by Peter Sprigg
February 21, 2008
[Note: On Wednesday, February 27 at 11:00 a.m., FRC will be welcoming David Blankenhorn for a lecture on his book, The Future of Marriage (Encounter Books, 2007). The lecture will also be available via live webcast at www.frc.org.]
In 1995, David Blankenhorn made one of the most important contributions to the debates over family structure with his book Fatherless America. In it, he compiled the overwhelming social science evidence in support of the common-sense truth that children need fathers as well as mothers.
Now, after years as what he calls a Morally Anguished Fence Sitter on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage, Blankenhorn has finally followed his earlier findings to their logical conclusion by declaring that marriage should be defined as the union of one man and one woman. His new book, The Future of Marriage, lays out in a thorough, scholarly, yet accessible way exactly why marriage exists as a social institution, why the male-female union is intrinsic to it, and how redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would damage it.
Blankenhorn takes the reader on a fascinating tour across time and cultures, noting that the origins of marriage appear to coincide with the origins of civilization. Blankenhorn describes how in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, older cultures which practiced temple prostitution and sex for its own sake came to be replaced by ones (like that of the Hebrews) that recognized marriage and the social importance of fatherhood.
In contrast to such patriarchal societies are ones like the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific, which emphasize a childs descent through her mothers line. Yet even here, marriage and fathers are considered crucial for the raising of children. These two illustrationsas well as quotes from numerous anthropologistsprove that marriage has some features that are virtually universal, and that bridging the male-female divide is one such feature.
Another such feature is that marriage is about sex and procreation. To argue that marriage is not intrinsically connected to bearing and raising children as advocates of same-sex marriage routinely do, is like saying cars are not intrinsically connected to driving because those who purchase them are not required to drive them.
Advocates of same-sex marriage love to ask, What harm could it possibly do? Blankenhorn carefully answers this question by spelling out the dangers of deinstitutionalizing marriage. Marriage is a social institution, defined as a relatively stable pattern of rules and structures intended to meet basic social needs. But if the rules are intentionally violated and the structures are torn down, then the institution will cease to fulfill its social purposewhich, in the case of marriage, is to provide every child with both a mother and a father who are committed to him or her, and to each other.
Some homosexual activists, such as Jonathan Rauch, argue that allowing same-sex couples access to marriage would actually strengthen the institution. Blankenhorn thoroughly refutes that notionin part by pointing out that many of the scholars who are most hostile to the institution of marriage are also the most enthusiastic about legalizing same-sex marriage. One, Judith Stacey, is described as a determined cheerleader for divorce, unwed childbearing, and cohabitationand for same-sex marriage.
In addition to citing individual scholars, Blankenhorn also examines polling data from a number of countries to find out how attitudes toward marriage correlate with legal recognition of same-sex unions. Blankenhorn found that countries with same-sex marriage also have the weakest support for marriage as an institution.
Blankenhorn takes on the superficial analogy between banning same-sex marriage and banning interracial marriage, arguing that is actually the advocates of same-sex marriage, not the opponents, who resemble the advocates of racist anti-miscegenation laws. Both, he says, seek to recreate marriage in the name of a social goal that is fundamentally unconnected to marriage.
Although he sees adult freedom and child well-being as being goods in conflict in this debate, Blankenhorn concludes, For me, sustaining the right of the child to her two natural parents is ultimately more important than granting adults more freedom of choice. This is the core message of his book.
The Future of Marriage is carefully reasoned and thoroughly documented, but Blankenhorn is not above revealing his exasperation with the advocates of same-sex marriage and their public talking points, various of which he describes as nonsense, intellectually vacuous, and clearly preposterous.
However, Blankenhorn is not a social conservative. I count myself as a liberal, he declares. While clearly opposing the redefinition of marriage, Blankenhorn is entirely silent about the political debate over laws or constitutional amendments to protect marriage at the state or federal levels. He also says nothing about marriage counterfeits such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. Social conservatives will gag on several things he says, including his declaration, We as a society can and should accept the dignity of homosexual love.
His acceptance not only of homosexual behavior, but also of premarital sex, appears to be the one logical gap in Blankenhorns argument. For him, the link between marriage and children is clearly a two-way streetthe purpose and definition of marriage has everything to do with children, and children do best when raised by their married biological mother and father. Blankenhorn also affirms that marriage has everything to do with sexual unionbut travels only one way on that street, by failing to recognize that sex itself is best confined to the marriage of a man and a woman. Perhaps after another twelve years and in another book, he will come around on that issue as he has on same-sex marriage.
Blankenhorns lingering liberalism actually underlines the importance of his book. With the publication of The Future of Marriage, no one should ever again get away with charging that opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in ignorance, religion, or anti-gay bigotry. For that, we owe David Blankenhorn a major debt of gratitude.
Peter Sprigg is vice president for policy at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and the author of Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage.