By Martin Cothran, Senior Policy Analyst for The Family Foundation
If you had been monitoring Twitter on the weekend of March 3-4, you would have amazed to find out that The Family Foundation was in favor of child brides. That’s right. 13-year-olds no less.
It wasn’t true, of course. We had concerns with only one part of Senate Bill 48, which prohibited all marriages involving anyone under 17 and putting judges in charge of deciding whether 17-year-olds could marry. The problem was that judges had completely displaced parents in the procedure involving 17-year-olds.
Under the original legislation, a judge could approve the marriage of a 17-yearold without the parents’ knowledge or consent. It was a problem not only for The Family Foundation, but with several other members of the committee charged with considering it.
We approached the chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), and asked him to fix this. He agreed that it needed to be fixed and the legislation passed out of his committee on March 6 with universal support.
So why all the fuss about “child brides”?
One of the main reasons this effort got the smear treatment was because the Louisville Courier-Journal ran a story with the headline “Kentucky’s ‘child bride’ bill stalls as groups fight to let 13- year-olds wed.” In the story it was made clear that the group was The Family Foundation. The reporter made one call to The Family Foundation office for director Kent Ostrander and since he was in Frankfort at the time they just went with the story.
The Family Foundation called on the paper to retract the story. They refused, but the attention we brought to its inaccuracies resulted in a rewrite of the article.
The disinformation campaign that followed the story’s publication was not only directed at The Family Foundation, but it ended up becoming a hate-fest directed against parents, against people of faith, and against the poor.
On The Family Foundation’s Facebook page, some poster accused us of wanting to “legalize rape,” of being pedophiles, and many other less savory things – all because we were trying to prevent judges from letting 17- year-olds marry without their parent’s knowledge or consent.
We were “backwater puritan religious conservatives.”
The Twitter sharks then went after Kentuckians themselves. “Hillbillyland,” a poster of Facebook called it. As the Washington Examiner later put it, “Twitter exploded with takes about those knuckledragging, banjo-playing, cousin-marrying, inbred mountain people.”
It was ugly and hateful.
In the committee meeting called to pass the revised bill, Westerfield said, “At no point were the parties from Survivor’s Corner or The Family Foundation, or the legislators that raised concerns at odds with one another. There was a concern about protecting the role of parents. That narrative was distorted and perverted to mean something gross that no one in this room believes in or has advocated for.”
That message is finally getting through, even to the national media, many of whom based their stories on the Courier-Journal’s hit piece – an article that is still on their website with the same deceptive title.