The Personalist Project

David Blankenhorn has been among our nation's staunchest and most prominent marriage boosters for years.  Now, just days after a major new study is released confirming that tradtional marriage is better for children, he's changed his mind.  His reasoning reinforces my growing impression that defenders of marriage will have to shift gears if we hope to succeed in persuading a majority to oppose the legalization of SSM.  It won't be enough to prove that traditional marriage is better for kids.  If it were, then Blankenhorn would still be on our side.  He articulates the gist of that argument as well as anyone.

Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children.

He still believes all this.  And yet, he has come to support SSM.  Why? Because he thinks our laws ought to recognize the "equal dignity" of homosexual love.

But there are more good things under heaven than these beliefs. For me, the most important is the equal dignity of homosexual love. I don’t believe that opposite-sex and same-sex relationships are the same, but I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one’s definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.

If we want to defeat the SSM lobby, we will have to take it on on this point.  We will have to make the case not only that traditional marriage is better for children, but (even more fundamentally) that the love between two men or two women is not the moral equivalent of conjugal love.  

And, to make this case, we will have to look more closely at "the thing itself".  We will have to look, I believe, not only at same-sex attraction (as Mike Healy does below), but also at the nature and structure of same-sex acts.

More soon.

Comments (8)

Tim Cronin

#1, Jun 23, 2012 7:09pm

I think it is a difference between disembodied individual rights versus incarnate constitutionally related giftedness and sacremantality. The liberal framework supports the former and undermines the latter. While we could stategically stave off SSM, and should try to, we need also a reformation of the framework that leads to this. SSM is not an individual right as it goes against the giftedness of our nature. We need to inscribe this into our constituion somehow.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jun 23, 2012 8:33pm

I think there is no such thing as disembodied human rights, since human beings are embodied persons. 

I also think it's simply an unthinking error to consider SSM an individual right.  Marriage is not an individual affair.  Nor does Blankenhorn rest his argument in favor of SSM on rights.  He bases it on what he perceives to be the good of homosexual love.

Rhett Segall

#3, Jun 24, 2012 11:55am

Tim notes:" I think it is a difference between disembodied individual rights versus incarnate constitutionally related giftedness and sacremantality."

I think his insight is accurate. Am I right in saying that  those who absolutize disembodied individual rights would hold as a maxim: "Individual rights trump all obligations."?

Apropos of SSM: "Brokeback Mountain" presents us with Ennis and Jack.  In my view each had marriages that were not unhappy. But there passion for each other brought them to violate their marital commitment. The mood  of the film would lead the audience to deep sympathy for Ennis and Jack and a sense that what they were doing was fully justified.

To connect this with the theme: the underlying premise of justification for Ennis and Jack's actions is "their right to happiness." I think this justification is erroneous because it is not balanced by a call to obligation.

I am reminded of the assertion that the U.S. ought to have on the West Coast a "Statue of Responsibility" to balance off the Statue of Liberty on the east coast.

Tim Cronin

#4, Jun 25, 2012 12:52pm

Hi Katie, I meant that those fighting for SSM disregard their embodiment in their argument. They don't see the body as signifying anything.

Hi Rhett, I agree that the "individual rights" argument fails to consider responsbility for others. This is a failed view of freedom. God gives so gratuitously that He gives us to ourselves, therefore freedom is a response-ibility.

richard sherlock

#5, Jun 26, 2012 12:14am


The fundamental error i Blankenhorn's position is that he does not tell us what a marriage is. If it is only based on love as its telos then a "parade of horribles" to horrible to describe will follow as surely as night follows day. He is the Stephen Douglas of gay marriage, trying to find a way to compromise on first principles of both reason and revelation. Our "political" ideal should be Lincoln who would never compromise on first principles. Gay relationships can't possibly be a marriage. They can have all the love in the world but they are not a marriage. When I taught moral theology at Fordham in the 80's I was on an early MacNeil Leher report with the doctor who did the first invitro baby with donor egg and sperm. I said that once the creation of new life was separated from intimate union then 2 things would follow. If life is made then we will make it the way we want and weed out those we don't want. Personhood of all is denied (Lincoln is turning in his grave) and sexual intimacy will be depersonalized into a commodity and the horribles will follow

Rhett Segall

#6, Jun 27, 2012 7:31am

Richard, you are exactly right regarding the duel effect of separting reproduction from marital intercourse. The making of the child into a product of engineering was sadly evident in a recent news report about a mom whose daughter needed a bone marrow transplant. She choose to get pregnant again so that the new child could be a donor to her older sibling. It turned out that the new children (she conceived twins) had the same genetic defect. The mom's love was very touching. Nonetheless the children were conceived not for their own sake but to be used.

I would like to draw this audiences attention to a remarkable critique of the Obama admiinistration's position vis a vis the health mandate, religious freedom and SSM. The author persuassively argues that the administration marginalizes the positions of those who hold differently than it on issues such as abortion, SSM and the current HHS issue by identify such positions as subjective religious positions and consequently not grounded in objective truth to be mandated for the common good. Here's the article. It's well worthwhile!

Jules van Schaijik

#7, Jun 27, 2012 1:27pm

Thanks for linking to that article, Rhett.

Another good point it makes is that the public value of religious ministries is measured exclusively in terms of the secular services they provide. The moral and religious motivation from which these services spring counts for nothing, and so the deepest and most lasting dimension of the good they do is not taken into account. 

To see how empoverished this way of looking at religious institutions is, just imagine, by way of analogy, a child who measures the good his parents do for him exclusively in terms of the secular benefits they bestow! The attitude of such a child would not only be monstrous in and of itself, but it would also totally miscalculate and underestimate the real good it has received. (The same, of course, goes for the bad.)

By the way, if you like, you could write a short post about the article, which I could then transfer from the member forum to the home page. That way it would draw more attention than in this comment thread.

Tim Cronin

#8, Jun 27, 2012 1:59pm

The marginilization of religion is the result of the American Lockean Liberalism:

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