David Blankenhorn was a key witness in California’s “Proposition 8” trial. As an author and expert on marriage, Blankenhorn made his case for marriage in that trial, and he was pilloried by David Boies on the stand. After the trial, advocates of gay marriage heaped scorn and ridicule on Blankenhorn for his views and his defense of Proposition 8. As it turns out, their jeering had its intended effect. Blankenhorn has caved and has decided to accept gay marriage.
In an op-ed for The New York Times on Friday, Blankenhorn announced his support for gay marriage. In my view, the article is morally incoherent. Blankenhorn reaffirms his view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Nevertheless, he says that he no longer has the will to fight against the social pressure to accept gay marriage. In other words, against his principles, he’s decided to stand down. That’s the way I read it, anyway.
Maggie Gallagher has a different take on Blankenhorn’s reversal. She argues that Blankenhorn has been divided all along. She writes:
What makes David Blankenhorn singular and I suspect lonely in this fight is his view of gay relationships. In his book The Future of Marriage, David also endorses the, “equal dignity of homosexual love,” and says in a footnote he disagrees with the Biblical view of sexual morality. He struggled to reconcile what he called a, “conflict of goods”…
In David’s mind, gay marriage represents not a case of good versus evil, but a conflict of goods. He has not stopped believing that marriage is the union of male and female, he has simply lost hope he can help strengthen marriage as a social institution by opposing gay marriage…
In short, Gallagher says that Blankenhorn’s views were never tethered to biblical revelation. It was always for him a matter of what was best for children, and he came to believe that marriage was the best way to ensure that children had a connection to their mother and father. Blankenhorn believed that connection to be an intrinsic good that society should uphold and maintain by privileging traditional marriage in law.
But Blankenhorn has simultaneously held that homosexual relationships ought to be respected and valued as a social good as well. Thus, for Blankenhorn, the struggle for traditional marriage was never a struggle of good vs. evil, but a struggle of good vs. good (with children’s connection to parents being the weightier good). On Friday, Blankenhorn abandoned children’s connection to parents as the weightier good.
I can’t help but look at Blankhorn’s defection from a Christian perspective. I appreciate and support people who are fighting to keep marriage defined as one man and one woman. I’m grateful that folks like Robert George and Maggie Gallagher are fighting the good fight in the public square using arguments that are not necessarily religious in nature. Having said that, I’m becoming increasingly skeptical of the prospects for success in winning the argument on those terms alone.
The apostle Paul says that the “mystery” of marriage is great, “but I’m speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The mystery of marriage is something that was once hidden in the Old Testament but that now has been revealed in the gospel. The deepest meaning of marriage is that it is an enacted parable of another marriage—the marriage of Christ to His bride. Can anyone really know that definition of marriage apart from God’s revelation of this mystery? Perhaps the world can know penultimate purposes of marriage (procreation, social order, etc.), but what can it know of the ultimate purpose of marriage apart from the specially revealed gospel of Jesus Christ? If marriage is a gospel mystery, the answer has to be very little.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that the best we can do with public square arguments is to convince some people of some of the penultimate purposes of marriage. But even there, those purposes may appear less and less evident to secular people who do not accept God’s law and the revelation of His ultimate purpose for marriage (e.g., David Blankenhorn). That means that while we hope and pray for the best in terms of our public policy, we as Christians may need to be preparing for the worst. We may actually find ourselves sooner than we think standing against an avalanche of public opinion set against us. We may find ourselves with no other argument than what we find in scripture. When that happens and it becomes costly to stand, will we stand? I hope and pray that we will.
In the meantime, we need to remember that our first priority is not the reshaping of public policy but the preaching of the gospel. Our commission from Jesus is to make disciples. In season and out of season, let us be about that business above all else.