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Proposition 8's witness for the defense -- no, the plaintiffs

June 22, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Proposition 8 defense witness David Blankenhorn has had a change of heart on same-sex marriage.
Proposition 8 defense witness David Blankenhorn has had a change of heart… (Los Angeles Times )

Like President Obama, David Blankenhorn has been changing his opinion about same-sex marriage. In his case, the change of mind looks more like a revolution than an evolution.

Blankenhorn was one of two witnesses for the defense in the federal suit against Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. But in an online opinion piece for the New York Times, Blankenhorn favors recognizing such unions as marriages.

The switch isn't quite as dramatic as it might at first seem. Blankenhorn was a somewhat unusual witness in favor of Proposition 8. At the same time that he voiced belief that same-sex marriage would contribute to what he sees as the deterioration of the institution of marriage, he also said that such marriages would be good for the families of same-sex couples and that the country would be "more American" on the day that it recognized the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

Perhaps the opponents of same-sex marriage thought Blankenhorn would make a good witness becauseĀ  he's obviously not an anti-gay ideologue; he's clearly a soul-searcher and an opponent of intolerance when he sees it. Overall, though, it didn't appear that his testimony helped the case. The court found against Proposition 8; the initiative's supporters now hope to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the matter.

But if he wasn't a fiery opponent of gay marriage then, Blankenhorn isn't a standard-bearer for the institution now. As someone who seems inclined to shape opinions relative to the realities of society, his arguments for it are more pragmatic than philosophical. One of them is that young people obviously favor equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and by a wide margin' it's the way the country is headed. That's true, though it might not be the strongest argument for supporting such rights. He also thinks that getting along is an important thing for society, and that the institution of marriage is doing badly, no matter what happens with same-sex marriage, and there's not much evidence that gay unions are adding to the decline.

True and true. But from a philosophical perspective, same-sex marriage is about a right denied, not how many people are willing to vote for it. Bllankenhorn's big concern is the family and what he sees as the ideal form for that family -- the couple whose sexual union made the baby marry beforehand and stay together to raise the child. And in fact marriage has traditionally been largely about that particular model. Of course, that doesn't mean infertile couples can't marry, or elderly people, or folks who just aren't interested in procreating. So why pick on same-sex couples as the only pairings deprived of the status of marriage? Children are one part of marriage -- yes, a very important one -- for many couples. That doesn't make procreation the reason for marriage, or the definition of a good one.

Blankenhorn is on more solid footing when he writes about the "equal dignity of homosexual love" and his unwillingness to be part of the anti-gay animus that he sees as driving, at least in part, the fight against same-sex marriage. It was an animus that he did not detect when he testified, but we are all entitled to new perceptions and the resulting changes of mind and heart.

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