An op-ed today in the News and Observer against an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the North Carolina state constitution is nothing short of stunning. Not only because of who wrote it, but also because of the argument they make. For the first time that I’ve ever seen, proponents of “traditional marriage” acknowledge and express concern for gay and lesbian families.
Elizabeth Marquardt and David Blankenhorn work at the Institute for American Values, whose mission in part is to strengthen marriage. Blankenhorn was one of the expert witnesses who testified in favor of Proposition 8. That’s the 2008 California ballot initiative that grafted discrimination onto the Golden State’s constitution by banning same-sex marriage, which had been made legal earlier that year. Voters in North Carolina are being asked to do the same thing on May 8. Yet, this ballot measure goes a step further by stating that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
“[A]s marriage advocates, we oppose the state marriage amendment now being debated in North Carolina,” Blankenhorn and Marquardt write in the News and Observer. “We hope that when North Carolinians go to the polls on May 8 they will defeat this measure.” Their explanation marks a significant shift in the argument against marriage equality and for gay rights.
For one thing, it means that North Carolina could not, now or ever, take any step or devise any policy to extend legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples. No domestic partnership laws. No civil unions. Nothing.
That’s mighty cold. If you disdain gay and lesbian persons, and don’t care whether they and their families remain permanently outside of the protection of our laws, such a policy might be your cup of tea. But it’s not our view, and we doubt that it’s the view of most North Carolinians.
If you want to create a backlash against mother-father marriage – if you want to convince people that the real agenda of marriage advocates is not protecting marriage, but ignoring and ostracizing gay people – then this amendment might be to your liking. But we believe that the cause of marriage is hurt, not helped, by gratuitously linking it to the cause of never under any circumstances helping gay and lesbian couples.
In the piece, Blankenhorn explains that he supported Prop 8 in part because California already had a strong domestic partnership law granting the same legal rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian couples as heterosexual married couples in the state.
Those against marriage equality usually cling to negative stereotypes of gay men and lesbians to bolster their tired arguments. And they have used those arguments to deny those same couples and their families the recognition needed to share in the American dream. Not Blankenhorn and Marquardt. They acknowledge that families headed by gay men and lesbian couples exist and deserve legal protection. Their line of argument was as unexpected as it was welcome.
Sure, they espouse antiquated thinking that marriage should remain the sole province of one man and one woman “because of its unique role in uniting biological, social and legal parenthood – a great gift to our children – is its own institution.” And they’ll never let that point go. Never mind that a two-parent household no matter their gender or sexual orientation providing loving care and support for their children is the great gift. Still, they have advanced the conversation on the status of gay families.
From now on, when we stand up for marriage, let’s make sure that it’s marriage that we’re standing up for. In 2012, perhaps we marriage advocates can begin to prove – perhaps you in North Carolina can be national leaders in proving – that supporting marriage need not carry with it the requirement of bigotry against gay and lesbian persons.
Whatever it takes to ensure defeat of the North Carolina amendment is fine by me.