Point of View

Amendment goes too far

April 11, 2012 

We are native Southerners and we oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

One of us (David), reared in Mississippi, has for more than two decades directed a think tank, the Institute for American Values, that aims to strengthen marriage and reduce divorce and unwed childbearing. In 2010, he served as an expert court witness in California’s widely followed “Proposition 8” marriage case.

The other (Elizabeth) grew up in North Carolina and has for a decade directed the Center for Marriage and Families at the same institute. She has made her case against same sex marriage in national opinion pieces, book chapters and reports. We believe that marriage is a uniquely important institution that unites mothers and fathers to their children.

But as marriage advocates, we oppose the state marriage amendment now being debated in North Carolina. We hope that when North Carolinians go to the polls on May 8 they will defeat this measure. Let us explain.

The proposed amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” That’s a big mouthful, and it goes well beyond the issue of same-sex marriage.

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 California “Prop 8” case, David felt that he could testify on behalf of traditional man-woman marriage in good conscience, in part because California some time ago passed domestic partnership legislation to extend legal recognition to same-sex couples. He argued in favor of domestic partnerships, more commonly called civil unions, while also insisting that marriage, because of its unique role in uniting biological, social and legal parenthood – a great gift to our children – is its own institution, deserving of its own name, and should remain, as it has always been, the union of a man and a woman.

Do we suggest that North Carolina must rush out and pass civil unions? That’s not our argument. Our argument is that you should not amend your constitution in order to ban even the future consideration of this, or any other, idea for aiding gay and lesbian couples and their families.

We are convinced that these two ideas – marriage as society’s most pro-child institution that seeks to bond mothers and fathers to their children, and humane recognition for same-sex couples – stand best when they stand together. If you wonder why the push for gay marriage is so rapidly gaining ground across our nation, especially among young people, we don’t think you need to look much further than this tragic social dynamic, in which support for mother-father marriage appears to many to have merged with either overt antagonism or cold indifference regarding the actual lives and needs of gay and lesbian couples and their children.

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.

David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt are, respectively, president and vice president for family studies at the Institute for American Values in New York City. Marquardt grew up in Winston-Salem and attended Wake Forest University.

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