In The New York Times OpEd “How My View on Gay Marriage Changed,” author David Blankenhorn said he has come to the opinion that “legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.”
Blankenhorn reiterated what he has written in his books: “Children have the right … to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. … Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children. At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift.”
He said he still believes what he wrote in his books. But “the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over.”
Blankenhorn still holds to a traditional definition of marriage. He believes “gay marriage has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization.” But he concedes that proponents of same-sex marriage have triumphed, not on the merits of their argument, but on public relations points. If, as surveys predict, a majority of Maine voters will vote yes on Question 1 on Tuesday, credit for this radical shift in opinion is due to a skillfully waged publicity campaign. To achieve this end, it has been necessary to induce a case of cultural amnesia.
Why do states license marriages? Marriage belongs, not to the state, but to a moral and cultural component of society that transcends the state. Many of our laws reflect the values of this moral/cultural tradition. Laws, in turn, can influence society’s values; civil rights legislation achieved that. The argument for same-sex marriage has chiefly been built on a spurious analogy with racial minorities’ struggle for civil rights.
Marriage doesn’t mean only one thing. But existing laws’ “bias” in favor of traditional marriage originates in biological reality, and in a once-prevalent belief that it is good for a child to have a mother and a father. From the late 20th century until now, this concept has been systematically undermined by a number of developments: for example, “no fault” divorce laws; public assistance programs that discourage rearing children in a home with a stable male presence; and the entertainment media’s marketing strategy of glamorizing promiscuity and sexual experimentation. These issues aren’t on the Maine ballot this year.
A 2010 Pew Research Center survey reported that 39 percent of adults think marriage is obsolete. Since 1990, out-of-wedlock births in the U.S. have increased from around 25 percent to more than 40 percent. Children living in single-parent families are (statistically) at risk for being poor, staying poor, dropping out of school and becoming pregnant as teenagers.
Having dispensed with the idea that sexual differentiation and childbearing have anything to do with marriage, the heralds of the “new consciousness” are looking for new territories to conquer. Philosophy professor Elizabeth Brake, author of Minimizing Marriage, asks: Why only two people? Why can’t men marry their sisters? What does sexual intimacy have to do with marriage? Why shouldn’t Oscar and Felix, or any assortment of “caring” apartment-mates or companions, have the legal rights and benefits now enjoyed by married couples?
Reader, I know many same-sex partners are loving, conscientious parents. I recognize the accomplishments of single parents and their children. I haven’t said advocates of same-sex marriage intend to destroy marriage. Perhaps a case can be made for granting same-sex couples many of the proverbial 1,400 rights and benefits now denied them.
But it would be an abuse of government authority — an example of Orwellian Newspeak — to redefine marriage, even by democratic vote, in order to affirm lesbians’ and gay men’s forms of sexual expression. It would be one more assault on children’s right to know and be nurtured by the parents whose physical love produced them.
The Rev. Charles Bradshaw is a pastor living on Mount Desert Island.