David Blankenhorn’s anguish

David Blankenhorn presents himself as an anomaly: A secular “liberal” activist against marriage equality who isn’t anti-gay. He has participated in intelligent and principled debates with pro-marriage equality conservatives such as Jonathan Rauch and the Cato Institute’s Dale Carpenter – men who, like Blankenhorn, deeply value marriage as a social institution and want to protect it from being undermined, but respectfully come to the opposite conclusion about how to do so. He also speaks of how he “agonizes” over the pain caused to gay and lesbian couples by discriminatory measures like Prop 8 – while at the same time he testifies in favor of them. Back in February 2008, Blankenhorn was the featured speaker at a Family Rentboy Council* event. As we reported then:

FRC’s Peter Sprigg was practically wetting himself with joy that they could showcase Blankenhorn – in particular, he was gleeful that they had a speaker who is adamant about being a liberal with gay friends.

Anyway, David Blankenhorn does not like to be portrayed as anti-gay. He sent a letter to the editor to the New York Times objecting to two recent items in which he was linked, by virtue of his testimony in favor of denying the rights and responsibilities of marriage to gay and lesbian couples, to the Family Rentboy Council – and specifically, George Rekers.

This matter is particularly important to me, since in my report to the court, as well as in my testimony on the stand, I clearly and emphatically rejected the anti-gay views that Mr. Rekers has apparently expressed.

Jonathan responded to the posting of the letter on the recently resurrected Institute for American Values blog:

David,

You can’t deny that you have collaborated with Dr. George Rekers’ Family Research Council. My husband and I met you at FRC headquarters when you lectured on your book “The Future of Marriage”. While you were certainly the most GLBT friendly person in the room, the association with the the FRC is undeniable.

As a husband and a father, you know how precious your marriage is. I can attest that my marriage is the most valuable thing in my life, and it has been that way for twenty-seven years. You may “reject anti-gay views”, but your political work aids and abets the anti-gay/Christianist groups and it harms families like mine. Ideas have consequences.

Blankenhorn didn’t like this. So much so that in his response, he kind of lost his head a little. In part:

You say that you were in that room that day. If you were, doesn’t that mean that you in fact “collaborated” with FRC? If you did not wish to “aid and abet” FRC by participating in one of their events, why didn’t you just stay away? Wouldn’t that have made your point more effectively? Don’t you think it’s true that, by virtue of your collaboration with FRC in swelling their attendance at such events, you are in fact facilitating and participating in the anti-gay movement in America? Further, you seem to know that Rekers is affiliated with FRC (something I didn’t know). Doesn’t your involvement with FRC mean that you in fact support Rekers, regardless of what you say now?

I’m going to replace the snarky thing I just wrote and deleted with this: No, David – it doesn’t. Because for us to attend a hostile event created to deny our equality as a couple in order to observe and report on it is not the same thing as your behavior in participating in that event as the featured speaker and advocating for that same goal, to deny our equality as a couple. That is known as collaborating. However much you might value your gay friends and acknowledge their dignity and worth, your objective at that event was the same as FRC’s, to advocate against marriage equality.

Here’s the thing: If you are going to extol the wonderfulness of marriage, and talk about how healthy and beneficial it is for society and families and individuals, and then argue that this one category of people shouldn’t be able to have it, you are going to be perceived as hostile to that category of people.

There’s a group of clergy in Iowa right now, petitioning the state legislature to forcibly divorce the same sex couples in that state. They say they don’t hate gay people either; “just because you disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean that you hate them.” Here’s what Box Turtle Bulletin’s Timothy Kincaid has to say in response:

If I petitioned that you (or people like you) should be treated as inferior to me, I think you would find it difficult to locate the compassion in my efforts. And if I were to do so in the context of fighting the “People like [You] Lobby”, you might even identify animus in my motivations.

Yesterday, David Blankenhorn corrected the record to say that he did in fact read a document by George Rekers provided by the pro-Prop 8 attorneys, and confirmed that he had read it in his deposition. A minor issue in context, and we appreciate the clarification. I actually think that Blankenhorn is a good man, that he is sincere in his belief that he can be both anti-marriage equality and pro-gay rights, and that it really does cause him anguish to make common cause with such monsters as one encounters at FRC. And that means he has a dilemma.

* previously known as the Family “Research” Council until George Rekers suggested this much less misleading name.

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5 Responses to David Blankenhorn’s anguish

  1. liz says:

    Boy, those dilemmas sure do poke one in the tuchus when one sits on the horns of them, don’t they?

  2. David Blankenhorn says:

    To me, this article is basically fair-minded, and I thank you for that.

    The only addition I would like to make is that, as I reminded Jonathan in an earlier exchange (excepted in your post), at the FRC event in question, I stated my views very clearly, and as a result the FRC guy who was hosting the event took the mike immediately after I had finished speaking to say in no uncertain terms that FRC does not agree with David Blankenhorn, and David Blankenhorn does not agree with FRC, on gays and lesbians. Since I am being accused here of “collaborating” with, and “aiding and abetting” FRC and an anti-gay agenda, I think it’s only fair to recall that part of the story, too. I’m not too big a fan of either self-righteousness or of playing to the audience when it comes to this issue, and I try to do my frail best to avoid both.

  3. Elizabeth Marquardt says:

    Good writing. It can be hard to write fairly and with kindness on these matters, and you do.

  4. David says:

    Thank you Elizabeth and David for your kind comments.

    David, I wasn’t trying to be misleading by leaving out that part of your comment to Jonathan; I was certainly aware of the big production Peter Sprigg made of distancing himself and FRC from your views, which is what I was alluding to at the beginning of this post. My contention is that his statement of disagreement was not made in the spirit of ‘boy, I wish we hadn’t invited that guy,’ but was rather a very welcome opportunity to frame their agenda in a more favorable way. It’s precisely the fact that they could disagree with you so strongly on certain points that makes your participation so useful to them.

    The term “collaborating” clearly touches a nerve with you, and I can certainly understand that. Perhaps it isn’t the right term. We are not accusing you of somehow being disingenuous about what you believe. What we’re saying is that your participation with FRC has an objective effect. It enables them to claim undeserved credibility if they can say ‘even a pro-gay liberal like David Blankenhorn agrees with us,’ which is of course how they presented the event. While you make a distinction between GLBT rights in general and marriage equality specifically, they do not. I appreciate that you are not responsible for what others do, only what you do, but the objective situation is still what it is. It is, as I said, a dilemma, and I believe that your anguish is very real.

    As one of those conservatives on marriage (this will surprise some of my friends), I agree with much of what you said, especially your critique of anemic and abstract definitions of marriage as a strictly private arrangement between two individuals. There is a reason that people cry at weddings, and it is because a marriage is a public announcement before the community that something of significance to everyone has occurred, the birth of a new family. It is because we are so passionate about the value of marriage as a public, community institution that we insist it be taken seriously – by allowing us each to marry the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. If that component is missing, marriage is diminished for everyone.

    I don’t expect to change your mind, but I do appreciate the dialogue.

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