See my other blog for a series of posts on the same-sex marriage debate that happened at the Skyline Church last summer. I’ll likely be discontinuing this blog in an effort to consolidate everything in one place.
Mark Oppenheimer’s hour-long interview gives some interesting nuance to Blankenhorn’s transition from family advocate to gay marriage opponent and back.
In an NY Times op-ed published online today, David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values formally announced that he has changed his mind (sort of) about same-sex marriage. I recommend everyone interested in this issue (and civil rights generally) read his essay. We can summarize his reasoning as follows.
- Marriage is supposed to be and has been X, but it’s become Y.
- Because of this change fewer and fewer heterosexuals see the need to marry.
- If we hope to preserve some semblance of marriage as X, we need to embrace marriage as Y, so that proponents of this new form of marriage will become fellow defenders of all types of marriage.
X = “Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children.”
Y = “No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond. For this and other reasons, gay marriage has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization, by which I mean marriage’s steady transformation in both law and custom from a structured institution with clear public purposes to the state’s licensing of private relationships that are privately defined.”
The reasoning is a somewhat tortured way of Blankenhorn announcing that he’s a pragmatist not a purist where marriage is concerned. A compromise that allows same-sex couples to wed is better than the alternative future in which declining marriage rates culminate in neither opposite- or same-sex couples wedding.
The more important motivation comes in the final paragraphs where Blankenhorn acknowledges that the hatred spewed by fellow proponents of so-called traditional marriage has spurred his change of heart (or mind). While he believes marriage is about children, recent events have made all the more evident that many SSM opponents care less about children and more about how disgusting they think gays and lesbians are as human beings.
In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing.
He makes the remark in passing, but it harkens back to the question he posed to Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino on June 7th and that I previously wrote about. Hopefully something positive comes of the new coalition he hopes to build.
The Institute for American Values streamed John Corvino’s and Maggie Gallagher’s cordial discussion of same-sex marriage (SSM) on June 7th, 2012 at 18:00 EDT. An archived video of the event is now available. A respectful and lively exchange between two intelligent people who respect one another (rather than see one another as the demonic incarnation of all that is wrong in the world, i.e., the United States) demonstrated, at least, that Gallagher is indeed—as I suspected—a human being and not a construction of the technical media and NOM’s publicity machine. Nevertheless, their discussion ignored key dimensions of the struggle for and against LGBT legal protections. Corvino’s and Gallagher’s friendship and engagement with mostly philosophical (or theoretical) arguments for and against SSM tended to treat the question as a hypothetical and never engaged with the realities of the campaign against civil equality for LGBT people. By treating marriage theoretically—as though it were a potential object, a fantasy to be studied from afar—they ignore the simple fact that opponents of SSM are fighting directly against existing LBGT couples and families. As even Noah Millman points out (via Andrew Sullivan), gay and lesbian couples already live in de facto common-law marriages:
Numerous gay couples settle down for long-term, even life-long relationships of mutual support. They jointly own property. They bear, adopt, and rear children. These are already existing realities, not hypotheticals. They are not the product of state diktats; they are the product of organic cultural change which, in turn, has shaped changes in the law. The question before the people is whether to recognize these realities, and, if so, as what. “As marriage” is one answer – the answer favored by those who want to secure those already-existing arrangements, for families already in them and for future generations who might want to form similar arrangements. And it’s the answer that seems to be getting intuitively more persuasive to more and more people as they look at these couples and at straight marriages and don’t see any fundamental differences that the law should be cognizant of.
To his credit, John Corvino tangentially approaches this point by making the ethical argument that marriage is about two people’s love and commitment—and, presumably, love doesn’t yet need legal recognition to exist. Gallagher essentially argues, as she summarized in one sentence for David Blankenhorn (who hosted the debate), that marriage is about the intimate connection of sex and children (i.e., that sex produces children). That’s a particularly specious connection considering that humans have sex (most of them anyway) year-round, while other species have specific mating seasons. For the former, sex and procreation fortunately coincide, while for the latter, the two have a more necessary connection. That’s a scientific question anyway, which Gallagher isn’t qualified to opine on and which has little to do with marriage.
In fact, getting from children to sex to marriage requires so many leaps that it weakens her position. What if we don’t agree that sex, much less marriage, necessarily leads to children, especially in the age of birth control and couples who choose not to have children? The argument she makes to Blankenhorn is really against LGBT couples raising children, against divorce for any couple, and against contraception. It sounds more and more like an orthodox Catholic position all the time, and more and more out of step with the way people (including lay Catholics) actually conduct themselves. Gallagher’s case is a Catholic, theological one slightly disguised as a biological and secular, philosophical one. You must accept her religious premises to agree with everything that follows—the fact that Corvino (and most people) don’t accept those premises is the reason he will never agree (philosophically) with her.