“Agreeing to Agree” on Gay Marriage

If you followed the blow-by-blow of the Prop 8 trials, then the name David Blankenhorn might be familiar to you. He was one of the witnesses for Protect Marriage, and testified as a questionably-certified sociological researcher who was DEFINITELY not homophobic, and had really nothing but good things to say about gay people EXCEPT that because gay families will never ever be as good for children as hetero biological ones and somehow, because of that, marriage equality would cause significant damage to the social institution of marriage.

this is david blankenhorn

How did Blankenhorn’s opinions and the “research” they were based on hold up in court? Well, this is what Judge Vaughn Walker said about him in his final decision on the case:

Based on his testimony, David Blankenhorn is the kind of guy you might expect to insist he “has a lot of gay friends.” And based on this article in Business Weekly, it would appear that that is true. David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, a gay man, have written together about their “unusual friendship” — the married, gay man and his married, straight friend who believes that his friend’s marriage endangers the fabric of society. They’ve been discussing the subject since at least 2009, when they wrote an op-ed for the New York Times called “A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage.

What could they possibly have in common? A few things, according to Rauch and Blankenhorn:

+ “Prejudice” is bad, and “affirming the equal dignity of homosexual people” is good.
+ Getting married before having children is important, and something “society as a whole should do more to embrace.”
+ “The growing phenomenon of ‘single parents by choice,’ whatever its meaning or value in particular situations, is a harmful social trend.”
+ “…practices and policies need to be rethought when they deliberately and inherently deny children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents.”
+ Religious institutions deserve more privileges when it comes to gay marriage — like being guaranteed that they won’t have to perform it.
+ Both straight and gay couples should be able to adopt, but preference in both cases should be given to married couples.
+ “…both of us worry when we hear stories of employees being fired for opposing gay marriage in their personal lives.”

On the whole, these are some pretty general socially conservative ideas to agree on. Maybe this article could be framed differently; it’s not entirely the shock value of a personal relationship with a opponent of gay marriage, but also about the experience of being an out gay person who holds some pretty conservative and traditionalist ideas about families. Many members of the community probably have at least a few relationships with people who don’t fully support gay rights; that doesn’t necessarily preclude our caring about them, or their caring about us. For some of us, that relationship defines our entire family dynamic, for instance. But you’d be hard pressed to find many gay people who announce that they think single parenting is a “harmful social trend;” as someone who’s personally extremely grateful to have been raised by a singe parent, that was the part of this article that practically made me do a spit-take. Socially conservative gay people don’t get a lot of time in the public eye, but of course they exist — isn’t that really what this “unusual friendship” is based on?

What’s more interesting to me than the fact that Blankenhorn and Rauch both think that married couples are better at raising kids (and that Blankenhorn still does not seem to have reconciled his ideas that married families are better off but that marriage for gay people is simultaneously harmful) is their shared phrasing that really, the conversation should be about “what seems most important as the shouting stops.” Blankenhorn feels that as “the shouting stops,” the most important thing is “conciliation,” and Rauch decides it’s “getting marriage right, for all people.” Sure, those sound like nice things. But who said “the shouting” is stopping anytime soon?

Rauch and Blankenhorn seem to agree that America is headed towards some kind of better future with regards to marriage equality, and in the long-term picture, the news about DOMA seems to support that idea. But does that mean anyone is done shouting? The premise of Blankenhorn and Rauch’s article seems to be that the way forward on marriage equality, regardless of what side you’re on, calls for settling down and talking through this coolly and calmly. Does that make sense? Marriage equality is an important issue for families across the nation, but it’s also important on principle. It’s about our right to enjoy full citizenship rights in our own country. If that’s not worth shouting about, what is? Maybe more so than ever before in recent years, we’ve become comfortable using our outside voices to ask for change. We’re realizing that speaking quietly isn’t working, and that some things can only be achieved by shouting into the night. America doesn’t have a strong tradition of important social change coming out of sober, well-reasoned conversation and collective compromise; instead, we have a strong tradition of people who have grown tired of being told they need to compromise and shouting in the streets until they are heard. Compromise has proven to be a good tool for quieting conflict, but is that always a good thing? Blankenhorn and Rauch are making the case that “conciliation” is possible, but have they made a case that it should be our goal?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. man, fuck david blankenhorn. he’s the worst kind of homophobe — or at least, the kind of homophobe who pisses me off the most — the one who covers up their bigotry with “concern” and presents themselves as a calm-headed ~moderate. just because you’re not calling me a dyke doesn’t mean you’re my fucking friend.

