Institute for American Values founder David Blankenhorn was a prominent voice in support of California’s Proposition 8 to define marriage in that state as between one man and one woman just a few short years ago. But last year, he publicly announced a reversal in his position, via an op-ed in the New York Times. Not stopping there, David Blankenhorn has now initiated a campaign to start a new conversation about marriage – and he’s mustered the resources of the Institute for American Values, where he has gathered an illustrious list of signatories for his call to start a new conversation, and liberate marriage from the culture war position it’s currently trapped in. The audacious goal: to strengthen the institution of marriage itself, with the help of straight and gay couples alike.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: David Blankenhorn[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]:
In 2008, social scientist David Blankenhorn testified convincingly in support of California’s Proposition 8, a proposed constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman.
Having founded the influential Institute for American Values several decades prior to that trial, Blankenhorn raised many eyebrows last year when he publicly changed his position on marriage equality, insisting that the time has come for removing the issue from its status as fodder in this country’s culture wars, and instead build alliances among gay and straight couples to strengthen the institution of marriage itself.
There have been other such reversals; David Blankenhorn, however, has gone much further than just writing, in The New York Times, an op-ed column. In the intervening months, he has harnessed the resources of the Institute for American Values to refine both the theoretical and the practical aspects of this position, and assembled a distinguished list of signatories to a statement calling for a new conversation on the subject.
This approach holds great promise – great promise – for moving the nation beyond the current stalemate on marriage; and I am very pleased to be able to welcome David Blankenhorn now to State of Belief Radio.
Hello, David.[DAVID BLANKENHORN, GUEST]: Hey, how are you doing today? [WG]: Listen, I am so proud of what you’ve done, and we’ll talk about it now – but I’m another on that list of people who changed their minds about this whole issue, and so I’m so eager to get insights from you and share those with our listeners. Your testimony, David, in Perry v. Schwartzenegger, the Prop 8 case, was both thoughtful and nuanced. Because I believe that many well-meaning people continue to hold views similar to those that you presente at that time, I wonder if you would mind just starting with a very quick summary of where you were coming from in 2008. [DB]: Sure. I argued, in my testimony, that the main purpose of marriage in our history as a species, really, on earth, I mean, the main reason the institution evolved and came into being in the first place was so that society could establish what the scholars call “filiation,” and that just means: who are the parents of this child? So that we want a society where every child who is born – our ideal is to have that child be cared for and raised and loved by the two individuals, the mother and the father, whose sexual union produced the child. That’s the ideal that the human species goes for, because it wants to maximize good outcomes for the children, and all the societies agree that that’s a good way to do it. So “marriage” is the name we give to that arrangement, whereby every child born has this mother and father caring for them. And so, I really testified – and of course was challenged and there was a big discussion of it at the trial – but that was the gist of it. Marriage was not only for that purpose – there are plenty of other purposes of marriage – but that was the primary purpose. [WG]: Now, let me ask you one other, kind of, background question: you had founded the Institute for American Values in 1987. Had the Institute been addressing the issue of marriage equality during the years prior to 2012? [DB]: Well, not really, because when we started the organization, we felt that we wanted to stay away from certain, kind of, cultural hot-button issues. One of them was abortion – we did not want to take a position on abortion, because we were trying to build a broad tent around the issue of marriage; and we also wanted to stay away from issues related to homosexuality and gay rights, because again, we wanted to build a broad base of support for marriage in civil society. So no, we didn’t get involved in it.
But then after a while, particularly after the Massachusetts case in 2004, which was a real turning point in this whole issue that brought same-sex marriage into Massachusetts, I ended up writing a book called “The Future of Marriage,” where I did take a position against gay marriage, and then it was that book that was the basis of my testimony at the trial in California.[WG]: I see. Well, we’re going to get into the very important concrete details of the position in just a moment, but I’m also curious about the process of changing a fundamental position such as this one, because momentum can be a very powerful force indeed, both for individuals and for institutions. What did it take to point the ship in this new direction for you? [DB]: Well, I had always been of the opinion, from the beginning, that there were good reasons to be for gay marriage, and there were good reasons to be against it. I always thought that – and still do. And so what caused me to shift to give greater emphasis to the reasons to be for it – so that I thought the reasons to be for it were stronger than the reasons to be against it, that’s really the change that happened for me – and what happened, really – I know it sounds – it may sound a little trite to some of your listeners, but the truth is, I just got to know people. I began in a debating mode with some of the gay and lesbian leaders; you know, I would be in these debates around the country on gay marriage. We would argue, and argue, and argue; but then afterwards, over time, I actually got to meet people. And one of them in particular, a fellow named Jonathan Rauch, who wrote a book called “In Favor of Gay Marriage” – he’s a gay writer – and we became friends. I got to know him, and so we were able to talk carefully not only about this issue, but about each other’s lives, and I know it sounds a little, maybe, trite, because we intellectuals, we like to think that we live in our heads, and it’s all about our ideas and our readings and our reflections, but the truth of it is, that for me – I didn’t… You know, I was born in 1955; I’m from Mississippi, that’s where I was born and raised, and I did not know much about gay people. I just didn’t. I just was all… You know, it was under… It was not discussed; when I was a kid, I learned ugly names to call… I learned these ugly words, and that was about it, really. And so getting to know people, getting to know their lives, getting to know their stories, getting to know the idea of what it meant to them to have a partner in life – a lover in life – that was recognized as, you know, for them to be recognized as being equal to others – it came to mean something to me that it did not mean when it was just kind of an intellectual thought, you know? [WG]: Absolutely. [DB]: And so, you know, these people would say to me, “Well, did you know about such-and-such,” a certain Supreme Court case, and I would say, “Well, no, I didn’t know anything about it.” And they said, “Well, for us, this is very important, because this was a precursor to where we are now.” And I said, “Well, that case didn’t have anything to do with marriage; I’m interested in marriage.” And they said, “No, you don’t understand, for us, this is a whole struggle to, kind of, enter into the American mainstream.” I didn’t really know any of that. So it’s not so much that I changed my mind about anything I thought about parenting and the traditional meaning of the institution; I still believe all of that to be true, and very, very important. But I came to an appreciation that I didn’t have before that I, that me, personally – I’m not pointing a finger at others – I was not aware. I was not aware of the suffering going on here, and need for change. I was not as aware as I should have been. And that’s why I changed my position. [WG]: You know, David, I understand why you think our listeners and others might think that a trite statement, and I just have to tell you that I don’t think there is anything near triteness about what you’ve said. Because I believe that real change in us doesn’t just happen in the head; it happens in experience. And hat you’ve said about your relationship with the homosexual community – it could be said about people trying to relate to members of another religion that they don’t know. And the real change does take place until we make ourselves vulnerable to a relationship, and then we discover – I mean, it’s one thing to debate ideas; it’s another to try to debate the value of a human being [DB]: I did not know that, really, I mean, as well as I should have. I was not… And this taught me a lesson. Here I am, a middle – older man, and I learned something here. And, you know, I feel that, especially for those of us in the public eye, as you mentioned, there’s a pressure to just stick with whatever you’ve said previously; and there’s also – we live in such a ugly, rancorous time that you’re just supposed to take a position and call the other side names and that’s that. And there’s also this, kind of, what I find, what you said – it’s based also in the relationship and experience. I find that for people who have ideas, you know, you can develop a kind of tissue of belief; a kind of tissue of doctrine or dogma or belief that stands between you and the other person. And it kind of shields you from getting to know them as people, and their own experience, and being able to really relate, to walk a mile in their shoes and so forth. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that, but sometimes your theory or your formal – your so-called “position” on the issue – can be a barrier between you and other people. [WG]: See, I think that what you’ve just done is describe the solution to the rancorous society that we have because of diversity, and you’ve shown us the way in dealing with almost any issue, how you get through that.
My guest is David Blankenhorn, founder of the Institute for American Values. We’re talking about the Institute’s call for moving the gay marriage debate out of the realm of the culture wars, and engaging it in the service of strengthening marriage as an institution.
David, we’ve talked about the complex mechanics of changing a position on a subject as emotionally charged as marriage, so we’ve covered the “how.” Now let’s talk for a moment about the “why.” Why a, quote, “new conversation on marriage”? Why?[DB]: Well, because the old conversation is at a dead end. For ten years or more now, we have been almost entirely preoccupied with this rancorous argument over gay rights and gay marriage. And any time anybody says the word “marriage,” you can’t take one more step before you’re immediately embroiled in a debate about gay marriage. So number one, we need to refocus on the institution as a whole, and particularly since the institution is fracturing today along class lines. If you are among the upscale Americans who have four-year college degrees – that’s about 30% – the marriage trends for that group are going pretty well. But if you are in the 60% of Americans who have high school degrees but not four-year college degrees – that’s 60% of Americans – marriage is just deteriorating, almost evaporating before our eyes. More and more one-parent homes; more and more breakups; serial relationships; bruised lives; you know, cramped possibilities for thriving for many, many, many children; human suffering. And the weakening of the family and marriage relationships in the broad middle of the country is contributing to inequality, and it’s contributing to the divisions in our society that are so painful, and so need to be fixed. And so we need to think about that. And so the argument that I and my colleagues are making in this new conversation – which your listeners can sign up for today to be a part of – we’re saying: let us stop arguing so much about gay vs. straight, or gay rights vs. against gay rights; let us, gays and straights who want to strengthen the institution for everyone, who want to leave it better off than they found it – we want to work together to strengthen marriage. And so we’re putting the culture war over gay marriage behind us, and we are broadening the conversation to include gays and lesbians with everybody else who want to strengthen marriage, want to focus on the broad crisis that we face. So that’s the gist of it. And we – and I’ll tell you, Welton, I mean, this thing – it’s been encouraging. I mean, we’re getting liberals and conservatives, gay and straight – I mean, there’s a common sense to this that I think is appealing to people. [WG]: Well, I’m so glad to hear you say that, and I’m going to ask you again later, but tell our listeners, if they want to get in touch with you, how to do it. [DB]: Well, if you want to, you go to our website, it’s AmericanValues.org. AmericanValues.org. And you can sign on to our… It’s only 800 words! You know, so it’s short. And it’s called “A Call For a New Conversation On Marriage.” And you can read it, and you can become a signatory. And there are many distinguished Americans who have already signed this, and there are more signing every day. And we’re going to go around the country to talk about this over the next few months; we’re going to have town hall meetings and various discussions with different leaders and people around the country. So this is going to be a serious effort to, really, reframe the discussion, you know? And just get us to a different place, where we can focus on strengthening marriage for all who seek it, that’s another way of saying it. [WG]: Yeah, and I think that is so important, that people understand: not only are you challenging something that’s wrong about our perspective, you’re also modeling the way to get beyond that. Because I see a kind of narrow, sectarian doctrine, divorced from compassion, and a kind of partisan political position, again divorced from compassion, that doesn’t give people room to change. You’re saying you want good marriages for everybody. [DB]: Everybody who wants it, yes. And in particular, you know, the kind of, almost in a humorous way, my colleagues and I have been saying, “OK, if you’re a Liberal, do you believe in strengthening marriage… Do you believe in marriage even if the word “gay” is not in front of it? That’s one way to ask the question. [WG]: That’s right. [DB]: If you’re a Conservative and you think you’re pro-family, are you pro-family enough to break bread with gay and lesbian people who are also pro-family? Are you that pro-family, or not? And if you’re gay or lesbian, are you only interested in the right of access to the institution, or would you also like to leave the institution better off than you found it, through your participation in it, and through your stewardship? That’s also an interesting question. And so whether you’re gay or straight, whether you’re liberal or conservative, there’s a opportunity here to come together and have everybody do better than we’ve done, you know, in the past. Because goodness knows, you know this, Welton, I mean, we have not treated the institution well as a society in recent decades, you know. And of course this is all the result of heterosexual people doing so. But we’ve not treated the institution well; we haven’t respected it; and so that’s the reframing that we’re looking at here, and a broader conversation, the bringing together of a broader group that can say, “Let’s… Let’s turn that trend around. Let’s turn that trend around, and leave this institution a little bit better off ten years from now than it is now.” [WG]: Boy, I just, I mean, those are such exciting questions. To have a dialogue around those would be incredible, and I think David, what you and your colleagues are doing, which I totally support, is: on the one hand, you’re challenging us to see if we really are importantly focused on marriage, or just one kind of marriage; and secondly, you’re offering the kind of compassion that moves us to engage new people, and to get out of our biases and to get into a form of loving relationships that we haven’t yet tried. [DB]: Yes. And – that’s true – it’s what I found that I wanted to try to do, so I’m trying to do the same thing. [WG]: I’, so glad. [DB]: I’ve been talking with David Blankenhorn, founder of the Institute for American Values. He is aggressively working to strengthen the institution of marriage for all – how could you be against that? – by removing the issue of gay marriage from the battlefield of the culture wars in this country. I think David is calling our bluff!
David Blankenhorn is the author of numerous books on culture and values, including several on the institution of marriage. In an age of entrenched partisan polarization on so many issues, it’s a heartening thing to look at some of the very real problems in our society in an honest way, and in a hopeful way, and that’s what Mr. Blankenhorn is doing. I want to thank him for taking time to be with us today, I want to encourage you to find out more about him.
David, one more time the contact information.[DB]: It’s www.AmericanValues – that’s one word – AmericanValiues.org. And you can read the “Call For A New Conversation,” sign up and get email notices of future conversations, and we really welcome that. And thank you, Welton, for the great work that you’re doing. [WG]: Well, listen, thanks for taking time to be with us on State of Belief Radio. [DB]: Thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.