The Corner

Blankenhorn on Gay Marriage

Marriage expert David Blankenhorn has just published a book offering a new, fascinating, and powerful case against same-sex marriage. It’s called The Future of Marriage.  Although I haven’t read the final version, Blankenhorn was kind enough to show me earlier drafts of several chapters, and on that basis I can already recommend The Future of Marriage highly.

In a new article, Blankenhorn presents part of his book’s empirical argument. Blankenhorn reports on two large international surveys asking people about their attitudes toward marriage. It turns out that countries without gay marriage show the greatest degree of public support for marriage as an institution, while countries that have same-sex marriage show the least support. Just as interesting, while support for marriage is relatively weak in countries with civil unions, it is nonetheless stronger than in countries with full same-sex marriage. That cuts sharply against the “conservative case” for gay marriage, which holds that “marriage lite,” rather than same-sex marriage itself, is what undermines marriage.

Blankenhorn’s overall case strikes me as powerful and persuasive. It should–and I suspect will–have a strong public impact. Yet Blankenhorn makes a point of framing his argument more modestly than my own empirical case on same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn says he’s talking only about correlation–not causation–and stresses that it’s impossible to prove causation, or to predict institutional futures, from numbers alone. As I read it, however, whether Blankenhorn wants to frame it that way or not, he is in fact making a predictive and causal case. When Blankenhorn says that “gay marriage clearly presupposes and reinforces” the weakening of marriage as an institution, he has shifted into predictive and causal language. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s just fine.

It’s certainly true that numbers alone can’t prove causation. If a survey shows that cities where people drink a lot of orange juice also tend to have large traffic jams, that doesn’t prove orange juice causes traffic jams. The correlation could be a total coincidence, or the commonality might have to do with some third factor, like the weather. But the impossibility of proving causation from numbers alone doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to put together a persuasive causal case.

Take my recent pieces (here and here), which describe a scholar’s claim that Muslim cousin marriage is an important inhibiting cause of immigrant assimilation in Britain. This case depends in part upon numbers, since you’ve got to show that cousin marriage is prevalent enough to make a difference. But that’s only the beginning. A skeptic could certainly say: “I don’t care if every single Muslim in Britain marries his cousin back in Pakistan; that correlation doesn’t prove that cousin marriage blocks assimilation.” That’s why you’ve got to follow up the numbers with a deeper case substantiating the causal claim. You’ve got to examine possible alternative causes, and give good reasons why those alternative causes ought to be either rejected, or supplemented, by others. And you need to explain why the link between cousin marriage and failed assimilation is likely to be more than coincidence. This is exactly what British students of Muslim cousin marriage have done. Naturally, we can’t prove causality in the human sciences with the level of certainty that we can in physics or chemistry (and I’ve never claimed otherwise). In the social sciences, these matters are always complex and debatable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put forward a powerful causal case, just as British students of Muslim cousin marriage have done.

I’ve offered a case on the causal effects of same-sex marriage, and in doing so I’ve gone way beyond mere numbers. I’ve acknowledged and examined possible alternative causes, and argued that, important as they often are, these alternative causes do not by themselves suffice to make sense of the current decline of European marriage. I’ve also offered a close look at the attitudes toward institutional marriage favored by European proponents of same-sex unions. Put that all together, and I think it allows you to say that we are dealing with more here than orange juice and traffic jams.

As far as I can tell, Blankenhorn is doing pretty much the same thing. Although he says he’s given up on the search for causation, and is looking at correlation alone, implicitly Blankenhorn traces out a causal case. By analogy, and by looking at actual examples of the social radicals who often favor same-sex marriage, Blankenhorn argues that his correlations are not mere coincidence. Then Blankenhorn shifts out of the language of correlation and says that support for same-sex marriage, and various forms of skepticism about the importance of marriage itself, are “mutually reinforcing.” Well, that’s causal language. What’s more this notion of “mutual reinforcement” is the exact language I’ve used to describe the core of my own causal argument. So as I see it, Blankenhorn is in fact making a causal case–one I’m quite comfortable with.

The truth is, when you’re debating the institutional impact of same-sex marriage, it’s nearly impossible not to make an overt or implicit causal argument. Even my critics, as I’ve pointed out, claim causation. They argue that European parental cohabitation causes same-sex marriage, not vice-versa. And to this I have pointed out that it would be very odd indeed if the causation in such a case ran only one way. Parental cohabitation and same-sex marriage are both part of a general way of thinking that separates marriage from its core traditional purpose of insuring that the father and mother who create a child stay together to raise it. As such, we should expect parental cohabitation and gay marriage to be mutually reinforcing. This is my argument, and it’s Blankenhorn’s argument, too.

That means all this is something of a quibble. Even if we frame our approaches a bit differently, I’m very much on the same wavelength as Blankenhorn, and see his work as quite compatible with my own. The great advantage of the way Blankenhorn frames his argument is that it makes it easier to cut through the complexities and get down to the core reasons that same-sex marriage is a problem. So do have a look at Blankenhorn’s important new book, The Future of Marriage.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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