Conversion and Abuse
Nebraska Family Alliance (NFA) representative Karen Bowling testified in support of conversion therapy before the Nebraska legislature in February 2019. Conversion therapy is the discredited medical practice of trying to make gay people straight.
Because conversion therapy has been shown not to work, the legislature was considering a bill that would classify advertisements promising gay conversion as a deceptive trade practice. The same evening, the legislature was considering a bill to classify attempted conversion of children as a form of child abuse, in accord with the positions of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and all of the nation's other leading professional medical organizations, which consider it harmful to children.
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks asked Bowling:
How would a child have the ability to say no to parents who take a child to conversion therapy?
That's between the parent and child Bowling answers.
That's the problem, Pansing Brooks responds,
And that's where the government needs to come in and protect the child.
The assertion that government should protect a child from that child's own parents is antithetical to NFA. Bowling explains to Pansing Brooks:
We give a kind of carte blanche to a parent to drive a child's wellbeing. Will there be abuses? Unfortunately yes.
Family as understood by NFA designates a very specific thing: a married man and woman, with children, living out conventional gender roles. The Family is the building block of a certain social order. Above all, it is built on a certain kind of sexuality.
The abuse of conversion therapy is an acceptable price, in NFA's eyes, to defend Family. That is, to defend the narrow ideal of Family that functions as an animating ideology. As we'll see, abuse is often encountered in defending this ideal.
Being in the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Bowling observed in her committee testimony, a youth counseling program
could very well come in violation of the law if it were
from a faith tradition that recognizes what she calls
Sexual purity evidently necessitates straightening out gays, but it's not the only thing that NFA asks of Nebraskans' sexuality. This is the second article in a series about how NFA deploys lawyers, lobbyists, and judges to enforce their notions of sexual purity.
Divorce was the original perceived threat to Family. No-fault divorce laws designed to make abusive marriages easier to escape and to make divorce proceedings easier on children were sweeping across states starting in the 1970s. These laws worked very well, greatly reducing murder, suicide, and assault in marriages, particularly of women. Also, no-fault divorce laws had the surprising long-term effect of reducing the divorce rate.
Nebraska conservative Christians were upset by this.
The fact is, the single most-threatening cultural trend Nebraska families face today is the breakdown of the family, and specifically the separation by divorce of married couples. The threat the gay community poses to marriage and families in Nebraska is minuscule compared to the impact of the breakup of families. wrote the co-founder of the organization Family First.
It's harder to get out of a lawn-service contract than it is to get a divorce. Family First is one of two organizations that would later merge to form NFA.
Of course, closing an escape hatch for abused women would not help actual families. But it would help the Family, the ideology: a religious idealization of heterosexuality, so important that abuse is an acceptable price.
In 2004, Nebraska modernized its domestic assault law to use the phrase "intimate partner" so that the law would be expanded to unmarried couples, including gay couples. Family First was against the new protection for couples. Executive Director Dave Bydalek said
I am aware there are domestic assaults involved in dating, but the public policy of recognizing dating and other types of relationships outside the context of marriage cheapens the important of marriage in our society.
Bydalek's regard for marriage lead him to leniency toward intimate partner violence. He would become Nebraska's Chief Deputy Attorney General in 2014.
The other group that would later merge to form NFA was called Nebraska Family Council (NFC). NFC's director Al Riskowski agreed with Bydalek:
recognizing an immoral situation of unmarried people living together
is not upholding the Family.
Many Nebraskans didn't take well to these men advocating for abuse and codifying dating as immoral. As it became clear that Family First and NFC would lose the battle against no-fault divorce, they transitioned to promoting homosexuality as the biggest enemy to Family. The two organizations merged to become NFA in 2013.
Homophobia's increasingly central role to NFA was evident as early as 1997, when Nebraska considered offering a special type of marriage, called covenant marriage, that would have been similar to marriage before no-fault laws. NFC Executive Director Guyla Mills said that she
was concerned about the ease with which couples get divorced and the number of marriages that fall apart, but she saw one problem:
Covenant marriage, while proposed by well-intentioned people, could set a precedent of allowing different types of marriage in Nebraska she said.
That could open the door to some type of same-sex marriage
As we've already seen in their conversion therapy testimony, NFA is just as willing to tolerate
unfortunate abuse in the battle against homosexuality as they were to accept abusive marriages in their battle against divorce.