and college-age sexuality. In light of a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report titled “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth, 2006–08” (http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r100602.htm), which concluded that “the percentage of teens who have had sex has not changed significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2002,” achieving its goals will be no slam dunk for “Dr. J’s” Ruth Institute.