Jephthah’s Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family ‘Equality’
edited by robert oscar lópez and rivka edelman
createspace, 484 pages, $19.99
magine that an interrogator has imprisoned someone and binds his mouth shut with electrical tape. For hours the interrogator harangues the prisoner on a single topic on which the interrogator and the prisoner disagree, using threats, passionate reproach, and questionable data. Rich and elite friends are brought in to assure the prisoner that all right-thinking people share the interrogator’s beliefs, on the grounds of rationality and human rights. While the prisoner is bound and gagged, the interrogator’s friends get busy smearing the prisoner’s reputation online and telling his employer that he should be fired. They also inform everyone who will listen that the prisoner’s personal stories—stories casting doubt upon the interrogator’s views—are lies.
Then imagine that the prisoner is ungagged, and free to speak safely and uninterruptedly for as long as he wants. He will burst forth with a great amount and variety of material, not in a linear order, but in an attempt to address every one of the indignities and lies he suffered. He will retell his personal experiences to reveal their texture and their truth. He will show how the interrogators’ numbers were cooked. He will disclose the hypocrisy of the elites. He will provide perspectives and logical arguments never considered during his ordeal.
That’s what it feels like to read Jephthah’s Daughters cover to cover, because it was written by a group of men and women who have been personally and professionally vilified and marginalized for their work to preserve children’s right to be united with both their mother and their father. The authors have experience and expertise in areas ranging from divorce (by opposite-sex parents) to assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) to same-sex unions. Many personally reflect upon the experience of being a child in one of these situations. Their stories are a wild ride.
s a board member of the International Children’s Rights Institute, I am accustomed to treating most developments in American family law from the child’s perspective, but I have never seen a book prior to this one attempt such a fearless, apolitical, child-centric, and unified “field theory” of modern family law. The authors are devoted to seeing family policy from the point of view of a child’s right to remain connected to both her mother and her father. Most treatments of these issues—divorce, ARTs, same-sex marriage—discount or ignore exactly this concern.
They demonstrate that lawmakers, corporations, universities, interest groups, and a lot of individuals (heterosexual or LGBT) are more willing to indulge adults’ wants than to consider, let alone sacrifice for, children’s needs. They show the creeping and enormous effects of the work of groups assuming the right to “reinvent what people in the rest of the world do with their genitals, how they feel about it, and what they can and cannot say about it.”
A fair amount is familiar to an informed reader: the dearth of rational engagement by supporters of adult-centric policies, the public willingness to believe research showing harm to children without two parents in every context other than same-sex marriage, the hypocrisy of elite universities and professional societies that loudly assert their civil rights credentials by endorsing same-sex marriage—costing them nothing—while failing to help children who cannot afford their services, and the heavy hand of U.S. power in the giving and withholding of foreign aid based upon a poorer nation’s disposition to same-sex marriage.
he authors open up perspectives rarely seen. They are willing to grapple with data, but insist on the importance of deep and deeply felt human truths about love and family found in philosophy, literature, and human experience. Individual biographies bring to life the feelings of loss and dislocation children suffer without their parents. The story of the twins created for two lesbian adults from an Arab and British sperm donor and an Italian egg donor is painful to read: the dark-skinned girl, technically the twin sister to her fair brother, possesses no history with or cultural ties to her visible race, and no ethnic or cultural ties with her legal parents. She reports that people “told me to speak the language [Arabic]. . . . But of course I couldn’t!”
The authors also level accusations and make analogies that no one without their personal experiences would dare. They accuse same-sex (and sometimes opposite-sex) parents of using their children for display as ornaments. They charge the American public, including conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage, with hypocrisy for not similarly speaking out against opposite-sex divorce. Gay rights groups are blamed for turning a blind eye to the mental and physical distress that is part of the heartless marketplace of gay sex, focusing instead on the fight for same-sex marriage. The authors report on how children in gay and lesbian households can be exposed to the adults’ sex lives.
Co-editor Robert Oscar López argues that there is widespread misogyny and even antipathy to natural procreation in LGBT culture. Same-sex parenting is deemed an extension of rampant Western materialism. Steering children into same-sex households is compared to earlier and troubling episodes in American history involving Native American and South American children being handed over to privileged whites. Finally, López outright labels as “slavery” the buying and selling of children via surrogacy transactions. Quoting Samuel Sewall, the “first American abolitionist,” on the “three crimes” of slavery, he cites slavery’s “three separations: that of children from parents, men from women, and people from their origins.” To this López simply writes “Thank you,” and closes the chapter.
Not every essay in this collection succeeds, but in a time when the child’s voice is almost never heard, this book is necessary and important. It is a present-day combination of Judith Wallerstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study and Wendell Berry’s Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, giving us the fresh perspective of the latter and the painful truth of the former, twenty-five years ahead of its time.
Helen Alvaré is professor of law at George Mason University.