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Marriage matters

Interview | Author David Blankenhorn argues in a new book against same-sex marriage-and for leaving homosexuality out of the debate

Issue: "The yoot vote," Aug. 4, 2007

The New York Times described David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, as a "consensus builder for a moral base in society," and he is true to form in The Future of Marriage (Encounter, 2007). He marshals strong secular arguments against proponents of same-sex marriage and undermines their rhetorical claim-but are those arguments strong enough?

WORLD: You write that "across cultures, marriage is above all a procreative institution. It is nothing less than the culturally constructed linchpin of all human family and kinship systems." What is some of the anthropological evidence for that?

BLANKENHORN: To write this book, I spent a year studying what the great anthropologists have concluded about marriage. In particular, I wanted to learn what, if any, are the common features of marriage across human societies. What is always a core purpose of marriage, in every known human society? Here is the answer: Everywhere, marriage exists in large part to ensure that the woman and the man whose sexual union makes the child, stay together in a cooperative union to raise the child. Another way to put it is that, through marriage, biological parents also become legal and social parents. This finding is widely shared-it is not really controversial-among the leading scholars of marriage in the modern period.

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WORLD: You write that Judith Stacey, an NYU professor who was the Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at USC, "has suddenly found her pro-marriage voice." So have other advocates of gay marriage. Why do you doubt them?

BLANKENHORN: Judith Stacey has spent her entire lifetime arguing that marriage is a terrible institution and should be overturned. Now, all of a sudden, she has finally found something about marriage that she can like! What she likes is same-sex marriage. She has become a real crusader on the issue, including offering "expert" testimony in court cases about the benefits of (gay) marriage. Why? Has she changed her mind about marriage as a social institution? Not at all. She is convinced-and I believe she is correct-that adopting same-sex marriage will undermine and help to overturn the institution of marriage as we have known it. For her, that would be a good day's work.

WORLD: Advocates of gay marriage say they are the successors to those who struggled for the right of whites and blacks to marry. You argue that today's gay rights activists are more like the segregationists than the civil rights pioneers. Why?

BLANKENHORN: Yes, both groups-yesterday's advocates of segregation, and today's advocates of gay marriage-seek to use marriage to achieve a social goal that is essentially unrelated to marriage. For one, the goal was racial separatism, and to achieve that goal they were willing to say that a black person of one sex could not marry a white person of the other sex-an explicit violation of marriage's main form, which is to bring together men and women, not keep them apart!

For the other group, the goal is reducing homophobia, and to achieve that goal they are willing to say that marriage is no longer based on bridging the male-female sexual divide, but should instead be organized on the basis of sexual orientation. The problem is, marriage in human history has never had anything to do with sexual orientation. Marriage has always and everywhere been about bringing together the male and the female for procreation and a common life.

Most people today agree that racial separatism is a despicable goal, so there is no problem in realizing that yesterday's segregationists were wrong to try to use marriage in the way that they tried to use it. But many people today-and I am one of them-believe that reducing homophobia is in fact a worthy, important goal, and so there is real conflict in how we evaluate the current push for gay marriage. The issue is not good versus bad, but good versus good-that is, one good goal, protecting marriage, in conflict with another good goal, reducing homophobia. To me, in this trade-off, it's ultimately more important, when it comes to marriage, to try and protect and strengthen the institution, primarily because of how it affects children. That's why, with some reluctance, I oppose same-sex marriage.

WORLD: An academic gathering you chaired in 2004 came up with 23 positive consequences of gay marriage and 24 negative consequences. How do you expect such a scoreboard to convince the powerful societal advocates of gay marriage?

BLANKENHORN: Well, in the book, I offer what I think is a strong, sustained argument against gay marriage. But in this debate, I think it's important to wrestle with the fact that both sides have a case. There are, in my view, plenty of valid reasons to favor gay marriage. If for some people that seems too complicated, or too much like a scoreboard-well, so be it. I didn't make it that way. It just is that way.

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