    i dislike the idea that we should shout less. no. what they’re saying isn’t anything new, and i kinda feel like they’re basically telling the gay community to sit down and ask politely for their rights. which is fucked up, imo.

    damn, i have so many angry feelings today.

    • “the one who covers up their bigotry with “concern” and presents themselves as a calm-headed ~moderate”

      I’ve heard that kind of person referred to elsewhere as a Concern Troll. And yeah, it’s infuriating.

      Seriously, fuck this guy. The judge was right on target when he dismissed this guy’s testimony as worthless. His ideas are not new, it’s straight up bigotry even if he wants to pretend otherwise, and just because he got some socially conservative (and somewhat self-hating, it sounds like) gay guy to pat him on the back and reassure him he’s a Nice Guy(tm), doesn’t make his bullshit worth listening to.

      Also, he can take his condescending admonitions to stop yelling and focus on “conciliation” and shove them sideways.

    • I almost prefer the Westboro Baptist Church to people like David Blankenhorn. Like, be a fucking homophobe if you want, it’s your right, but at least have the decency to be honest about it.

  2. I have people I enjoy talking to about other topics and who I’ve called “friends” before who are opposed to equal marriage rights. But they’re not my close friends, because even as someone who is bi rather than gay, I feel like there’s a huge side of myself I can’t really discuss with them without having to endure a bunch of judgmental bullshit. And certainly, the fact that I enjoy their company when we’re NOT discussing gay rights (or abortion or other “social” issues) is not at all an endorsement of their homophobia. I don’t care if it’s religion-based or just cruelty-based. I really wish they could change, because then I could talk with them about a lot more things and we could be much closer friends. It was hard enough for me to have close friends who were homophobic when I thought I was straight, but now that I know that I’m not, that’s pretty much impossible.

  3. I’ll stop shouting when we actually have equal rights, until then I don’t care if he whines because people are being shouty about not liking oppression. It’s a lot easier to be calm about an issue when it doesn’t directly affect you.

  4. I read this article earlier today but got really angry about halfway through — because this..

    “Is opposition to gay marriage by itself proof of bigotry? No. But is far too much of the opposition largely fueled by prejudice? Yes.”

    I totally disagree with! I think opposition to gay marriage by itself is proof of bigotry. I feel like that’s what we all learned and concluded from the prop 8 trial and the DOMA brief. Right? And then also I agree with everything you said, Rachel.

    I wonder if this guy is just trying to position himself more favorably for the moment when his view falls out of vogue. It’s great that he found a gay guy to pat him on the back and say that it’s ok if he doesn’t think gay people are equal to straight people, he’s still a great guy, but I won’t be lining up to shake his hand THAT’S FOR SURE

    • Yes! I can’t think of a logical reason straight people would be opposed to gay marriage that isn’t based on bigotry. Blankenhorn himself doesn’t actually give a reason that’s based on facts and not just his own prejudices. Maybe when someone comes up with a legitimate reason that’s not “it will ruin the sanctity of marriage”, “think of the children” blah, blah, blah I will rethink my stance that person who is opposed to gay marriage = bigot.

    • I agree. I can’t think of a single valid reason straight people have to oppose gay marriage that isn’t rooted in bigotry.

      For queer people who are against gay marriage, I tend to think that unless they oppose for anti-assimilationist reasons, there’s probably some internalized homophobia involved.

      cool story bro time, but I just met a newly-out baby dyke who told me she’s never going to be in a relationship because gay marriage is wrong and sex before marriage is also wrong, so she can never have a relationship because it would be unfair to the girl. She’s really into fundamental Christianity (something she found by herself btw, her parent’s weren’t fundamentalist).

