Outed: (anti-) Family Scholar

Brad Wilcox is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Virginia and a regular contributor to the Family Scholars Blog (a project of the Institute for American Values think tank). We’ll get back to Brad in a moment.

The Institute describes its mission as “contributing intellectually to strengthening families and civil society,” and that through its programs to “bring together many of the nation’s most distinguished scholars and analysts from across the human sciences and from across the political spectrum, the Institute seeks to bridge the gap between scholarship and policymaking, bringing new information and analyses to the attention of policy makers in government, opinion makers in the media, and decision makers in the private sector and in civil society.”

That certainly sounds like a good thing. By all means, let’s base public policy on empirical evidence. The problem is that, in practice, the Institute is mighty selective in terms of what it considers to be legitimate “new information and analyses.”

The Marriage Movement, another Institute project, articulates principles that are facially all outstanding arguments in favor of marriage equality. In short, if a healthy marriage culture is in fact a public good, then encouraging people of all sexual orientations to participate in it is good public policy. Nowhere in this document is there an overt anti-marriage equality message. However, the speaker’s bureau that the project makes available belies this outward appearance of objectivity.

The topics offered for speaking engagements include “The rights of children/redefinition of parenthood,” “Religion and the domestication of men,” and “The distinctive talents of mothers and fathers.” The only acknowledgment that families are not exclusively heterosexual comes in the form of the topic “Same sex marriage,” for which the only available speaker is Maggie Gallagher, unequivocally a voice of the anti-gay industry. Speakers tend to accept gigs at AGI think tanks such as Family Research Council – but when this is pointed out they cry “guilt by association.”

The Family Scholars blog does provide an informative and stimulating discussion forum, in spite of giving fresh air to a few certifiable lunatics, like this one. But its vehement denials that it is largely being driven by the agenda of the fundamentalist right are overstated and curiously defensive. There is nothing wrong with openly taking a position and then supporting that position with data. But the bloggers on Family Scholars seem to also want to claim that they are unbiased and objective – not anti-gay, and certainly not driven by fundamentalism. This claim just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Over and over, they fall back on the foundational idea behind their position that any family that varies from the mom&dad&buddy&sis model is substandard: that there are absolute roles prescribed in the family and in society for men and women. This is not an idea that comes from social science, or even from biological science. It is an idea that comes from fundamentalist religious doctrine. In addition, there’s always this dependable advice: follow the money.

This is the nerve that was quite impressively struck by Linda Hirshman in her Sunday Washinton Post op-ed. It seems that, after being inexplicably attacked for an article in which she argues that the job of a full-time stay at home mom may not be the best choice for a fully functioning, intellectually engaged adult, she did a little research:

Time and again, when I could identify the sources of the most rabid criticism and Google them, male and female, they had fundamentalist religious stuff on their Web sites or in the involuntary biographies that Google makes possible…a lot of it is covert, such as the identity of the authors of manuals disguised as tips on frugal housekeeping, but actually proselytizing women to stay home, as the Bible suggests.

Even institutions that don’t present themselves as coming from the world of revealed religion turn out to include an impressive percentage of religion scholars, students of divinity and advisers to the Vatican. Brad Wilcox, the most visible “family” scholar on the Family Scholars Blog of the Institute for American Values, is revered in the world of religious culture for his writings about how evangelical Protestant husbands make their wives happier than other guys, even though they won’t wash a dish. He also wrote a long article about how the Catholic Church is right to forbid the use of birth control. Nothing on the Web site would clue you in.

As for Brad Wilcox, he also testified in favor of Bob “Turkey Baster” Marshall‘s 2006 bill that would have made it a felony for a doctor to provide assistive reproductive treatment to “an unmarried woman,” with the meme “every child has the right to a mother and a father” that is currently the centerpiece of the assault on gay couple headed families. Wilcox seems to be on a path to becoming another Paul Cameron: An ideologically driven academic who fits data to his pre-determined conclusions, and misrepresents other researchers’ work to lend support to his hypotheses.

Family Scholars Blog took this rather badly, with no less than three separate posts attacking Linda Hirshman for daring to point out the obvious: That if you consistently make the argument that public policy should enforce a fundamentalist model of gender and sexuality, you are a fundamentalist, no matter how stridently you insist that your arguments are secular.

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5 Responses to Outed: (anti-) Family Scholar

  1. Maura says:

    What a great piece, David. This research is great for the blogosphere.

  2. David says:

    Thanks, Maura. Nice to see you here 🙂

    There does seem to be a theme emerging of late, of activists/pundits who want to have their anti-gay cake and eat it, too (see the post above this one). I haven’t quite decided whether they know exactly what they are doing or if they actually are wide-eyed and clueless.

    Probably, it’s a mix of both, with those who understand what they are doing actively framing the issue. Could it possibly be because of court rulings that reject animus as a legitimate basis for law? Hmm. What do others think? Will this “I have no idea what you are talking about” stance protect them?

  3. Tim Buchholz says:

    I am against the amendment.

    I do not for the life of me understand how anyone else’s relationship impacts my marriage or the health and happiness of my family. Why would anyone object to one person working together with another person to make a life together and create a family that together is better than being alone in the world. Who? Only those who righteous believers who feel empowered to judge the way others live and believe. I am not one of them.

    The definition of marriage is the problem. Most folks do not differentiate between what is a religious sacrament and what is the state’s legal ability to bestow special rights on people to create families through civil union. Adoption and emancipation of minors are family rights come from the state. Divorce comes from the state, too. Although I’m not sure religion’s role in divorce, they do have annulments.

    If we apply the Constitution’s Separation of Church and State protections, the whole issue would be solved. Simply remove marriage from the state terminology and replace it with civil unions. This would be the union of two people for the creation of a family. Family’s could be legally defined as a group of people (at least 2) who are bound to each other to live as one and help each other thrive and survive. All rights would be conveyed to the entity through the act of civil union. Marriage then would be left to be defined by each religion as their traditions or congregations so determine. The Catholic Church even distinguishes between the sacrament of marriage and interfaith marriages what are performed in a church by a priest. I’m sure some of those in favor of this amendment would be against interfaith marriages, too.

    I believe this approach to be fair, even handed and does not create a second class of marriage.

  4. David says:

    I know, it’s kind of a mystery when you try to answer that question at face value. When you try to get pro-amendment people to articulate exactly how a same sex couple making a life together and putting in place reasonable contracts to protect their interests as a couple harms anyone else, it always seems to come down to “because I don’t like it.”

    All they can come up with to mimic a rational reason are empty phrases like “it will weaken the family” (one I just now heard on the radio). That doesn’t mean anything. There is no such thing as “the family.” That’s an abstract idea. In the real world there are just families.

    I think what they really mean by this is that young people who are gay will see role models and understand that the sexual orientation that they are awakening to does not shut them out of that realm of life, which is what a lot of us growing up in other eras thought.

    “The Family” must therefore be code for a destructive, cruel message directed to gay youth: You will never have someone to grow old with. You will never have a family, those beloved people who can count on each other no matter what. You will never have a good life and you will die alone and unloved, because you are wrong and broken. Etc.

    Fortunately, with or without permission from the state, many of us have rejected that message and have all of those things anyway. The greatest irony is that the more intentionally we claim those values that make a family strong, the more likely we are to be punished for it. That intentionality itself defines what is to be prohibited by the amendment: “..a legal status that intends to approximate the .. benefits, effects, design, etc..”

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