David Blankenhorn Changes His Mind About SSM

Over the past few years, David Blankenhorn has been a leading intellectual opponent of same-sex marriage. In 2007, he published The Future of Marriage, which in my view is the most persuasive book opposing it.  In 2009 he was the leading testifier in favor of Prop 8 in the Perry litigation.  His view was never grounded in anti-gay attitudes, however. It was consistently expressed as a desire to support marriage, a legal status and social practice that does indeed serve the important social interest of keeping mothers and fathers together to raise their children.  David was concerned that marriage for same-sex couples might dilute this core purpose and re-orient marriage toward merely satisfying adult desires for love and companionship.

Today, in an important op-ed in The New York Times, Blankenhorn announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, although not without reservation:

I opposed gay marriage believing that children have the right, insofar as society makes it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. . . .  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.

I have written these things in my book and said them in my testimony, and I believe them today. I am not recanting any of it.

Yet he writes that “legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.”  Conciliation is more important than culture war on this issue, he argues. The fight to ban gay marriage has not, he acknowledges, helped marriage in any way.  And it’s clear that an emerging consensus supports marriage for committed same-sex couples.  Most disturbing to Blankenhorn is the underbelly of opposition to gay marriage, which was most recently exposed in several ugly episodes during the North Carolina vote to ban all recognition.  “[T']o my deep regret,” he writes, “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.”

Blankenhorn’s is one of several recent conversions of public figures from opposition to support for same-sex marriage. These include President Obama, President Clinton, Gen. Colin Powell, David Frum, and the conservative social theorist Charles Murray.  (Indeed, in 2008 I organized a symposium at the South Texas College of Law for conservatives who supported and opposed gay marriage; two of the four anti-SSM participants, Frum and Murray, now support it.) The change in attitudes can be measured in other ways. Just today, to the delight of her parents, Vice President Cheney’s daughter, Mary, was married to her partner.

It’s not easy to disagree with people you count as allies. David will gain new friends, but he is going to lose some old ones who will feel betrayed.  Even harder than disagreeing with your friends is doing so in public on an issue on which you have taken a very public stand. Deservedly or not, David’s public reputation has been defined in recent years by his opposition to same-sex marriage.  In fact, his career as a public intellectual and writer has been much richer and more comprehensive than that.  It can now turn to the questions he raised at the end of his op-ed:

Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. For example, once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that marrying before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace? Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation? Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents?

To which David, this same-sex marriage supporter says yes, yes, and yes.