David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt are distinguished scholars, whose books on fatherlessness, marriage, and divorce have made valuable contributions to debates over family policy. Yet their recent opinion piece in the Raleigh News & Observer opposing North Carolinas proposed marriage amendment (Amendment goes too far, April 11) is unrealistic about the current political, legal, and social landscape with respect to same-sex marriage.

If, as they say, marriage is a uniquely important institution that unites mothers and fathers to their children, then surely it is reasonable to acknowledge the importance of that institution not only with a unique name, but by conferring on it a unique set of benefits. Society gives benefits to marriage because marriage gives benefits to society. Since same-sex relationships can never give to society the two key social benefits of marriage between a man and a woman (natural procreation, and both a mother and father for the resulting children), there is no reason to give same-sex couples legal benefits on the basis of their sexual union.

This hardly leaves such couples and their children outside of the protection of our laws. Homosexual individuals who have their own biological or adopted children have the same rights as any other parent. Inheritance issues can be addressed through a will. Medical decision-making can be addressed through a health care proxy, and North Carolina recently passed a law addressing concerns about hospital visitation. The states proposed marriage amendment explicitly permits such private contractual arrangements.

Mr. Blankenhorn, who testified in defense of Californias marriage amendment, Proposition 8, says that he could do so in good conscience because California already recognized domestic partnerships. Yet he must be aware that the Ninth Circuit court panel which ruled against Prop 8 in February said they did so largely because the state already recognized domestic partnershipsrationalizing that denying same-sex couples only the word marriage while granting all of its benefits was evidence of a desire to dishonor a disfavored group. (The courts reasoning was tortured and irrationalbut must be taken into account by anyone who wishes to preserve the definition of marriage.)

Every state that has now redefined marriage began that process by first granting domestic partnerships or civil unions. Were not in Vermont 2000 any more, and it should be clear to all (including Blankenhorn and Marquardt) that civil unions no longer serve, in either courts or legislatures, as an alternative to redefining marriage. They are instead a forerunner paving the way for such redefinition.

Whether I agreed or disagreed with them, I have always considered Blankenhorn, Marquardt, and their Institute for American Values to be a model of civil discourse on these issues. That is why I was particularly disappointed at the pejorative tone employed in their piece. Was Mr. Blankenhorn ignoring and ostracizing single mothers when he wrote his book on the importance of fathers? Was Ms. Marquardt exhibiting cold indifference to people with failed marriages when she wrote her book on how children of divorced parents suffer? Are both of them guilty of disdain, overt antagonism, and bigotry against gay and lesbian persons because they themselves believe marriage should remain . . . the union of a man and a woman? There are many advocates of same-sex marriage who would say so. It seems odd for Blankenhorn and Marquardt to borrow such rhetoric from the very advocates for redefining marriage who have regularly employed it against them.

There is nothing unprecedented about the stricter language employed in theNorth Carolinaamendment. Nineteen of the twenty-nine states which have already amended their constitutions to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman have likewise protected the uniqueness of the institution of marriage, and not just the single word.

North Carolina is the only state in the South that has not adopted a marriage amendment, and all but two Southern states have the stronger form of amendment which will be on the ballot May 8.

North Carolinas marriage amendment goes exactly as far as necessary to protect the institution of marriage.