      :( It was so sad, autostraddle. I wanted to clutch her to my chest and say YOU MATTER, BB. YOU MATTER.

      • I’m fairly anti-assimilationist and I still don’t see much reason to be against gay marriage, to be honest. I see it kind of like being an NDN and voting, I don’t recognize the colonial government’s claim to sovereignty over First Nations but if someone else wants to support a party they think will represent them (and can actually find such a party), I wouldn’t want to go back to the 60s when they didn’t have that choice. I think having the choice to get married or not will make choosing not to marry a stronger statement, because then it’s completely about the choice and not about something imposed unjustly by the dominant society.

        Also your story reminds me of my (sort of)ex-girlfriend. :(

    • Yeah, I’ve known even a lot of conservative religious types whose churches were very anti-gay suddenly change their minds on the issue once it turned out a close friend or family member was some flavor of queer. So I’m going to chalk it up to bigotry and ignorance, not simply “a different set of values.”

    • “Is opposition to (interracial) marriage by itself proof of bigotry? No. But is far too much of the opposition largely fueled by prejudice? Yes.”

      See? This makes no sense at all. How can it *not* be proof of bigotry? They’re just grossed out, and that’s no reason to deny a whole group of people equality.

  5. I just got the following reply when I asked a Facebook “friend” why a persons sexuality was relevant to there ability to be mayor.

    “It’s relevant because she is very vocal about it.. and it is a reflection of her moral views.. and they are a threat to the basic foundation of a society.. which is the nuclear family (husband, wife, and child).”
    “In other words, her particular sins are not necessarily the issue (because through her repentance, they can be forgiven). We are ALL sinners. The difference is that she’s driving an agenda with it. The homosexual agenda is a direct threat to society. I’m part of society, so that means it’s a threat to me, and I intend to stop it.”

    I had no idea he had these kinds of views when we met randomly and spend a few days exploring San Francisco together. He is a young, charismatic, “nice” person in his twenties. How is this possible? How are these views still around in this day and age? I feel for all you Americans and I am damn glad I’m in Canada.

  6. Me thinks Rauch is saying all these crap to have a chance at honking Blankenhorn.

    ‘unusual friendship’ ‘shouting stops’ ‘conciliation’.

    I’m sorry, but my pea size brain could only come up with this similar WTF response to these kinds of articles.

    ‘Oh, no, no, we aren’t being bigots when we say you can’t marry the woman you love. We’re merely protecting the sanctity of marriage.’

    Of course you are. I don’t doubt for a second that my menacing piles of Satanically hypnotising flannels and colourful dildos will ruin anyone’s straight marriage. Also, my swoopy hair.

  7. I actually find the conservative gay friend more enraging. I feel like I’ve been encountering the “single mothers are bad, and single mothers by choice are evil” thing everywhere I turn lately, and its making me really depressed. I would love for auto straddle to deconstruct the half-baked conservative sociology that people who think that way sometimes turn to for misleading stats, some time….

  8. Sociologic data overwhelmingly supports marriage as being healthy for the fabric of society. Married people are happier, live longer, earn more income. Their children have lower drop out rates and higher rates of college entry. The colleges of Pediatrics and Psychiatry support gay marriage for this reason.

    • I wish it were as simple as it is in your name, but all you need isn’t love — so much of what you mentioned can be attributed not to love but to money. If you’re a single parent, your income is much more likely to suck balls, which negatively affects your happiness, your health, and your kids’ chances of attending college.

  9. Um i think you missed the point katiebug. I was being a bit facetious in the title, but the science in what I said is verifiable. Then again, you used the phrase “suck balls” so you’re probably, what? 16?

  10. I would just like to make certain everyone knows that Blankenhorn is NOT a sociologist!! He has an “M.A. with distinction in comparative social history”. Not to be an elitist dick (aka: to be an elitist dick), he doesn’t even have a PhD!!

    The American Sociological Association official supports same sex marriage.

    • FACEPALM. Yes, just the one ASA official supports same sex marriage, but we’re working on the rest.


Comments are closed.