I should mention that David Blankenhorn is the president of the Institute for American Values. In fact, according to the Institute’s personnel page, he founded the institute.
So I don’t think I’m inferring too much if I assume that The Marriage Movement: A Statement of Principles, published in 2000 by the Institute for American Values, was produced with David’s approval. So what did the Institute think about marriage before opposing gay marriage became their primary shtick?
Marriage has at least six important dimensions:
Marriage is a legal contract. Marriage creates formal and legal obligations and rights between spouses. Public recognition of, and protection for, this marriage contract, whether in tax or divorce law, helps married couples succeed in creating a permanent bond.
Marriage is a financial partnership. In marriage, “my money” typically becomes “our money,” and this sharing of property creates its own kind of intimacy and mutuality that is difficult to achieve outside a legal marriage. Only lovers who make this legal vow typically acquire the confidence that allows them to share their bank accounts as well as their bed.
Marriage is a sacred promise. Even people who are not part of any organized religion usually see marriage as a sacred union, with profound spiritual implications. “Whether it is the deep metaphors of covenant as in Judaism, Islam and Reformed Protestantism; sacrament as in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy; the yin and yang of Confucianism; the quasi-sacramentalism of Hinduism; or the mysticism often associated with allegedly modern romantic love,” Don Browning writes, “humans tend to find values in marriage that call them beyond the mundane and everyday.” Religious faith helps to deepen the meaning of marriage and provides a unique fountainhead of inspiration and support when troubles arise.
Marriage is a sexual union. Marriage elevates sexual desire into a permanent sign of love, turning two lovers into “one flesh.” Marriage indicates not only a private but a public understanding that two people have withdrawn themselves from the sexual marketplace. This public vow of fidelity also makes men and women more likely to be faithful. Research shows, for example, that cohabiting men are four times more likely to cheat than husbands, and cohabiting women are eight times more likely to cheat than spouses.
Marriage is a personal bond. Marriage is the ultimate avowal of caring, committed, and collaborative love. Marriage incorporates our desire to know and be known by another human being; it represents our dearest hopes that love is not a temporary condition, that we are not condemned to drift in and out of shifting relationships forever.
Marriage is a family-making bond. Marriage takes two biological strangers and turns them into each other’s next-of-kin. As a procreative bond, marriage also includes a commitment to care for any children produced by the married couple. It reinforces fathers’ (and fathers’ kin’s) obligations to acknowledge children as part of the family system.
In all these ways, marriage is a productive institution, not a consumer good. Marriage does not simply certify existing loving relationships, but rather transforms the ways in which couples act toward one another, toward their children, and toward the future. Marriage also changes the way in which other individuals, groups, and institutions think about and act toward the couple. The public, legal side of marriage increases couples’ confidence that their partnerships will last. Conversely, the more marriage is redefined as simply a private relationship, the less effective marriage becomes in helping couples achieve their goal of a lasting bond.
Is it just me, or could 99.9% of what the Institute was saying about marriage just three years ago could be used, today, as excellent arguments in favor of same-sex marriage? Every need that marriage fulfills – according to their 2000 statement of principles – is a need that same-sexers have, too.
Notice how little their 2000 “dimensions of marriage” talk about “child well-being” – nowadays they think marriage is almost exclusively about children, but back then children barely made their list of marriage’s important dimensions. Notice also that just a few years ago – before the gay marriage controversy was so mainstream – their core “dimensions” of marriage didn’t include a word about “heterosexual intercourse.”
So, contrary to David’s claims, it’s evident that talking about “heterosexual intercourse” and the like is something they “just thought up five minutes ago in response to a political controversy.” They’ve been redefining what they say is important about marriage, because their old definition wouldn’t have been convenient to their new goal of excluding gays.
Let’s hope they someday get their 2000 principles back.
ADDED NEARLY TWO YEARS LATER: I should have acknowledged, when I originally wrote this, that the claim that children do best when raised by their own biological, married parents appears in this statement (although not present in their list of “at least six important dimensions” of marriage), and is clearly important to the writers. What’s missing is the claim that biological parenthood is the ONLY reason for marriage that counts, and that without that marriage is empty of meaning – a claim that’s essential to anti-SSM arguments today. Clearly, before they began fixing their thoughts around the need to oppose SSM, they realized that biological child-rearing was not the sole important dimension of marriage.