Old foes agree to agree on gay marriage

David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, Bloomberg, 11/8/2011

We both believe the time for regarding homosexuality as disordered, shameful or morally inferior is over. And we both believe the time is right, or soon will be, for fresh pro-marriage initiatives bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straights who want to do the same.

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Subjects: Marriage, Gay marriage

More by: David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch

Ours is an unusual friendship. One of us is a gay man who has written a book in favor of gay marriage. The other is a straight man who has written a book opposing gay marriage.

One of us argues that the advent of gay marriage could help to strengthen marriage as a social institution. The other warns that accepting gay marriage is likely to weaken the institution for everyone. Not much to agree about.

But here's an interesting thing: Both of us are married, and both of us live or work in political jurisdictions – New York state and Washington, D.C. – that define marriage as the union of two persons. So we recently asked ourselves a question: What does it mean for us to disagree about gay marriage, now that gay marriage is the law where we make our homes and pursue our livelihoods?

For David, the opponent of gay marriage, what seems most important as the shouting stops is conciliation. His side must confront and reject anti-gay bigotry. Is opposition to gay marriage by itself proof of bigotry? No. But is far too much of the opposition largely fueled by prejudice? Yes. Looking to the future, is it important for all of us to understand and affirm the equal dignity of homosexual people and of homosexual love? Yes.

For Jonathan, the proponent of gay marriage, what seems most important as the shouting stops is getting marriage right, for all people. Winning the legal right is important for same- sex couples, but it's hardly the end. Over the long run, will same-sex marriage shore up marriage's privileged social status, or diminish it? Gay Americans and their communities all have an interest in establishing that their right to marry can support and perhaps even strengthen American commitment to the institution that is now open to them.

Supporting the Gift

What has always mattered most, to David, regarding marriage law is what he calls the gift: the possibility that a child will be raised in love by both biological parents – the two people, the man and the woman, whose sexual union brought the child into the world. In states where gay marriage is the law, can he continue to advocate and work for that gift? Might Jonathan support him? The answer to both questions is yes.

We can agree, for example, that getting married before having children is an important, and embattled, cultural value, which society as a whole should do more to embrace. Similarly, we can agree that the growing phenomenon of "single parents by choice," whatever its meaning or value in particular situations, is a harmful social trend. Many, probably most, children of single parents do fine. But a large body of scholarly evidence shows that single parenting increases risks for children.

"Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions From the Social Sciences," a recent summary of evidence from 18 diverse family scholars, concludes that solo parenting "increases poverty for both children and mothers," is associated with higher levels of psychological problems for children and mothers, and "appears to increase children's risk of school failure."

Further, we can agree that practices and policies need to be rethought when they deliberately and inherently deny children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents. In an ethically sensitive society, would such technology be used more sparingly and responsibly than is currently the case in the U.S.? Would it perhaps be regulated more closely? David thinks so; Jonathan increasingly wonders; and we agree that it's an issue all of us need to take more seriously.

For example, in Canada, the Supreme Court of British Columbia recently ruled that people conceived through sperm or egg donation have the right to know the identity of their biological parents. Shouldn't the U.S. also consider this reform?

Adoption for All

We can agree that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples should be allowed to adopt. Where gay marriage is allowed, the two of us can also agree that law and policy should favor married couples in adoption over unmarried couples and single people – regardless of whether those seeking to adopt are gay or straight.

We can agree that society has an important stake in encouraging marriage over cohabitation and alternative legal partnerships. After New York's adoption of same-sex marriage, some employers moved to terminate their domestic-partner benefits. That's a change we can both support. Same-sex and opposite-sex couples should all be expected to accept marriage's responsibilities if they want its benefits.

We both believe that, in the area of marriage, negotiated political solutions are typically more desirable than top-down judicial solutions, and that the diversity that comes from the states is more desirable, at least currently, than the uniformity that comes from the federal branch. We both believe the time for regarding homosexuality as disordered, shameful or morally inferior is over. And we both believe the time is right, or soon will be, for fresh pro-marriage initiatives bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straights who want to do the same.

We are not grandly announcing that the country is ready to move on, or that either side in the gay-marriage conflict is likely to hang up its spurs anytime soon. And for just that reason, there's one other area on which we can agree: measures that lower the temperature of the conflict by helping both sides live and let live.

Where gay marriage is allowed, we agree there is a compelling case for religious-liberty protections that allow religious-affiliated organizations to keep same-sex marriage at arm's length, provided those protections don't throw obstacles in the path of gay couples exercising their legal prerogatives. Many jurisdictions with gay marriage have already enacted such provisions; New York is an example.

Protection at Work

On the same principle, both of us worry when we hear stories of employees being fired for opposing gay marriage in their personal lives. We don't expect or even wish to live in a world without hard-nosed tactics and sharp-elbowed protest, but in the U.S., active political participation on your own time should not cost you your job and livelihood, regardless of which side of a contentious issue you're on.

Our list is pretty long. That tells us that there is a next conversation waiting to happen, beyond "Yes! No! Yes! No!" It begins from a place where one side accepts that there are gay- marriage opponents who want to help marriage, not harm gays; and where the other side accepts that gay marriage is now the law in some places and, where it is the law, helps to make the best of it.

Not everyone has reached this place. Maybe some never will. But we have.

This article originally appeared here.


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