Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blankenhorn Defects on Gay Marriage

Over the past decade, polling on same-sex marriage has seen a dramatic swing. Once a marginal, even fringe position, support for gay marriage has become a mainstream, perhaps even a majority position, The most recent poll I've seen has a plurality in favor (42/40), and I have little doubt that given another few years, support for marriage equality will consistently be the majority position.

Implicit in that shift is that people who used to oppose gay marriage now support it. Many of those are, of course, ordinary citizens who have realized that marriage equality is just the latest permutation of the American credo demanding equal dignity, rights, and respect for all. Some are high profile political and social figures whose shifts have made major headlines (ranging from Barack Obama to Colin Powell to Bill Clinton).

But the announcement by David Blankenhorn (H/T: Dale Carpenter) that he now supports gay marriage may be, in a sense, bigger than all of these. Blankenhorn, obviously, does not have the profile of the President of the United States. But Blankenhorn's career as a public intellectual has been as one of the most prominent opponents of the same-sex marriage. He represents possibly the highest profile defector from that position to the side of equality.

Blankenhorn's reasons for his shift are interesting. He does not recant his belief that there is a positive good in children being raised by their biological parents. But he acknowledges that outside a few lonely voices writing newspaper editorials, the campaign against same-sex marriage has not been characterized by concerns about parenting, but about dehumanizing gays and lesbians. And perhaps even more importantly, from his vantage point, opposing gay marriage has had no discernible impact on any of the tangible ways Blankenhorn had hoped it would strengthen the institution of marriage as whole. His belief that stopping gay marriage would strengthen marriage has been falsified, and so he no longer holds the belief. That is an all-too-rare case of intellectual integrity, and it is worth applauding.

In essence, Blankenhorn now concedes that whatever trivial impacts opposing gay marriage has on strengthening heterosexual marriage (and he, like I, am unconvinced these impacts are real), they are vastly outweighed by the enduring dignitary and de jure harm such bars place upon gays and lesbians. He's right, and his transition represents the crumbling of credible intellectual opposition to the project of gay equality. It's just not that complicated.

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