Ohio Senate Candidate J.D. Vance Explains Comments About People Staying in Unhappy, 'Even Violent' Marriages

The Republican author of Hillbilly Elegy said last September that Americans were tricked by the sexual revolution into thinking it’s okay to “shift spouses like they change their underwear”

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JD Vance. Photo: Lloyd Bishop/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who's running for Senate in Ohio, explained comments he made about people who "shift spouses like they change their underwear" to leave unhappy or "even violent" marriages.

Speaking at Pacifica Christian High School in Southern California last September, Vance said, "One of the great tricks that I think the sexual revolution pulled on the American populace" was to convince people that divorce would "make people happier in the long term" if they're leaving marriages that "were fundamentally, you know, they were maybe even violent, but certainly they were unhappy."

"Maybe it worked out for the moms and dads, though I'm skeptical. But it really didn't work out for the kids of those marriages," Vance said, according to video of the event published by Vice News on Monday. "And that's what I think all of us should be honest about, is we've run this experiment in real time. And what we have is a lot of very, very real family dysfunction that's making our kids unhappy."

Vice News asked Vance why he believes "it would be better for children if their parents stayed in violent marriages than if they divorced," according to the outlet's report on his September comments.

"I reject the premise of your bogus question," Vance replied in a statement sent by a campaign staffer. "As anyone who studies these issues knows: domestic violence has skyrocketed in recent years, and is much higher among non-married couples. That's the 'trick' I reference: that domestic violence would somehow go down if progressives got what they want, when in fact modern society's war on families has made our domestic violence situation much worse. Any fair person would recognize I was criticizing the progressive frame on this issue, not embracing it."

"But I can see that you are not a fair person, so rather than answer your loaded and baseless question, let me offer the following: I'm an actual victim of domestic violence," Vance continued. "In my life, I have seen siblings, wives, daughters, and myself abused by men. It's disgusting for you to argue that I was defending those men."

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Eli Hiller/Bloomberg via Getty

Incidents of intimate partner violence decreased during the 20-year span between 1995 and 2015, according to data cited by Vice News in its report, which notes that academic studies have shown that non-married couples may be more likely to experience violence in their relationships than married couples.

In his 2016 memoir, Vance alleged that long ago his "violent non-drunk" grandmother threatened to kill his "violent drunk" grandfather if he came home intoxicated.

When he did, Vance writes, according to Vanity Fair, "Mamaw, never one to tell a lie, calmly retrieved a gasoline canister from the garage, poured it all over her husband, lit a match, and dropped it on his chest. When Papaw burst into flames, their 11-year-old daughter jumped into action to put out the fire and save his life."

Hillbilly Elegy documents Vance's harrowing childhood in a poor Rust Belt town. The book was adapted into a Ron Howard-directed Netflix film starring Amy Adams as his volatile, troubled mother, Bev, and Glenn Close as Bev's no-nonsense mom, Mamaw.

Vance spoke about his grandparents' marriage in his comments at Pacifica Christian High School.

"My grandparents had an incredibly chaotic marriage in a lot of ways. But they never got divorced. They were together to the end, till death do us part — that was a really important thing to my grandmother and my grandfather."

Vance said that by the 1970s and '80s, "that was clearly not true" anymore. Kids of that generation, he added, "suffered from the fact that a lot of moms and dads saw marriage as a basic contract, like any other business deal."

In contrast, Vance said the "recognition that marriage was sacred" was a "really powerful thing that held a lot of families together."

"When it disappeared," he reiterated, "unfortunately a lot of kids suffered."

Though Vance described his grandparents' marriage as "violent," he wrote in his memoir that they reconciled by the time he was born and helped raise him and provide him with safety and stability when his mother was not able to do so, according to the Vice News report.

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