Dale Carpenter continues his brilliant fisking of David Blankenhorn’s Weekly Standard article at the Volokh Conspiracy. This time he’s focusing on the argument that you often hear from gay marriage opponents that claims that gays aren’t really interested in getting married, they just see gay marriage as a means of undermining the institution of marriage. Blankenhorn writes:
[P]eople who have devoted much of their professional lives to attacking marriage as an institution almost always favor gay marriage. . . . Inevitably, the pattern discernible in the [international survey data] statistics is borne out in the statements of the activists. Many of those who most vigorously champion same-sex marriage say that they do so precisely in the hope of dethroning once and for all the traditional “conjugal institution.”
And he goes on to cite a few radical thinkers who want to do away with marriage completely, and pretends that they speak for everyone who supports gay marriage. Carpenter deftly dismantles this absurd argument. He makes three powerful arguments. The first is obvious:
First, as Blankenhorn well knows, it is not necessary to the cause of gay marriage to embrace the “cluster” of beliefs he and I would both regard as generally anti-marriage. One could, as many conservative supporters of gay marriage do, both support SSM and believe that (1) marriage is not an outdated institution, (2) divorce should be made harder to get, (3) adultery should be discouraged and perhaps penalized in some fashion, (4) it is better for children to be born within marriage than without, (5) it is better for a committed couple to get married than to stay unmarried, (6) it is better for children to be raised by two parents rather than one, and so on.
The second turns the logic of Blankenhorn’s argument around on him to show why it’s a non sequitur:
Second, a policy view is not necessarily bad because some (or many) of the people who support it also support bad things and see those other bad things as part of a grand project to do bad. Some (many?) opponents of gay marriage also oppose the use of contraceptives (even by married couples), would recriminalize sodomy, would end sex education in the schools, and would re-subordinate wives to their husbands. And they see all of this – including their opposition to SSM – as part of a grand project to make America once and for all “One Christian Nation” where the “separation of church and state” is always accompanied by scare quotes and is debunked by selective quotes from George Washington. These are, one might say, a “cluster” of “mutually reinforcing” beliefs that “do go together.” But it would be unfair to tar opponents of SSM with all of these causes, or to dismiss the case against SSM because opposing SSM might tend to advance some of them.
And the third points out how selectively Blankenhorn and other gay marriage opponents cite only those radical voices that paint the picture they wish to paint of gay marriage advocates, ignoring that other radical voices make the exact opposite argument against gay marriage:
Third, in citing and quoting these pro-SSM marriage radicals, Blankenhorn and other anti-gay marriage writers ignore an entire segment of the large debate on the left about whether marriage is a worthwhile cause for gays. While there are many writers on the left who support SSM because they believe (erroneously, I think) that it will deinstitutionalize marriage, there are many other writers on the left who oppose (or are at least anxious about) SSM because they think it will reinstitutionalize it. Let me give a just a few examples that Blankenhorn, Gallagher, and Kurtz have so far missed.
And he cites 3 prominent writers who take the same anti-marriage position that Blankenhorn publicizes and tries to tar gay marriage advocates with, but who argue that pushing for same sex marriage will result in foisting what they see as oppressive norms on a gay community that should be trying to break down and undermine those norms rather than joining them. So by Blankenhorn’s reasoning, using such quotes, those who want to destroy marriage are in league with the opponents of gay marriage. I’ll let Carpenter sum up the argument:
The point is not to argue that any of these writers are correct that gay marriage will have the significant reinstitutionalizing effect they think it will have. I think both the anti-SSM marriage radicals and the pro-SSM marriage radicals Blankenhorn cites are far too taken with the transformative power of adding an additional increment of 3% or so to existing marriages in the country. So are anti-gay marriage activists generally. I think all of them – including Blankenhorn – are mistaken if they imagine that straight couples take cues from gay couples in structuring their lives and relationships, if they think straight couples may stop having children, or if they predict straight couples will be more likely to have babies outside of marriage because gay couples are now having and raising their children within it.
The point is that both support for and opposition to SSM well up from a variety of complex ideas, fears, hopes, emotions, world-views, motives, and underlying theories. The debate will not be resolved by dueling quotes from marriage radicals. SSM will have the effects it has – good or bad – regardless of what marriage radicals with one or another “cluster” of beliefs hope it will have.