Recycling a la Blankenhorn

[This is the first of a series of guest posts, reprinted from Hunter at Random.]

David Blankenhorn periodically comes out with an OpEd against same-sex marriage, apparently with the idea in mind that if you keep repeating arguments that have already been refuted, that makes them irrefutable. I was alerted to this one by this post at Pam’s House Blend. Ol cranky does a decent job of countering Blankenhorn, but, with the election news being as tired and depressing as it is (and we won’t mention the economy), I thought I’d do some deconstruction of my own.

Blankenhorn starts off with what I guess are supposed to be his credentials:

I’m a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage. Do those positions sound contradictory? To me, they fit together.

And your point is? Given what comes after, that just demonstrates that liberal Democrats are just as prone to being wrong as anyone else. Then we get into the “meat”:

Many seem to believe that marriage is simply a private love relationship between two people. They accept this view, in part, because Americans increasingly have emphasized and come to value the intimate, emotional side of marriage and, in part, because almost all opinion leaders today, from journalists to judges, strongly embrace this position. That’s certainly the idea that underpinned the California Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Well, no. Unless you only want to look at part of the picture — the part that supports your opinion. (We’re verging on faith-based science here: conclusions first, then find the evidence that fits.) The idea that marriage is “simply a private love relationship” gets a lot of notice — mostly from the right — but it’s not something that anyone who favors SSM has tried to base an argument on. As for that idea “underpinning” the California Supreme Court’s decision, read it yourself. You’ll find that Blankenhorn has presented a simplistic view of the Court’s decision, which is based on the constitutional issue of whether the state has a compelling reason to exclude same-sex relationships and families from the same treatment as that of opposite-sex families, which in the Court’s judgment it failed to present. What is key from this decision is the very simple idea that relationships between same-sex and opposite sex couples are of equal dignity and validity under the law, which is the part that Blankenhorn doesn’t want to talk about.

He goes on:

But I spent a year studying the history and anthropology of marriage, and I’ve come to a different conclusion.

Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.

This is pretty laughable. If you followed my recaps and discussions of the debate at Box Turtle Bulletin between Glenn T. Stanton and Patrick Chapman, you know that the history and anthropology of marriage present a much more varied and complex picture than Blankenhorn admits. (Here’s Jim Burroway’s wrap-up on that.) First off, people certainly don’t need a license to have children. That in itself is a ludicrous statement. And historically, marriage has been a social mechanism, a business arrangement, a means of cementing political alliances, an attempt to certify paternity, and any number of other things, in which children are often part of the deal, but not a requirement. (And I might add that children are less a requirement today than ever before.)

Marriage is, in its simplist terms, a social mechanism by which members of a community can identify couples as couples and assign them their appropriate status as part of the community. That’s the nut, and that’s the issue in the campaign for marriage equality.

I’ve got to run, but I’ll try to come back to this tomorrow.

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One Response to Recycling a la Blankenhorn

  1. 1
    PG says:

    As a SSM supporter born of an arranged marriage, I see SSM as providing exactly the same social utility as opposite-sex marriage: in exchange for a legal commitment of mutual support between two people, the state gives them a recognized status that carries both benefits and responsibilities.

    The state prefers more marriage, but not because it results in reproduction (this is especially true in overpopulated countries like India, where the government is trying to stem the population without resorting to coercive measures like China’s). The state prefers marriage because it increases the social, non-governmental support structure; now in addition to blood family members, the person getting married has a new person required to look out for him, and after the age at which the person’s parents no longer have a legal obligation to care for him, it’s especially important to create a new legal commitment.

    This also is a reason for the state to disapprove incest even when it won’t result in reproduction; incestuous marriages don’t increase the social support for an individual because she’s already connected to the person she’s marrying.

    I do question whether the state is getting as much back from recognizing marriage status as it is giving, because entering and leaving marriage is so easy now. But that is a reason to require a kind of behavioral bond from couples before issuing the license, not a reason to say that one type of couple should be barred from state-recognized marriage.