A Statement from Jonathan Rauch

Jonathan Rauch


Subjects: Marriage, Gay marriage

More by: Jonathan Rauch

I have done something I never imagined I would do. I think you may be interested, and I hope you may want to help.

I have joined the board of the Institute for American Values, a modest-sized think-tank founded and led by David Blankenhorn. Anti-gay-marriage forces are taking financial and other steps that could sink the institute because David has decided to accept and support gay marriage. I think it’s important not to let that happen. First, because the message that would be sent by David’s capsize would ripple out far and wide: “Don’t even think about apostasy on marriage.” Second, because I believe in the importance of the course David now wants to set: integrating gay marriage into pro-family discussion of which, from now on, it must inevitably be part.

Some Background

As you may know, I am a writer, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a long-time advocate of gay equality and, especially, same-sex marriage – as well as of marriage generally. In 2004, when my book on gay marriage came out, David Blankenhorn emerged as a leading thinker on the other side. He wrote a book arguing against same-sex marriage and he testified in favor of California’s Proposition 8, the only expert witness to do so.

From almost the beginning, however, I noticed that David was different from other gay-marriage opponents. For instance . . .

  • He asserted, repeatedly and publicly, that he believes in “the equal dignity of homosexual love,” something no other gay-marriage opponent did.
  • He acknowledged – including in his sworn Prop 8 testimony – that America would be, in important respects, a better country if it allowed gay couples to marry.
  • He favored civil unions and legal same-sex adoption, and publicly opposed a gay-marriage ban in North Carolina that extended to partnership programs.

The Institute for American Values, his think-tank, has been going since 1987, years before “gay” and “marriage” were ever conjoined in the public vocabulary. Prior to David’s getting involved in the gay marriage debate in 2004, he and IAV did valuable work on strengthening fatherhood, encouraging thrift, and shoring up marriage. Much of its funding came from socially conservative individuals. IAV board member Robert George said this: “On questions central to the family and the rearing of children to be responsible adults and good citizens, no institution compares with a think tank in New York City known as the Institute for American Values.”

Then, in June, David shared with New York Times readers his conclusion that opposing gay marriage was doing nothing to advance the goal of strengthening families or kids’ ties to their parents. He said it was time to accept gay marriage as both a reality and an opportunity. “Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same,” he wrote. He also said his discomfort had reached the breaking point with the anti-gay animus which he believes underlies too much of the opposition to same-sex marriage. He wrote: “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.”

In response, a large block of long-time funders and board members, including Professor George, pulled out. As a result, the institute has lost about 60 percent of its unrestricted operating budget, or about $560,000 of an unrestricted-fund budget of about $900,000.

That kind of blow could cripple or kill the institute. But David and IAV have decided to seize on this crisis as an opportunity. David is rebuilding his board. William Galston, a universally respected Brookings Institution senior fellow and former Clinton Administration official – and living proof that family values and social moderation can go together – has agreed to chair the new board. And I have agreed to serve. Together, we will be seeking a new base of support, one not beholden to any culture-war agenda.

No, we are not turning IAV into a gay rights group. It will continue its mission of championing healthy families, thrift, and civil society. Nor will IAV demand that its scholars, affiliates, or funders favor (or oppose) gay marriage.

We will, however, break new ground among pro-family organizations, by recognizing that gay marriage is here to stay as a permanent feature of the American family landscape. For a growing number of Americans, it simply is marriage. The cultural right’s strategy of massive resistance to gay marriage is a proven failure: it has failed to eliminate gay marriage from the landscape, and it has failed to do anything positive for straight families. We believe that, in the next few years, a growing number of conservatives will acknowledge this failure and open their ears to other approaches. For reality-based family advocates, the task going forward is to move beyond the zero-sum rhetoric (if gays win, straights must lose) and develop positive-sum agendas for American families and children.

Let me put it as plainly as I can: There is no longer any reason why gay equality and a strong commitment to family values need ever again conflict. To the contrary, a strong society seeks ways to support both. There needs to be at least one American institution advancing that proposition. The country needs that institution now. And gay leaders and their friends and supporters, people comfortable with both the pro-family and the pro-equality agendas, need to step forward and take the lead.

So . . . here I am. I’ve never written a fundraising letter before, but there is always a first time. David, Bill, and I need contributions to repair the hole in IAV’s hull. In the near term, those contributions will support, among other things, David’s forthcoming book, Both Sides: Changing My Mind on Gay Marriage. Beyond that, we are looking for smart and creative suggestions on how to move forward . . . contacts who might help us get there . . . ideas from the best and brightest in our world.

We would love an opportunity to talk with you about how to move forward. We would gratefully welcome your financial support. In any case, we hope you will take an active and sympathetic interest in what we are trying to do. We realize it can be hard to raise money and generate excitement in the center. But if, like us, you think the country needs to head to a place that can be pro-marriage and pro-gay-marriage – and if, like us, you believe the country has every hope of getting to that place – you may share our belief that now is the time to develop the ideas which will inform the next stage of the conversation. Please join me in proving it can be done.

Washington, D.C.
November 2012


Institute for American Values, 420 Lexington Avenue, Room 1706, New York, NY 10170