NEW YORK – David Blankenhorn, who testified as an expert witness on marriage during California's Proposition 8 case (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), surprised supporters when he revealed in a New York Times op-ed last year his radical shift to affirming homosexuality and advocating for same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn discussed Monday evening at The King's College in New York City some of the factors that contributed to his change positioned.
"I said that I changed my position on the issue, and I think that it's very hard to know why one does something of that nature. You'd think it would be simple for you to know how it all came about," Blankenhorn said of his about-face on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. "I still think an awful lot about it and I'm still working through [it]."
He added, "If I had to put it simply, I would say there were two reasons. One was the question of fairness. There are … we have this relatively small number of fellow citizens who are homosexuals, they may be 4 percent of the population. What they are essentially doing, I came to see, is saying they want to be accepted into the mainstream of American life without the stigma and in some respects the criminalization that they have endured historically. They want to be accepted into the mainstream, and I believe they should be accepted because I believe homosexual conduct is benign and I don't believe criminalizing it or stigmatizing it is the right thing to do."
Blankenhorn, founder and president of the nonpartisan Institute for American Values, explained that he mostly decided to embrace the pro-gay marriage movement for pragmatic reasons because "the old way" of advocating for strong families and marriage was not working.
"I had spent my whole professional life trying to strengthen fatherhood and marriage and I expect ... to spend the rest of my professional life trying do the same thing. That's why I get up in the morning and go to work," said Blankenhorn, 57. "I concluded that fighting gay marriage was not working, was not helping me do those things. In fact, it was making it less likely that I was going to do anything positive. So as a kind of strategic matter, I came to believe that the degree to which my efforts and the efforts of my friends and colleagues were just perpetually focused around this one topic of gay marriage. Our way of being pro-family was first and foremost … to be anti-gay marriage. I thought that was just a losing strategy, it was not helping to improve the living conditions of American children."
Blankenhorn, a married father of three who also helped found the National Fatherhood Initiative in 1994, is a strong advocate for child-rearing in a traditional family structure, ideally where both the father and mother are married and present. During yesterday's event, he expressed the hope that his embrace of same-sex marriage and new partnership with members of the gay and lesbian community will help his cause.
"The best way for me to put in a good word for fathers with whatever time I have left, is not to spend it fighting against gay marriage. The way I can do this, I think, is by embracing the legitimate desire for gay and lesbian people to form pair-bonds that are recognized by society. That's not a mother-father issue, that's an equity issue, a fairness issue for gays and lesbians. I want to do that," he explained.
Blankenhorn added that while he continues to promote marital permanence and discourages co-habitation before marriage or having children out of wedlock among heterosexuals, his suggestions are not altered much when it comes to homosexual couples who are pro-family.
"When it gets to homosexual couples, to me – marry, okay; adopt, okay; third-party procreation, no. The same way you would say it for heterosexuals. The world gets a little more complicated. We have to kind of let more people in the conversation, but it seems to me if what I'm trying to do is put in a good word for fathers, I can still do that within the context of accepting gay marriage."
The event Monday evening was billed as a "debate" between David Lapp, an alumni of The King's College, an evangelical Christian liberal arts school, and Blankenhorn on the subject of "Is Gay Marriage Just?" However, Lapp and the former traditional marriage advocate held more of a friendly chat on the issue before a room of less than 100 students and a few faculty. That might have been because Lapp and his wife are research associates at Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values, which has been undergoing a facelift of sorts since the nonprofit reportedly lost five of its board members and an estimated $500 million in donations after Blankenhorn announced his changed position on same-sex marriage.
Key to that rebranding effort is Blankenhorn's "A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage" campaign, rolled out earlier this year with the names of figures like John Podhoretz and Glenn C. Loury among the six dozen signatories. The campaign's appeal proposes "a new conversation that brings together gays and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same."
In addition to founding the Institute for American Values, whose mission is to strengthen families and civil society, Blankenhorn has authored Fatherless America (1995) and The Future of Marriage (2007), the previous of which helped to rally pro-traditional marriage supporters during the height of the debates surrounding Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage and has since been ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and is currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.
Blankenhorn, a Jackson, Miss., native who graduated Harvard magna cum laude in 1977 with a Bachelor's in Social Studies, shared with The King's College community that his relationships with gays and lesbians greatly contributed to his change of heart on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Lapp, providing the Christian perspective against same-sex marriage, countered that it is also their relationship with God as Father that leads some Christians to conscientiously object to redefining marriage.
"It's actually a fruitful way to think about why I and other Christians hold to the traditional view of marriage," said Lapp before referencing Jesus' remarks in Matthew 22:36-40 on the greatest commandment – which the Bible records him saying is "to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."
"The Christian idea is that we are in right relationship with our neighbor when we're in right relationship with our creator, God our Father. God as the creator, and He calls Himself father, He holds a claim on me," continued Lapp. "That relationship with God is supposed to order all of our other relationships."
Referring to the creation account in Genesis and how God "blessed" the union of one man and one woman, The King's College alumni added, "There is an order that God has blessed and it's important for me to live in that order."
Lapp also noted that there are some Christians with same-sex attraction who choose to live in celibacy because they hold the belief that their relationship with God is most important and should order their lives.
Blakenhorn, who reportedly never previously referred to religion in his arguments against same-sex marriage or homosexuality, told Lapp he disagreed with his interpretation of the creation account and also thinks of his own interactions with God as a relationship. He went on to state his belief that the Christian concept of loving the sinner and hating the sin "is wrong" and "sinful" because rejecting how someone chooses to love others "is not what Jesus wants us to do."
A Bible professor at the discussion Monday evening challenged Blankenhorn's opinion that homosexuality is "benign" and insisted that the Bible never presents homosexuality as a "viable pattern of life."
"Your assertion that it's a benign issue ... and that Jesus would be okay with it – as far as the biblical text is concerned, and our ethics are shaped by our morals about what we think is right and wrong, biblically speaking, the text is completely opposed," said Noel Rabinowitz, associate professor of Biblical Studies at The King's College. "Same-sex marriage is a non-issue because the biblical text is opposed to homosexuality as a viable pattern of life. How do you get past that stump, which has nowhere to go when you allow the text to speak for itself?"
"I'm not as confident as you are about this assertion," responded Blankenhorn while saying that he was in no way equipped to take on such a theological debate.
Blankenhorn, who was also appointed in 1992 by then-President George H.W. Bush to work with the National Commission on America's Urban Families, insisted at the end of his argument that pro-family groups that are against homosexuality will one day have to cross the aisles if they want to successfully renew marriage and families in America.
"... In the larger society, there are huge numbers of people who otherwise would support pro-marriage efforts who won't do it as long as it's perceived as anti-gay. Now, I think there's a possibility to have a broad coalition out there. I guarantee you, the family is not going to be renewed in America on the basis of just religious conservatives. It's going to have to be a much more broadly based thing. Yes, religious conservatives have to be a part of it, but religious conservatives cannot in and of themselves spark a renewal of American marriage. It's going to have to be a broadly-based effort. You're going to have to get centrists, liberals, etc.
"Partly, I want to tell pro-marriage conservatives – are you pro-family enough to break bread with gays and lesbians who are also pro-family because they, too can be a part of this new coalition?"
Although he admitted that expanding his partnership to include the LGBT community and others "is probably going to fail, too," Blankenship added, "I'm not saying it's easy, I'm not saying it's a done deal ... but I know this other thing was failing; just running around being anti-gay marriage, I definitely was failing."
A video of Lapp and Blankenhorn's discussion at The King's College can be found on the school's page at USTREAM.com.