As has been widely reported, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asserted in a tweet Wednesday that "we need an Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households." Lest anyone imagine he was speaking merely in metaphor, a second tweet from him linked to a Chicago Tribune story about the impending trial of a Mennonite clergyman "charged with aiding and abetting the kidnapping of Isabella Miller-Jenkins, now 10," who was spirited out of the country so as to evade court orders mandating visitation with Janet Jenkins, who had helped raise Isabella as part of a same-sex couple. Fischer's summary: "Head of Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households goes on trial."
Fischer and his American Family Association, it should be noted, are clownish figures whose extremism is a turn-off even to many true believers on the social right. (It can nonetheless be interesting to observe who deems them respectable enough to associate with; for example, the Values Voter Summit, which draws major political figures like Eric Cantor, Jim DeMint, and Ted Cruz, considers Fischer a suitable speaker and AFA a suitable prominent sponsor.) Anyway, Fischer thrives on outraged publicity from his adversaries, so enough about him. What's worth rather more attention (and provides some insight into the mounting campaign against gay parenting from some quarters) are the two articles he tweeted.
If you're not familiar with the epic Miller-Jenkins custody-kidnapping case, it's worth catching up by way of The New York Times' account the other day. (Jenkins' lawyers at GLAD have posted many of the documents, and I've been covering it off and on for years at my Overlawyered blog.) While nothing short of tragic for the individuals involved (the little girl is now growing up in a strange country and for many years has not seen Janet Jenkins, who helped raise her), I concluded a few years ago that its greatest significance as a social turning point was in revealing the new willingness of many in organized religious conservatism, "even the lawyers among them, to applaud and defend the defiance of court orders." Since then, important sections of the social right have evolved further toward a position on lawbreaking more often historically associated with those well to their left. As David Badash points out in a post on the new furor, many notables, including Don Wildmon, founder and chairman emeritus of Bryan Fischer's AFA, have signed on to a manifesto called the Manhattan Declaration, written in 2009 by National Organization For Marriage co-founder Robert P. George and the late evangelical leader Chuck Colson, which significantly asserts, "Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required."
How far will the disobedience go? In the Miller-Jenkins case, believers rallied around and encouraged a biological parent (Lisa Miller) intent on disobeying a court order. Perhaps the next test case will involve a mother who regrets having relinquished her parental rights in an adoption or surrogacy scenario, is encouraged to regard that relinquishment as null and void, and then reasserts her original rights by whisking the child off in a van into a Underground Railroad of welcoming believers with access to safe houses abroad. And for not a few of these believers, God's law, even if stubbornly unenforced at the moment by secular authorities, requires the removal of children from same-sex households whether or not any biological relative has raised an objection. If believers must follow God's law where it conflicts with man's, why not seize children from those families, too?
The other article linked by Fischer, this account of growing up confused with two moms, by a California professor named Robert Oscar Lopez, fits as much into the category of quirky memoir as political manifesto. Self-described as bisexual and long vexed by social awkwardness and trouble with relationships, Lopez has capital-I Issues with his same-sex parents and thinks that with a regular mom and dad, he would not have gone through so many years as a "social outcast." For me, his essay called to mind the ever-popular, if contrasting, article formula summarized as, "I was raised in a very traditional and religious household, and boy did it ever mess me up, especially on sex and relationships." While listening with due empathy to both kinds of account and appreciating the insights they can afford, it's also prudent to keep in mind that others raised in exactly the same environments and communities (indeed, sometimes even in the same families) grow up happy, well-adjusted, and grateful to their parents. Two conservatives on Twitter, Bethany Mandel of Commentary and Gabriel Malor of the blog Ace of Spades, put the Lopez piece in perspective:
"Use" is the right word. Lopez's essay appeared in Public Discourse, published by the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, N.J. It was Witherspoon, of course, who put $695,000 toward the much-criticized Mark Regnerus/University of Texas study (my take on it here), which advanced the proposition that gay parenting turns out badly. Witherspoon's ties to the National Organization for Marriage, particularly through former NOM chairman and Princeton professor Robert P. George, are so extensive that one could be forgiven for treating the two organizations as wings of a common enterprise. (Call it NOMmerspoon.)
And because of those connections, without claiming any sort of personal clairvoyance on my part at all, I was actually expecting something very much like the Lopez piece to hit the public debate right about now. When internal documents and strategic proposals from the National Organization for Marriage emerged onto the public record this spring as a result of litigation, one of the most striking details was that NOM had budgeted $120,000 for a project to hire staff whose job would be to locate children of gay households willing to publicly denounce their parents. (I observed at the time that this was something to keep in mind when NOM is described as a "pro-family" group.) There was no indication that the proposal had received funding or been acted on, and an organization as visibly identified with battling the gays as NOM might not make the best home for such a project, anyway. What the proposal did, however, was (in effect) telegraph the next punch of the campaign, as NOM and like-thinking groups were intending to fight it. And inevitably, such a first-person account would be heralded in sectors of the conservative press, as the Public Discourse article has been, as the emergence of the Long-Suppressed Truth About What Gay Parents Are Really Like.
Of course, it's nothing of the kind. It's another step in an escalating campaign by seasoned ideological operatives who take perhaps too literally the injunction of the 10th chapter of Matthew: "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother."