David Blankenhorn’s new book, The Future of Marriage, explodes the widely promoted myth that redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships would be a harmless innovation.
Blankenhorn, the Harvard-educated author of Fatherless America and founder of The Institute for American Values, unabashedly describes himself as a “marriage nut.” Long before the issue of same-sex “marriage” rose to national prominence, he was a founder of the “Marriage Movement” — a campaign to lower divorce rates, decrease out-of-wedlock child-bearing, and provide as many children as possible with the care and protection of their mother and father. As Blankenhorn knows, these problems preceded the push for legal recognition of same-sex unions. His concern is — and always has been — to strengthen marriage.
Homosexuality and “gay” relationships were not among Blankenhorn’s concerns — which is why he recoils from charges of “prejudice” or even “conservatism.” Having grown up in Mississippi during Martin Luther King’s leadership of the civil rights movement, Blankenhorn is “a lifelong Democrat,” thinks of himself “essentially as a liberal,” and cannot stand “to be viewed as a bigot.” He affirms that “the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons,” but insists that the institution of marriage is not the vehicle for advancing gay-rights, for marriage is not “fundamentally about the rights of adults.” “Marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children.” And “what children need most are mothers and fathers. Not caregivers. Not parent-like adults. Not even ‘parents.’ What a child wants and needs more than anything else are the mother and the father who together made the child, who love the child, and who love each other.”
Drawing from the resources of evolutionary biology, psychology, history, anthropology, and sociology, Blankenhorn defends the thesis that marriage is a natural institution present in all (or nearly all) human societies. He shows that marriage is not just a private emotional bond between lovers, or a mere religious affair, but rather a natural and profoundly public institution.
Blankenhorn concludes that marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together in a sexual relationship — one publicly recognized and approved because of its unique aptness for the bearing and rearing of children. In particular, marriage attaches a father to his children — and to his children’s mother — and fulfills the societal need for children to have the love and care of both mother and father. Marriage as an institution is the natural response to human sexual embodiment as male and female, to human longing for bonding and intimacy, to sexual (as opposed to asexual) reproduction, and to human dependency and need (especially in view of the fact that human newborns, unlike newborns of many other species, require many years of nurture before reaching self-sufficiency).
Blankenhorn’s historical, cross-cultural study presents what practical philosophy calls the basic human good of marriage — an intrinsic, irreducible aspect of human well-being and fulfillment both for individuals and the communities they form. Marriage, understood as the communion of spouses founded on physical union in reproductive-type acts, is perfective of human persons as bodily, sexually complementary beings and is uniquely suitable for the bearing and rearing of children. As such, a well-ordered society protects, promotes, and encourages marriage as an institution that fulfills the adults who choose to enter into it and serves and protects the children who come as its fruit — and as the concrete embodiment of marital communion.
But What Counts as Marriage? But what about the possibility of persons of the same sex being “married”? Why is sexual complementarity so central to marriage? How would social and legal recognition of Adam and Steve’s sexual partnership as a “marriage” affect anyone else? Some people, most notably Jonathan Rauch, have argued that “gay marriage” would actually strengthen marriage as an institution by securing its foundational role in adult sexual behavior. Blankenhorn isn’t buying this claim for a moment, and he provides a barrage of reasons for rejecting it.
Same-sex “marriage” would harm children by intentionally depriving them of their mom or dad. It would send the cultural and legal message that moms and dads don’t matter.
Consider the conclusions of the left-leaning research institution Child’s Trends:
Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two-biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. . . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.
Redefining marriage to embrace same-sex relationships would deprive a class of children of their birthright to be raised by their natural mother and father. It would advance the notion that children do not need a mother and a father, let alone their own mother and father. Same-sex parenting would send the message that parenting is not gendered. There would be nothing known as mothering or fathering, solely “parenting” — a unisex phenomenon. Both culture and law would be unable to stress the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives without giving offense to “alternative” families in which there simply is no father. This would have disastrous effect for our nation’s children.
Same-sex “marriage” would enshrine “rights” to artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that sever children’s biological origins from the adults who will raise them. This would lead to new definitions of parenthood — creating a distinction between natural and legal parents.
Artificial reproductive technologies allowing homosexual partners to create their own children either with donor eggs or donor sperm, or with surrogates, or even perhaps by means of cloning, would further erode the ideal of children being conceived and raised by their natural parents. While no one claims that same-sex “marriage” is a unique cause of ART, the creation of a legal structure for same-sex sexual unions with all the rights of marriage — including a “right” to parenthood — would secure a permanent place for ART in our nation. Because same-sex couples are biologically unable to have children naturally, they would have to resort to some form of artificial reproduction or another if they want to fulfill their desire to have children.
Whereas adoption and divorce have always been understood as remedial institutions needed to deal with tragedies of one sort or another, same-sex “marriage” would enshrine in law a normative right of adults to “have” children. The law would thus not recognize natural parenthood as being the ideal.
The new distinction between the natural and legal parents would apply not only to same-sex couples, but to all couples, and to all children. Because there would not be two sets of laws — one that applies to same-sex “marriages” and one that applies to opposite-sex “marriages” — the law would have to treat all couples the same, for under law they would be the same.
Same-sex “marriage” would deinstitutionalize marriage. Once the guiding rationale for why marriage exists in the first place — to attach men and women to each other in order to raise the children they produce — is eliminated in law, it would become unintelligible why sex and childbearing should take place only within marriage.
This is a crucial point, and Blankenhorn has developed it brilliantly. If children do not need a mom and a dad, and if the “products” of one’s sperm and egg are not necessarily one’s children, then why does sex and childbearing need to take place within marriage? Same-sex “marriage” would eliminate in law and weaken in culture the ideal that children should be conceived, born, and raised by their married, natural parents. All of which would further deinstitutionalize marriage. The public meaning and purpose of marriage would be eliminated; marriage would be redefined as simply the private relationship of consenting adults, and parenthood would be understood solely as a legal phenomenon of those choosing to take responsibility for a child. The social function marriage plays in society — providing children with their natural mother and father — would be lost.