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If you've been following the electoral politics of the marriage equality movement, the National Organization for Marriage would certainly ring a bell. NOM, 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. 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.

Because of these higher-profile successes, NOM now has a reputation for being an organization focused primarily on pulling the long arc of history away from its inevitable pursuit of marital justice for the GLBT community. But the truth behind NOM is far more sinister.

As evidence, let's examine a project of NOM called The Ruth Institute. The way the NOM homepage describes the Ruth Institute is innocuous enough:

Creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage on college campuses.

The initial reaction to this idea might be somewhere in the neighborhood of "good luck." But delving a little deeper reveals a more interesting agenda.

First, let's take a look at the basics. As any marketer knows, the most public face that an organization has rests in two things: its name and its logo. Now, one would think that an organization dedicated exclusively to promoting marriage between one man and one woman would feature in its logo some rendition of a happy, heterosexual married couple--something along the lines of the Yes on Prop 8 campaign logo. The Ruth Institute logo, by contrast, isn't that. It is, rather, a graphic design comprised of women wearing old-fashioned dresses.

And if that weren't a clue to the organization's real intent of turning back the clock a couple of centuries on the women's liberation movement, the name ought to be. In Scripture, the Book of Ruth is one of only two (or three, depending on whom you ask) biblical books named after a woman.

A quick and dirty plot synopsis: A Moabite woman named Ruth marries an Israelite man, but he dies, leaving her a widow. Her Israelite mother-in-law entreats her to return home, but her loyalty to her husband's family is so strong that she follows her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, converts to the God of Israel and works the fields of a man named Boaz, who happens to be a relative of her deceased husband. Because Boaz is a relative, he has the right (and obligation) to marry her to continue on her deceased relative's family line (this is important: keep this in mind). Ruth reminds him of this obligation and goes to "visit" him, but Boaz must first confer with another male relative to decide who gets her. The other male relative relinquishes his right, clearing the field for Boaz. Their resulting children are the ancestors of King David.

In short, we have an organization seemingly named after a biblical woman who maintains loyalty to her husband's family over her own, even after his death, and encourages one of his relatives to marry her specifically to carry on the family line.

And indeed, the organization's publicly self-expressed vision seems to support this narrative of the ideal woman and the ideal marriage:

Returning to the virtues on this list is what the Ruth Institute claims will eliminate all of today's social evils. Hard to argue, right? After all, everyone knows that back when men's contributions to the family were respected and spousal "cooperation" determined how women balanced career and family obligations, we had no social ills in this country, everything was just peachy!

But this isn't what the Ruth Institute is all about. To get at what Ruth--and the National Organization for Marriage--is really all about, you have to go to the information that's not publicly available.

I 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. The entire thing (uploaded to Scribd) is worth reading in its entirety, but I want to call specific attention to the stated goals of the organization near the end of section II:

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</li<li>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 [emphasis mine]

First--"sexual initiation?" Seriously? It's as if these people view sex as some sort of cult ritual. But at last, we come down to what the main issue of what the Ruth Institute is all about. Remember the earlier discussion about carrying on the family line? The real mission of the Ruth Institute is to erase the gains that women have made with regard to their social, economic and sexual liberation and ensure that they become baby factories like something out of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.

And what is the concept of "demographic winter"? A right-wing notion with culturalist, if not racist, overtones regarding the end of first-world civilization because of declining birthrates. There's even a documentary about it, put out in part by the Ruth Institute's christianist allies at the Family Research Council. Righter-wing governments in Europe, such as that of Berlusconi's Italy, have offered economic incentives to the "right type of Italians" to conceive children--and have notoriously taken them away when it was discovered that some of them were going to the wrong people--namely, immigrant families.

But if you thought that the Ruth Institute would be content to let women have children on their own time--say, using techniques like fertility treatments or artificial insemination--you're wrong. Two of the top featured articles at the Ruth Institute's website--this one and this one--openly decry these practices. The only way women ought to have children, if you ask the Ruth Institute, is if a man is present to control the situation.

And there you have it. The Ruth Insitute--officially sanctioned by the National Organization of Marriage--is an organization with an overtly sexist and racist organization. And I'll leave you with some final words from. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, President of the Ruth Institute:

We hear that intelligent women should use their minds, by giving priority to career. Taking care of children is for losers with nothing better to do.

We hear that independent women should not rely on men financially. It is better to have a child alone, or to be childless, than to be financially interdependent with the child’s father.

We hear there is no urgency to having children. If you haven’t found a husband, if you haven’t made the time to become a mother naturally, you can always use artificial insemination with donor sperm, to become a mother at the time of your own choosing.

If we accept these ideas, we lose essential features of being a female human: an appreciation of woman’s natural life-giving powers, of woman’s desire for lasting relationships, and of woman’s intrinsic delight in bringing forth new life.

Welcome to the future, handmaids. Brought to you by the National Organization for Marriage.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:00 PM PDT.

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