Framing a New Marriage Conversation

The New York Times looks at new efforts to promote marriage that include traditional opponents of same-sex marriage who have had a change of heart, spearheaded by David Blankenhorn’s retooled Institute for American Values, and gay marriage advocates including IGF-affiliated Jonathan Rauch, John Corvino and Dale Carpenter. According to the report:

The “new conversation” may discomfit many conservatives by including gay men and lesbians. And this conversation may not suit many liberals who are wary of stigmatizing unwed parents or treating marriage as some sort of desirable norm.

Here’s the group’s mission statement. It says, in part:

We propose a new conversation that brings together gays and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. The new conversation does not presuppose or require agreement on gay marriage, but it does ask a new question. The current question is, Should gays marry? The new question is, Who among us, gay or straight, wants to strengthen marriage?

We’ll see if there is momentum to move beyond social conservatism’s intransigence on the right, and if so whether gay and liberal groups are willing to engage in this conversation with those who are not part of the coalition of the left.

More. Columnist Kathleen Parker weighs in:

Blankenhorn’s personal transformation has resulted in a welcome shift in the public debate. How clever of him to recognize that his allies in strengthening marriage are the very people who for so long have been excluded.

18 Comments for “Framing a New Marriage Conversation”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Ms. Gallagher cautioned, adding that there may be more conservatives willing to accept gay allies than liberals willing to publicly support marriage.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I suspect that Maggie means support “one man, one woman” marriage to the exclusion of our marriages. And if so, she’s right.

    But it might do Maggie to open her eyes and look at the strong commitment of straight liberals to their own marriages and the fact that by all objective measurements (divorce rates, percentage of children born in wedlock, and so on) the condition of marriage “liberal” states is much better than the condition of marriage in “conservative” states. I’ll grant you that there are outliers, but as a general rule, the bluer the state, the better the statistics are with respect to marriage.

    Gays and lesbians have been pushing for marriage for a long time. Why? Because it is good for us, good for marriage and good for our society. Jon Rauch made the case that marriage equality strengthens marriage, while denying marriage equality weakens marriage, a decade ago. I’m glad to see that at least a few conservatives are willing to start listening to reason.

    I hope something comes of this effort.

  2. posted by Houndentenor on

    I’m happy for support from anyone for marriage equality. But the language seems awfully vague and a little creepy. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do to strengthen anyone else’s marriage. Maybe people like this should spend some time on their own relationship instead of blaming gays or the government for their problems. A little of that personal responsibility I hear so much about would work wonders in building a better marriage.

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      We can do a very simple thing to help straights strengthen marriage as the “gold standard”.

      We can start talking with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers about how important marriage is to us and the difference that being married would make in our lives.

      Marriage has been devalued in our society, largely by social conservatives who argue that marriage is not important enough to hold out as the “gold standard”. Social conservatives, by insisting that we should not get married, implicitly argue that marriage is not important for the well-being of couples or important for child-raising.

      Young people, in particular, get that message, which is a factor in why marriage rates are dropping among straights and marriage is treated as a disposable commodity with increasing frequency.

      I am old enough to remember when the cultural message was (1) if you want to live together, get married, and (2) if you have kids, stay married. Think about what the current social conservative messaging about marriage has to say about that.

      Social conservatives are, in fact, arguing that marriage is not a good thing for straights, but a necessary imposed structure for the sexually reckless. Now there’s an argument for the value to marriage!

      So, Houdentenor, it seems to me that we have a role to play, countering the social conservative message by insisting that marriage is important, and a positive good, despite what they say (and think?) about it.

      • posted by Houndentenor on

        What I hear and read from the religious right is that gay marriage is part of some insidious plot (by whom, I’m not sure, and I’m not sure they even think they know either) to undermine “traditional” marriage. By traditional I assume they mean 1950s suburban marriage, not polygamy (as found in the Bible and never denounced in the scriptures except for those wishing to be deacons in the early Christian church) or women as property (which was true up into the 20th century in America and is still true in many parts of the world). I do think a conversation with gay couples in a long relationship who are as married as they could be (just without the legal status) might be helpful and it certainly couldn’t hurt.

        • posted by Tom Scharbach on

          I do think a conversation with gay couples in a long relationship who are as married as they could be (just without the legal status) might be helpful and it certainly couldn’t hurt.

          Conversations, one straight at a time, is how we’ve been changing hearts and minds on marriage equality. Similar conversations about the value of stable marriages, straight or same-sex, to our culture and our country — the direct opposite of the implicit message being sent by religious and social conservatives — might help convince straights, again one straight at a time, that marriage is more than a jail cell for out-of-control straights. In any event, it can’t hurt.

          As to the “Marriage: A New Conversation” initiative of David Blankenhorn’s American Values Institute, it might be yet another vanity initiative for Blankenhorn, or it might have value. It is impossible to say as yet.

          But straight marriage is in a mess, and we can do our part, regardless of what might be going on with Blankenhorn & Cohorts. After all, we have straight family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and we care about them.

          • posted by Houndentenor on

            Of course we care about our friends, family and colleagues. I’m just not sure what, other than listening patiently to the the same complaints about their spouses over and over, I’m supposed to do to make their marriages better. There’s a lot they can do for themselves but there’s not much I can do on their behalf. It seems that I, and not these so-called conservatives, believe in personal responsibility so far as maintaining a healthy relationship is concerned. It’s not the fault of the government or society if one is in a bad relationship.

