In a 2008 editorial, Institute for American Values founder David Blankenhorn wrote, "I'm a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage." He went on to argue that allowing gay couples to marry would undermine "the right of the child to the mother and father who made her" — an argument he had already discussed more fully in a 2007 book, The Future of Marriage. But in a New York Times op-ed today, he reversed his position. And the conversion (albeit incomplete) of one man may have larger implications.
In today's piece, Blankenhorn writes that he still believes that a biological mother and father are a "gift" to children, which gay marriage "effaces." But he now considers "the equal dignity of homosexual love" just as, if not more, important. And he wants to "help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same."
Blankenhorn may have gestured toward his conversion earlier this month, after a study by sociologist Mark Regnerus found that children whose mothers had same-sex relationships tended to struggle as adults. At the time, Blankenhorn told me that he did not in fact see it as an argument against gay marriage. Rather, he said the study showed poor outcomes for children "who experience a lot of family flux and instability," regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents. Asked for his personal position on gay marriage, he was somewhat equivocal, perhaps foreshadowing today's statement: "I wrote a book against gay marriage," he told me. "I guess that constitutes a position." Now groups on both sides are debating the significance of his new position.
Regnerus's hasn't been the only high-profile study on the topic in recent weeks. Research released Wednesday found that children of lesbian couples were not hampered in their psychological adjustment by the lack of male role models. Blankenhorn doesn't mention this finding in his op-ed, but his 2008 editorial said, "All our scholarly instruments seem to agree: For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other." This week's study is one scholarly instrument that emphatically does not agree.
A spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said new research could have helped change Blankenhorn's mind, "but there also appears to be a trend of support among Christians (Carrie Underwood being the latest), Republicans (Dick Cheney, Maureen Walsh) and among activists who have previously spoken out against marriage." He cited a former strategist for the National Organization for Marriage who came out in favor of same-sex marriage last year.
And GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said in a statement to BuzzFeed, "As Americans meet loving and committed gay and lesbian couples as well as the healthy and happy children they are raising, we are seeing a rapid increase in support for marriage equality across political persuasions, races and faith traditions."
Evan Wolfson, founder of the group Freedom to Marry, echoed the sentiment that Blankenhorn's change of heart was part of a wider movement. In a statement, he said, "David Blankenhorn’s announcement today reflects the shift towards understanding among the majority of people when they hear the stories and see for themselves why marriage matters to same-sex couples."
Some opponents of gay marriage, though, reject the idea that Blankenhorn's statement has larger import. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement, “I don’t expect that Mr. Blankenhorn’s change of views will have any more impact in the national debate than they did in North Carolina where voters overwhelmingly supported a marriage protection amendment despite opposition from Mr. Blankenhorn.”
Whether or not it has a long-term impact, Blankenhorn's statement comes on an auspicious date for gay and lesbian Americans. This weekend will see Pride celebrations across the country. And today, Dick Cheney's daughter Mary legally wed her longtime partner in Washington DC.