Blankenhorn: A Brief Summary
January 12th, 2010
It appears that David Blankenhorn will be the primary witness for the defense of Proposition 8. ProtectMarriage.com’s attorney, Chuck Cooper, has said that Blankenhorn will
- show that the preponderance of historical and social leaders agree that this the naturally procreation sexual act that is protected, that it’s pro-child
- show that if gay marriage is legal, it will lead to higher divorce rates and lower rates of marriage
So let’s look to some of Blankenhorn’s previous writings to get a sense of what he believes. I make no pretense that this is a comprehensive review of Blankenhorn’s positions, or that I have insight to his thinking or his testimony, but it can give us a bit of perspective and perhaps an inkling of what he will say.
First, let’s look at his credentials.
In 1977, he graduated magna cum laude in social studies from Harvard, where he was president of Phillips Brooks House, the campus community service center, and the recipient of a John Knox Fellowship. In 1978, he was awarded an M.A. with distinction in comparative social history from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.
In 1994, Blankenhorn helped to found the National Fatherhood Initiative, serving as that organization’s founding chairman. In 1992, he was appointed by President Bush to serve on the National Commission on America’s Urban Families.
It was through his interest in the fatherhood movement – and his belief that families were best served when the father of the children was active in the family – that he began to advocate for heterosexual only marriage.
So he “spent a year studying the history and anthropology of marriage” before going on the lecture circuit as an expert on the subject. (In contrast, Nancy Cott spent about a decade studying marriage in America before writing her book).
Blankenhorn’s conclusions were rather similar to his starting points: that marriage is contrived primarily to tie parents to their children. In an LA Times op-ed, he stated:
Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among us humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.
Blankenhorn is well educated and articulate. We should expect poise and confidence in his testimorny.
It would seem based on his writing and on the statements of Chuck Cooper that Blankenhorn is going to argue that society benefits by privileging and providing benefits for institutions that create a natural parental unit. However, as I see it, he has a number of challenges to hurdle:
1. Blankenhorn is not opposed to recognition of same-sex relationships. In February 2009 he argued in the NY Times, with Jonathan Rauch, for the federal recognition of civil unions provided that religious objection was protected.
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage.
Unlike many die-hard anti-gay activists, he does not argue that children are endangered by having same-sex parents. Indeed, if so then why would he argue for federal recognition of same-sex relationships? So all he can argue is that there is tremendous importance in the word “marriage” but not necessarily in the structure.
In other words, Blankenhorn does not see a benefit to refusing to recognize same-sex relationships. This leaves him in the position of arguing the distinctions between all the rights, and the name. His only consistent argument must be that same-sex couples should have rights but social disadvantage, a second-class recognition, a lesser status.
This could help establish the claims of Olson and Boies that the supporters of Proposition 8 are primarily seeking to enforce distinct social classes of relationships based on their content, a caste system.
2. Blankenhorn’s insistence that the primary purpose of marriage is to tie a child to its natural parents is not the same thing as the only purpose of marriage. Society has allowed many marriages for which that primary purpose is not applicable, elderly or infertile or intentionally childless couples. Blankenhorn will have to explain how these couples meet the standard of the primary purpose or admit that there are secondary purposes.
Blankenhorn must then argue that the secondary purposes for marriage – those which make marriage appropriate and worth social approval for those childless couples – are present in heterosexual sterile couples but absent in same-sex couples. This will not, I believe, be easy to accomplish.
3. Blankenhorn will also have to explain the exceptions that society and the law have made for heterosexual couples whose marriages do not meet the standard of tying natural parents to their natural children. Why, if a state recognizes divorce, second and third marriages, and adoption, then what is it about same-sex couples that more-greatly separates children from their natural parents?
He may argue that opposite sex couples, even those who are not natural parents, are more successful at raising children than same-sex couples and thus deserve preference and privilege. But, unlike in media campaigns, he’ll have to explain the evidence which does not agree with that assertion.
4. Blankenhorn’s assumptions about marriage ignore history – fairly recent history.
Anyone who has done genealogical research knows that the nuclear family was rare until recently. I’ve traced my family back in this country for four hundred years and, at least in my lineage, a family of full brothers and sisters raised by their natural parents was an exception rather than the rule. Early death was not infrequent and second and third marriages with various step children was a common occurrence.
5. And finally, Blankenhorn’s assumptions about marriage ignore liturgy. Consider the vows made at a wedding. They generally go something like this (from the Anglican Church):
I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.
I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you,
within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In a Catholic wedding the priest will also ask the couple if they will “accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church”. But this is not the focus of the wedding. And I’ve never been at a protestant wedding in which the participants vowed to have children, to raise children, or even to consider the possibility.
It’s possible to argue that Catholic marriages are solely about children, but that is to argue that the State should establish religion.
I don’t know in what context that Blankenhorn will discuss the marriage rates of foreign nations, something that I think may be a difficult subject for him to tackle. As best I can tell, Blankenhorn is not particularly authoritative about analysis of recent European marriage trends, though I may be mistaken.
He will also tell us what “everyone thinks” about marriage. Except, of course, those who do not.
I’m beginning to wonder if Blankenhorn’s sole purpose for inclusion in the case is to say, “see, even liberals who don’t hate gays oppose gay marriage.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see.