First published at 365gay.com on September 17, 2007
David Blankenhorn is the kind of same-sex marriage opponent you might consider inviting to your (gay) wedding.
I’m not saying you should. After all, in his books, articles and talks, Blankenhorn has defended the position that same-sex marriage weakens a valuable institution. So when your minister intones “If anyone here has any objections to this union…” all eyes would be on him.
But Blankenhorn is virtually unique among same-sex marriage opponents in his insistence on “the equal dignity of homosexual love.” He has stated this belief repeatedly in his talks, particularly those to conservative audiences. And he stated it again recently in an online “bloggingheads” discussion with same-sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch. Despite his ultimate opposition, Blankenhorn concedes that there are a number of strong reasons for supporting same-sex marriage, not least being our equal worth.
This is an unusual, refreshing, and significant concession.
Before you call me an Uncle Tom—excited about crumbs from the table rather than demanding my rightful place at it—let me be clear.
I think Blankenhorn is dead wrong in his opposition to same-sex marriage. In particular, his argument is marked by some serious fallacies:
(1) The leap from “Most people who want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position support same-sex marriage” to “Most same-sex-marriage supporters want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position.” That’s like moving from “Most professional basketball players are tall” to “Most tall people are professional basketball players.” In fact, most couples who want same-sex marriage do so precisely because they recognize marriage’s special status.
(2) The leap from “Same-sex-marriage support correlates with ‘marriage-weakening behaviors’ (non-marital cohabitation, single-parent childrearing, divorce)” to “Same-sex marriage should be opposed.” Putting aside the questionable claims about correlation, this argument falsely assumes that only bad things correlate with bad things. As I’ve argued before, that’s not so. (Worldwide, affluence correlates with obesity, but it doesn’t follow we should oppose affluence.)
Besides, Blankenhorn overlooks all of the good things that correlate with same-sex marriage (higher education rates, support for religious freedom, respect for women, and so on).
(3) The move from “Children do better with their biological parents than in other kinds of arrangements” to “Same-sex marriage is bad for children.” Blankenhorn’s argument here is more subtle than most. It’s not that gay and lesbian couples make bad parents (indeed, Blankenhorn supports gay adoption); it’s that same-sex marriage reinforces the notion that marriage isn’t primarily about children. And widespread acceptance of that notion—particularly in the hands of the heterosexual majority, who do not escape Blankenhorn’s critique—is bad for children. This argument (which deserves more than a cursory treatment) is marked by a number of dubious empirical assumptions; it also ignores children who are already being raised by same-sex parents and would palpably benefit from their parents’ legal marriage.
Beyond these concerns, I’m tempted to respond to Blankenhorn’s point about “the equal dignity of homosexual love” with an exasperated “Duh!” Yes, we love our partners! We rejoice with them in times of joy; we suffer when they ail; we weep when they die. The failure to notice this is not just obtuse, it’s morally careless. Thanking someone for acknowledging it feels akin to thanking the neighbor kids for not peeing on my lawn, or thanking my students for not sleeping in class—those were never supposed to be options, anyway.
Ironically, it’s largely because of kids that I resist giving this kind of snarky response. It’s all well and good that I think truths about our lives are obvious. But in the real world—the one we actually live in—people believe and spread vicious falsehoods about us. I’m concerned about our kids’ hearing them.
Blankenhorn may be mistaken—even badly so—but he isn’t vicious. What’s more, he has the ear of audiences who would never listen to me, much less to the ideological purists who call me an “Uncle Tom.” And he’s telling those audiences about the equal dignity of our love. I’m genuinely grateful for that.
Would I prefer that Blankenhorn preached the equal dignity of same-sex love without opposing marriage equality? Of course. But I don’t always get what I prefer. And I also realize that, if Blankenhorn shared all of my preferred views, he wouldn’t have the attention of opponents I want to convert—if not to marriage equality, then at least to a belief in our equal dignity.
Do I need Blankenhorn’s approval for my relationship? Of course not. But public discourse matters. Ideas matter; votes matter. They matter to us, and they matter to those who come after us.
When Blankenhorn tells our opponents about “the equal dignity of homosexual love,” he’s talking to people with kids. Some of those kids will be gay. For their sake, I’m critical of him. For their sake, I’m also grateful to him.