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Blankenhorn and Rich

Posted By Dale Carpenter On 06.16.2010 @ 1:19 AM In General,Marriage | Comments Disabled

Twenty years ago the voters of San Francisco — San Francisco — voted down an anemic domestic-partnership registry. Within the memory of every adult reading this, the public-policy positions David Blankenhorn has taken would have placed him at the pro-gay fringes of American political life.  They still put him in the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

On the subject of same-sex marriage, I believe David is a man at war with himself. He has spoken publicly, in a forum of anti-SSM conservatives, of the equal dignity of homosexual love. Note the words dignity and love. This is not the language of liberal toleration of some hateful thing, like Nazis marching in Skokie; or of some filthy thing, like disgusting sex acts; or of some offensive thing, like burning a U.S. flag. They are not words of a grudging tolerance. They are words of affirmation, approval, and acceptance. When he says he believes we would be a more American America if we let gay couples marry, I think he is saying that he would be a better American if he could support it: truer to the country’s traditions of pluralism, liberty, and equality. Truer to his own American values.

I have had many conversations with David about same-sex marriage. I have watched him closely when he speaks about it. I listen not just for the words but for the meaning. I have heard him get worked up about it, become intense and passionate. But his passion on the subject has nothing to do with excluding gay families from marriage. His heart just isn’t in that. When he says that marriage would improve the lives of gay couples and their children, I think he believes that. And I think he believes it for two reasons: because he believes marriage is a force for good in our lives and because he gives a damn about the lives of gay Americans.

When he says he favors gay adoptions, I think he is saying that gay parents are good parents. Likewise, I believe him when he says that allowing gay marriage would help stabilize gay families; lead to more, and more committed, gay relationships; and even reduce hate violence against gay people. I think he genuinely believes, as he testified in California, that gay marriage would mean fewer children growing up in foster care and more growing up in loving homes. Civil unions, which he has publicly supported, are his way to call a truce in a national, but also deeply personal, conflict.

David doesn’t oppose gay marriage because he opposes gay people. He opposes it because he’s worried it would have unintended negative effects on marriage. He’s concerned that a longstanding institution, with cross-cultural and trans-historical importance, might be weakened in ways that are hard to predict but that might mean fewer marriages overall, more divorces, more out-of-wedlock births, more kids raised without their fathers in the home. In fact, the last of these possible effects is the only one I have ever heard him get really passionate about in this debate.

I can say I think he’s wrong. I can say I think his worries are misplaced. I can say I believe there is a disconnect between effect and cause here. I can say that one day I think he’ll change his mind.

What I can’t say, as Frank Rich has now repeatedly suggested, is that David is an anti-gay bigot. I don’t see how anyone who has reviewed David’s writings, speeches, and California testimony, could honestly say such a thing.  And I think we owe people who struggle with this issue, as opposed to real homophobes who certainly do not struggle with this issue, the benefit of the doubt.

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