Faith In America recently sat down with David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, to discuss his personal spiritual reflections on his decision to support marriage equality for gay and lesbian individuals.
Blankenhorn’s voice is that of yet another individual who came to understand the harm caused to gay and lesbian people when we put a moral and legal stamp of less-than on their very being. As someone who served as the chief witness for marriage equality opponents in the California Prop8 case, his voice is indeed a powerful voice of change and inspiration.
The Institute for American Values recently launched “Marriage: A New Conversation”, a project whose goal is reshaping the public dialogue about marriage – including marriage equality for gay and lesbian individuals. Learn more at www.americanvalues.org.
Below is a New York Times article about Blankenhorn’s change of heart and mind and the Institute’s new project.
In Shift, an Activist Enlists Same-Sex Couples in a Pro-Marriage Coalition
By MARK OPPENHEIMER
Published: January 29, 2013
David Blankenhorn, a traditional-marriage advocate and star witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California in 2010, shocked his allies with an Op-Ed article in The New York Times last June announcing that he was quitting the fight against same-sex marriage. “Instead of fighting gay marriage,” Mr. Blankenhorn wrote, “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.”
He is about to find out how much support such a coalition can get.
On Thursday, Mr. Blankenhorn’s research group, the Institute for American Values in New York, plans to issue “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” a tract renouncing the culture war that he was once part of, in favor of a different pro-marriage agenda. The proposed conversation will try to bring together gay men and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with heterosexuals who want to do the same.
The document is signed by 74 well-known activists, writers and scholars, on the left and the right, including the conservative John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; John Corvino, a gay philosopher; Robert N. Bellah, a sociologist; Caitlin Flanagan, a social critic; and Glenn C. Loury, an economist — once conservative, now less so.
“While the nation’s attention is riveted by a debate about whether a small proportion of our fellow citizens (gays and lesbians) should be allowed to marry,” the statement reads, “marriage is rapidly dividing along class lines, splitting the country that it used to unite.”
Nine states as well as the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
Though he has long been a foe of same-sex marriage, Mr. Blankenhorn, who was raised in Mississippi and attended Harvard, never invoked a religious justification and did not oppose civil unions for gay men and lesbians. Instead, he argued that heterosexual marriage was society’s most important institution, central to child rearing.
The new coalition, according to the institute’s manifesto, would be for anyone who wonders, “If unwed childbearing is not good for teens, is it good for twenty-somethings?” Or for those eager to know, “What economic policies strengthen marriage? What marriage policies create wealth?”
“New Conversation” is the capstone of a six-month period of rebuilding and rebranding for Mr. Blankenhorn. After his Op-Ed article appeared, five of his institute’s board members, including Robert P. George, a prominent conservative Catholic and Princeton professor, resigned almost immediately. The institute lost about half a million dollars in donations, “half our discretionary spending,” Mr. Blankenhorn said, referring to money not given by foundations for specific programs. “We’re in a real steep hole,” he added. “I laid two people off and am losing one by attrition.”
The staff members, Mr. Blankenhorn wishes he had back. But losing the board members most inflexibly opposed to same-sex marriage allowed him to retool. Mr. Blankenhorn added to his board a gay journalist, Jonathan Rauch, the author of the book “Gay Marriage,” and Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man.” And Mr. Blankenhorn made William A. Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton now at the liberal Brookings Institution, the chairman of the board.
The “new conversation” may discomfit many conservatives by including gay men and lesbians. And this conversation may not suit many liberals who are wary of stigmatizing unwed parents or treating marriage as some sort of desirable norm.
As a result, this new coalition may have more luck gaining a few prominent supporters than gaining funds.
“David’s personal networks are liberal, but his donor networks are quite conservative,” said Maggie Gallagher, who used to work at the Institute for American Values and is a well-known opponent of same-sex marriage. It can be tough to find money for what could be called a centrist agenda, Ms. Gallagher cautioned, adding that there may be more conservatives willing to accept gay allies than liberals willing to publicly support marriage. Some financing, she said, “will be conservative, but the pro-marriage liberals have to step forward, and maybe make it more 50-50.”
Sean Fieler, the president of Equinox Partners, a New York hedge fund, was Mr. Blankenhorn’s largest donor, until he quit the board. Mr. Fieler, whose average annual donation “ranged from $200,000 to $250,000,” said that a pro-marriage movement could not so easily accept gay and lesbian allies, not if they were seeking marriage rights.
“The problem with gay marriage and the position David has taken,” Mr. Fieler said, “is it promotes a very harmful myth about the gay lifestyle. It suggests that gay relationships lend themselves to monogamy, stability, health and parenting in the same way heterosexual relationships do. That’s not true.”
But a “New Conversation” signatory, Mr. Galston, of the Brookings Institution, said there was no reason that nontraditional families should be excluded from the important discussion at hand: why “marriage and intact families are now becoming markers of a class divide.” Increasingly, he said, it is college-educated and middle-class people who are getting married, regardless of sexual orientation.
The debate, he said, should not be about gay versus straight but about why so few poor people are choosing the benefits of marriage.
Mr. Rauch, who has long been criticized by fellow gay writers for being too conservative, said that it is time to raise different questions: “What does, so to speak, the sexual-orientation-blind, pro-family agenda look like?” he asked. “The family values agenda for the postgay world?”