“The only major factor in the case is Rod’s sexuality, which is just a result of ignorance on the part of the people of Virginia.”

Remember the divorcing Virginia couple, gay father, fighting for custody of their daughter? My student is writing here in defense of the father’s claim.

Briefly: still-smoking lung-cancer survivor (one lung removed) mother, homosexual father with live-in partner, 11-year-old daughter. Divorce five years prior. On the basis of “the best interests of the child” the original custody decision went to father as the more stable parent, the principal care-giver for most of the girl’s life, initially the one who wanted custody. After the mother recovers from surgery she appeals the decision; second judge awards custody to her because the father is gay and Virginia law forbids “homosexual conduct” ( the father was by then violating the first judge’s condition that the partner not be live-in). “He is breaking the laws of the state of Virginia every day,” says Judge Number Two, “and no child should be in the custody of a criminal.” (This is evidently still the policy, as a recent article indicates.)

In taking Rod’s side my student means to say that the laws of Virginia are ignorant laws, and anyone who would tease the daughter (as her dear little schoolmates did) is ignorant too. A fine position.

What my student says, however, is that Rod’s sexuality is the result of the ignorance of an entire stateful of people. Well, I say, shame on him for listening to a bunch of ignorant people! He should have thought out his sexual issues for himself!

Oh, that adjective clause. It really, really has to modify a noun that coexists in the same sentence—indeed, that immediately precedes it. The law of grammar says, inevitably, then, that Rod’s sexuality was a result of ignorance on the part of the people of Virginia. If only they had known better, they might have managed to get him a more legally-conforming sexuality, I guess.  How cruel that their ignorance has victimized Rod and his daughter in this way.

Well, their ignorance has victimized Rod and his daughter, by continuing to tolerate this law. The meaning of the sentence may not be accurate, but the consequences are six of one, as the saying goes.

And curing the ignorance of the people of Virginia would fix the problem in this case either way. Sounds like a plan.


About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““The only major factor in the case is Rod’s sexuality, which is just a result of ignorance on the part of the people of Virginia.”

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    The title is certainly a head spinner.
    Oh, Virginia! Dare?

  • Delft

    The clause introduced by “which” above is an adverb clause, not an adjective one, which is a way of saying it modifies “is the only major factor”, not the “sexuality” Grammatically the sentence is correct, however amusing it may sound.

  • RAB

    Delft, I have to disagree. The student may have thought of it as some sort of adverb, but clauses that begin with relative pronouns modify nouns or pronouns: they are adjective clauses. In fact, I think the writer is trying to modify something not even in the sentence: the law that makes the father’s sexuality a factor, major or not. If the law were indeed in the sentence, the adjective clause would merely be misplaced, not completely incorrect.

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