John Stemberger

Social scientist and Proposition 8 Expert Witness David Blankenhorn recently announced he now “accepts gay marriage” but contradicts himself by insisting he did not retract any of his previous views to the contrary on traditional marriage.

By John Stemberger

Recently David Blankenhorn wrote an editorial in the New York Times where he announced he has now “accepted” same sex marriage. Blankenhorn is a respected social scientist who developed his conclusions on marriage and children based not on religious convictions but instead on the rather extensive body of social science research and data. His body of work has contributed enormously to the movement to strengthen marriage, family, children and fatherhood. He also served as a key expert witness in the California Proposition 8 ballot issue for marriage being defined as a man and a woman.

His recent article presents reasons for what he claims is a change in his view. Yet the most glaring critique of Blankenhorn’s new position is that he cites no research, studies, or new data to support the new position, leaving readers wondering whether he is responding to political pressure.

One can argue from Blankenhorn’s own words that he has not changed his substantive position on marriage’s definition at all. Regarding his previous views on traditional marriage Blankenhorn writes: “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.” Libertarian gay activist Daniel Blatt, author of the “Gay Patriot” blog, rightly notes: “Gay left claims notwithstanding, David Blankenhorn has not come out in favor of ‘marriage equality’.” In some level of double speak, his article both affirms all his previous views supporting the right of children to have both a mother and father, and announces his newfound respect for the “dignity of homosexual love.” This duality sounds more like the statement of a politician than a social scientist.

While I highly respect Blankenhorn and his work, I also believe he is wrong in both his analysis and his conclusions. His newfound position begs a critique of his arguments justifying it.

1)    “Compromise and Comity… Can’t we just get along?” The first real argument Blankenhorn makes is “compromise and comity”. He writes “Surely we must live together with some degree of mutual acceptance, even if doing so involves compromise.” But comity is civility. Comity is shaking your opponent’s hand after a debate. Comity is not submission to an opponent’s position. Likewise, compromise is appropriate in matters of strategy and process but never principle.

He further writes: “I have no stomach for what we often too glibly call ‘culture wars’. Especially on this issue, I’m more interested in conciliation than in further fighting.” Here we get to what appears to be a deeper issue for Blankenhorn: he lacks either the courage or conviction to stand up for what he at one time thought to be right and true. Nor does it sound like he was able to withstand the pressure and intimidation of the homosexual lobby. This is somewhat understandable as they can be relentless in their vitriolic castigation of anyone with a different view of gay rights than their own.

2)  “Respect for an emerging consensus…” Blankenhorn states “most of our national elites, as well as most younger Americans, favor gay marriage,” as he tries to piece together an argument for an emerging consensus he says he must respect. Remarkably, he then admits “This emerging consensus may be wrong on the merits.” Again, sounding very much like a political figure, he argues the so-called emerging consensus “surely matters.” But surely matters of ethics, justice and what research says is best for children should not be topics decided by popular opinion. For the record, Blankenhorn should be reminded of the supermajority opinion of the citizens in 32 states who voted to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Same sex marriage is not inevitable and in fact the empirical data of every state’s referendum vote on the issue presents the exact opposite conclusion.

3)  “Underlying anti-gay animus” Perhaps the most illogical argument Blankenhorn makes is when he says “much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus.” First, it does not follow that because there are some people who harbor ill motives or even hatred in a debate that the opposite side is right and should be joined. Second, Blankenhorn has apparently turned a blind eye to what Maggie Gallagher has called the “wall of hate” gay rights activists have openly and publicly built against people of faith who have expressed a view of marriage that differs from their own. This is the real “animus” in the culture war.

4)  “Emphasize the good that [gay marriage] can do.” Blankenhorn closes with a form of Andrew Sullivan’s conservative argument for gay marriage. He encourages us to “accept gay marriage and emphasize the good that it can do….Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation?” While this could be the best argument gay rights advocates have, it is still fatally flawed.  Theoretically, if a gay-identified person formed a committed monogamous relationship, this is surely preferable to random gay sex and multiple partners that is still the statistical reality for a significant percentage of homosexuals. But one must weigh whatever public good might come from legalizing gay marriage against the overwhelmingly harmful and radical effects on K-12 education curriculum, the further unraveling of marriage as an institution, and the multiple violations of religious rights of conscience.  Blankenhorn stated he hoped his opposition to gay marriage would have strengthened heterosexual marriages, but it has not.  But the struggle to preserve the definition of marriage was never an offensive effort to strengthen marriage. It has always been a defensive effort to preserve the institution of marriage from being further weakened, undermined and diluted. Legalizing homosexual marriage is not just unnecessary, but is affirmatively harmful—to children, to culture and to the common good of society.

In closing, one must ask whether David Blankenhorn really changed his opinion on same-sex marriage—or did he just give a rhetorical concession to get gay rights activists off his back? Whatever the reason for Blankenhorn’s   newfound position, he has developed an inherent contradiction because he claims to change his views on gay marriage without really changing his views. And by attempting to politically appease both sides of a heated cultural debate, he now unfortunately risks losing an alliance with both of those sides as well.

John Stemberger is the President and General Counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council and led the 2008 effort to pass Amendment 2, the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment which defined marriage as a man and a woman in the Florida Constitution.

Read David Blankenhorn’s editorial in the New York Times

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