Blankenhorn (Round 3):

David Blankenhorn and I are continuing an exchange about his arguments opposing gay marriage, expressed in an article for the Weekly Standard and in his new book The Future of Marriage. In his latest posts, he has responded here, asking me to identify weaknesses in the case for gay marriage and strengths in the opposition to it, and here, asking whether I agree that society should take steps to increase the likelihood that children are raised by their married biological parents and refrain from taking steps that make that less likely.

These are fair questions and I’ll respond below. But first I want to emphasize something unique and valuable in Blankenhorn’s work. In The Future of Marriage, Blankenhorn says he believes homosexuality “is closer to being a given than a choice,” that he “disagrees” with the parts of the Bible that are commonly interpreted to condemn homosexuality, and that Jesus’ teachings are inconsistent with the condemnation of gay people. (P. 210) I’m told that in a recent debate with Jon Rauch, Blankenhorn actually affirmed “the equal dignity of homosexual love.” He also said that he “agonized” over the real harm done to gay couples by prohibiting them from marrying. The debate occurred at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank for religious and social conservatives, which shows he's unafraid to say these things in environments potentially hostile to them.

If there were more advocates on both sides in the mold of David Blankenhorn, we’d have a much more civil and fruitful debate over gay marriage. It would be terrific if gay-marriage supporters would occasionally acknowledge that it’s at least possible (though very unlikely) that some unintended harm might occur if marriage is expanded to include same-sex couples and that not all anxiety about gay marriage arises from base hatred of gay people. And it would be terrific if gay-marriage opponents could at least acknowledge that they are asking gay couples and families to bear the burden of not running that cultural risk.

Having said all that, I’m a bit disappointed by Blankenhorn’s lack of response to my specific criticisms of his argument. I challenged on several grounds his claim that gay marriage in Europe is contributing to a miasma of anti-marriage attitudes. Blankenhorn offers no defense against the criticism that his argument rests on correlation alone and that this is insufficient to show gay marriage has caused anything bad to happen. He makes no response to the observation that non-traditional attitudes about marriage and family life in pro-SSM countries preceded gay marriage and so could not have been caused by gay marriage. He says nothing about how several other long-term and deep systemic factors likely caused non-traditional attitudes about marriage in Europe long before SSM entered the picture. He ignores correlations in countries with gay marriage that cut in favor of the reform (like rising marriage rates). He passes by correlations in countries without gay marriage that cut against his opposition (less respect for women’s equality, less commitment to individual rights, etc., in countries like Saudi Arabia). He still demonstrates no real familiarity with the complexity of the debate on the left over the effects of gay marriage, and particularly the concerns expressed by many marriage radicals that gay marriage will reaffirm the normativity of marriage.

His only response is that there’s nothing new to respond to. He’s a busy man, so I don’t entirely fault him for this. But it seems to me he has left a lot on the table. That’s his right, and like him I’m content to let readers decide whether he has more to answer at the very heart of his empirical arguments.