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Topics In the News
Prop 8 Witness Blankenhorn Has Evolved
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/22/12
Last updated on: 06/22/12
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David Blankenhorn.

In a New York Times op-ed, David Blankenhorn, who campaigned for Proposition 8 and testified on behalf of it in federal court, has announced that he no longer opposes same-sex marriage. "The time has come for me," he writes "to accept gay marriage and emphasize the good that it can do."

Blankenhorn says that he opposed gay marriage because he believes "that children have the right, insofar as society makes it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world."

Since "No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond," he views gay marriage as "a significant contributor to marriage's continuing deinstitutionalization, by which I mean marriage's steady transformation in both law and custom from a structured institution with clear public purposes to the state's licensing of private relationships that are privately defined."

However, while not recanting those views, he has decided "there are more good things under heaven than these beliefs. For me, the most important is the equal dignity of homosexual love."

He adds, "I don't believe that opposite-sex and same-sex relationships are the same, but I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one's definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness."

He adds, "As I look at what our society needs most today, 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."

Another factor in his evolution, Blankenhorn says, "is respect for an emerging consensus. The population as a whole remains deeply divided, but most of our national elites, as well as most younger Americans, favor gay marriage. This emerging consensus may be wrong on the merits. But surely it matters."

Blankenhorn also acknowledges that "In the mind of today's public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing."

He concludes by declaring that "my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I'd like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. For example, once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that getting married before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace? Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation? Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents?"

Blankenhorn is best known as the ineffectual star witness for the proponents of California's Proposition 8 at the Perry v. Brown trial, which resulted in federal Judge Vaughn Walker's declaration that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

But long before the Prop 8 trial, Blankenhorn had positioned himself as a cultural warrior opposed to marriage equality. He carved out a distinctive niche as someone who supposedly had no animus against homosexuals but was nevertheless adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage.

As Anonymous wrote in "Confessions of a Blog Addict. Or Why I Love to Hate GetReligion.org and FamilyScholars.org", "It must have seemed like a no-brainer career move for Blankenhorn to enter the fray as an activist against marriage equality. After all, at the time he embarked on his crusade, the polls were overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage. The debate would provide an opportunity to raise his profile, promote his institute, sell some books, and pocket lucrative speaking fees."

However, Blankenhorn discovered that there were downsides to taking so prominent a role in a crusade against equal rights.

In the first place, his credentials came under scrutiny, particularly the fact that despite touting himself as a nationally recognized expert on marriage, he has no Ph.D. in a relevant field and has published only a single peer-reviewed scholarly article, and that article had nothing to do with marriage.

Most damagingly for his reputation as an expert, during the Prop 8 trial he was cross-examined by skilled attorney David Boies, who sliced-and-diced his testimony to a fare-thee-well.

Despite having asserted over and over again in various speeches and publications that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry would damage the institution of marriage, under oath a tongue-tied Blankenhorn could not articulate what this damage would be. Nor could he cite any harm that the institution of marriage has suffered in those jurisdictions where same-sex couples have been allowed to marry for more than a decade. Nor could he explain straightforwardly his social science methodology.

Indeed, in his ruling declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Judge Vaughn Walker flatly rejected Blankenhorn's expertise and his testimony as "inadmissible opinion . . . that should be given essentially no weight." He remarked that "None of Blankenhorn's opinions is reliable" or supported by evidence or methodology.

Blankenhorn's activism also attracted the attention of critics who ridiculed his ineffectual testimony and questioned his repeated assertion that he is not a bigot.

Soon before Judge Walker handed down his historic decision, Blankenhorn told Duncan Osborne of Gay City News, "I'm losing friends, being told I'm on the wrong side of history, I'm like Bull Connor," he said, adding "This is the single worst experience I have had in my public life."

He also made the preposterous claim that he had resisted getting involved in the campaign against same-sex marriage: "I feel like the issue hunted me down," he said.

While I am pleased that Blankenhorn has declared the end of his opposition to same-sex marriage, I suspect the decision has less to do with a change of heart and more with the fact that his opposition to same-sex marriage has turned out to be expensive.

It is likely that Blankenhorn's association with the fight against marriage equality has had some impact on his Institute for American Values; it has certainly made fair-minded people suspicious of the organization and its leader.

More generously, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry has issued the following comment upon learning of Blankenhorn's evolution: "His shift on the topic is representative of a large number of Americans, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry for all couples. Blankenhorn's evolution on marriage is similar to the journey that many Americans are on right now. They are taking the time to speak with a couples, understand why marriage matters, and realize that their former opposition to the freedom to marry damages community and violates the values of respect and love that are so important to our country."

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