  3. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    We’ll see if there is momentum to move beyond social conservatism’s intransigence on the right, and if so whether gay and liberal groups are willing to engage in this conversation with those who are not part of the coalition of the left.

    We’ll also see if any religious right and/or social conservative groups (AFA, AFTAH, CWA, FRC, FRI, NOM, TVC and so on) are willing to engage in this conversation with anyone.

    I’m not counting on it, but I’d like to be surprised.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      There is some polling that suggests that younger Evangelicals are more open minded about these issues, probably due to their own personal experience or that of their peers.

  4. posted by Don on

    Did everyone else miss the comment that liberals are squeamish about two parents being a gold standard? I don’t know any liberals like that. They aren’t happy about divorce, but they try not to be judgmental and dislike shaming couples staying together for the children. That’s a far cry from disliking marriage because children shouldn’t have two parents.

    Conservatives believe in good discipline for children. That doesn’t mean they like beating them. If this is what anti-gay marriage people really think liberals want, they are more nuts than I thought. Trying to save face by reiterating a their dedication to two parent marriages of opposite sex couples is fine. But they just look stupid adding on this bizarre denigration as they are ceremoniously being shown the door.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      Yes, it was a typical strawman that we have come to expect from this site. so much for “forging a new gay mainstream”. I don’t know of anyone, liberal or otherwise, who think that two-parent families are bad. Some of us are just realistic about the state of the world. Pining for some mythical ideal family from a 1950s Hollywood soundstage has been a right-wing meme for decades now. I think we have to deal with the reality that most children are currently not being raised in two-parent households. We might wish that more were, but wishing doesn’t change reality. Neither does demonizing single mothers. And most of all I don’t know what the hell any of this has to do with two men or two women wanting to get married.

      • posted by Tom Scharbach on

        Listen to Stephen long enough, and you’ll come away convinced that liberals run their grandmothers through wood chippers, ala Fargo. I try to ignore Stephen’s spewing and address whatever substance I can find.

        • posted by Doug on

          But don’t forget that Stephen is also concerned about “Pervasive Partisanship”. LOL . . . the hypocrisy reeks.

  5. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Columnist Kathleen Parker: Blankenhorn’s personal transformation has resulted in a welcome shift in the public debate.

    Seems more hope than reality, at least at this point. Or maybe hype,

    I follow the major anti-marriage groups reasonably closely, and I haven’t noticed any material “shift in the public debate” coming from them or the politicians beholden to them.

    I suspect that Blankenhorn has been somewhat marginalized in the public debate since he made an ass out of himself in the Prop 8 testimony.

    In any event, I don’t see any evidence that his “transformation” moved the needle at all among social conservatives, and Ms. Parker’s column doesn’t offer any.

    • posted by Mike in Houston on

      For some reason this feels to me like one group trying to get rid of segregated drinking fountains but being offered a chance to talk about whether flouridation makes sense because the other effort is “so yesterday”… especially since marriage equality is already in place where Blankenhorn and most of the other signatories live.

      • posted by Don on

        so glad to hear someone else say what i was thinking. started to think i’d gone barking mad.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      I think gay people are well past the point where we have to be happy with crumbs from the table. Yes, that’s once all we could get, but that was some time ago. I’m sorry that Republicans are lagging so far behind, but that’s their own fault, not ours. I resent the tone of Miller and others in blaming gay people because the Republicans spent decades fueling homophobia to win elections. They did that on their own, not because we wanted them to. And they keep doing it. The only politicians coming out for gay rights are the ones no longer running for office. Yes, it’s a step in the right direction but I’m not throwing them a parade for waiting until they have no say in what happens in campaigns and in our government to speak out. Too little, too late. Yes, we’ve moved the finish line. That’s called progress. It’s a good thing. So pressure current elected GOP officials to support gay rights. Just stop blaming liberals for your failures. 25% of gay people vote Republican in most elections. That’s more than enough people to make an impact and raise the money to fund LCR.

  6. posted by Don on

    All this “marriage is about the children” stuff has always been a bunch of hooey to me. Marriage was codified for financial reasons. Financial support of the children was a huge part of that, but also to guarantee the finances of the wife, etc. It created the atmosphere where in a modern economy (700+ years ago) a wife need not participate directly in commerce. and yet she would have a guarantee of support in exchange for her homely labors and bearing of children. thank God feminism has broken the chains on women that came out of that. but that’s another discussion.

    The whole thing has been about money from the beginning. Inheritance laws, legitimacy of children was a legal distinction for economic support purposes. All about the money. Royal weddings were about financial and political (only slightly less financial in nature) reasons in the Middle Ages. When a marriage ends, virtually no one discusses separating the parenting duties to ensure proper nurturing and care of the children. It’s a war of dividing assets. Disagreements over time sharing of children always serves as a weapon in the money fight. And most often over how much one spouse pays the other to care and feed the children.

    The idea of marriage being a way to nurture and provide positive role models for both males and females is a really, really new idea. And even then, it never figures into the discussion when marriage ends. And when something is over, you find out what it was really all about to begin with. If it were merely about love, you can’t codify that.

    Once again, it’s a discussion of fluoridation rather than separate water fountains.

  7. posted by GayPatriot » Grownups join the gay marriage debate on

    [...] for not getting to this earlier.  The New York Times reported the story on Tuesday.  And Stephen Miller drew my attention to it that very day. I had meant to blog about it on Wednesday, but a friend from [...]

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