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A review of The Future of Marriage. By David Blankenhorn.

Jul 30, 2007

Encounter Books, 2007.

David Blankenhorn is a world authority on the institution of marriage. One of the biggest debates concerning marriage today is whether we should expand the concept to include same-sex unions. Blankenhorn thinks not, and in these 300 pages he sets out to make the ‘no’ case for homosexual marriage. But he does so, pre-eminently, by making the ‘yes’ case for the institution of heterosexual marriage.

He first seeks to get a handle on what marriage is, and then show how it has been experienced over the centuries. The first half of the book is about what marriage is, and how it has developed. The second half deals with the challenge of same-sex marriage.

Blankenhorn recognises that a definition of marriage is a slippery affair, but after a close examination of the issue and how others have thought about it, he comes up with this helpful conceptualisation:

“In all or nearly all human societies, marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, conceived both as a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are – and are understood by society to be – emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both of the parents.”

In his overview of the history of marriage, he demonstrates what has been the universal belief about marriage: It reflects the fundamental belief that “for every child, a mother and a father”. Thus marriage is primarily about two things: the socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, and the protection and nurturing of the fruit of that relationship. Both are vital components of marriage, and must not be separated from it or from each other.

He argues that marriage is based on two universal and timeless basic rules: the rule of opposites (marriage is man-woman) and the rule of sex (marriage involves sexual intercourse). And even though it is difficult for moderns to get their head around this fact, sexual intercourse has always been about procreation, or at least its possibility.

Put at its simplest, “marriage is fundamentally about sex and reproduction”. And children born into married households are greatly advantaged. As such, “Marriage is society’s most pro-child institution.” The research on how child fare in a two-parent household cemented by marriage is now voluminous. No other type of relationship is as good for children as heterosexual marriage. Family structure, in other words, matters overwhelmingly for children.

And marriage is not just a private relationship; it is a public institution. Social institutions exist to meet fundamental human needs. The need for the institution of marriage arises because human beings are “sexually embodied creatures who everywhere reproduce sexually and give birth to helpless, socially needy offspring who remain immature for long periods of time and who therefore depend on the love and support of both of the parents who brought them into existence.”

So how does same-sex marriage fit into all this? First, it must be said that Blankenhorn is not unsympathetic to the arguments of homosexuals wanting marriage rights. He believes that basic human rights are important, and that all people must be treated with dignity. But he still believes that marriage is not something that can be redefined to include same-sex relationships.

In fact, some Christians may be uncomfortable with aspects with this book. Blankenhorn calls himself a Christian, but says that while he takes the Bible seriously on the issue of homosexuality, he disagrees with it on this point! He thinks we should not – and that Jesus would not – judge a person as “blameworthy just for being a gay or a lesbian”.

But aside from this major concern, his arguments against homosexual marriage are quite good. He argues that homosexual marriage fundamentally means transforming the institution of marriage. Even the various international human rights documents of today speak of the right to participate in the institution of marriage, but they do not “recognise the right to turn marriage into another word for any private adult relationship of choice”.

And given the intimate link between marriage and parenting, to change the institution of marriage is to change parenthood itself. Changing marriage changes marriage for everyone, and it will change parenthood for everyone. But as the research keeps telling us, that will be bad news for children. Says Blankenhorn, every child in the world has a right to a name, a nationality, and a mother and father.

In addition to the deinstitutionalisation of marriage, same-sex marriage would “require us in both law and culture to deny the double origin of the child.” Says Blankenhorn, “I can hardly imagine a more serious violation”.

Blankenhorn then goes on to list some 23 possible positive consequences of legalising same-sex unions, then lists 24 possible negative outcomes. He also offers 12 possible neutral outcomes. A major reason for all this is to demonstrate that this idea being proposed is a very big one indeed, with profound consequences.

As but one example, if we accept the logic of same-sex marriage, how can we possibly oppose the logic of, say, bisexual, polyamorous marriage? If we can redefine marriage in terms of sexual orientation, “why not permit a bisexual woman to marry one man and one woman?”

The consequences of such a revolutionary change will be far-reaching, and at this point, perhaps unmeasurable. But the changes will be monumental. Thus we need to be very careful about how we proceed here.

Blankenhorn concludes by offering some recommendations as to how we might strengthen the institution of marriage. He acknowledges that the future of marriage is shaky at best. But it has never been equalled. The message of this important book is that we dare not play fast and loose with the world’s first, and most important, social institution.

[957 words]

4 Responses to A review of The Future of Marriage. By David Blankenhorn.

  • Hi Bill,

    Society is definitely changing its views on traditional marriage. De facto marriage and cohabitation are now common and no longer stigmatised by society, and the law has acknowledged the legal rights and responsibilities of relationships that are not necessarily bound by written contract.

    I notice that there is no mention of the marriage contract in your article, and the definition of marriage as “socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man” could encompass other kinds of relationship.

    What are your views are on the trend towards recognition of the legal rights (property, inheritance, superannuation etc.) of the partners in same-sex relationships? From what I have read, few homosexuals actually want their relationship to be called “marriage”.

    Marge Williams, Vic.

  • And we don’t want to wait until individual decision makers realise, “Oops, I made a wrong ruling on this subject!” and in the meantime hundreds have been hurt by shoddy thinking and a destructive social experiment.
    We need to pray and inform our policy-makers on the many subjects they are so il-equipped to be making decisions to change any law. We need to do so much more pre-empting because reversals are so rare and so many people/children/marriages/society are damaged in the meantime.
    Rebecca Field

  • In response to something Marge said, I think it is a negative thing that “de facto marriage and cohabitation are now common and no longer stigmatised by society, and the law has acknowledged the legal rights and responsibilities of relationships that are not necessarily bound by written contract.” I also noticed that there is no mention of a marriage contract in the article, and that the definition of marriage as “socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man” could encompass cohabitation.

    Christians should resist the trend to accommodate cohabitation as a form of marriage, otherwise there is no such sin as ‘fornication’ – it just gets redefined as a de facto relationship. At a minimum, marriage needs to include a written contract and be witnessed.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Hi Marge.
    Sorry about the delay in writing, I have been away and have only just returned.
    I just want to say that because something is common that does not make it right; smoking is common but the effects are disastrous; drinking is common but what are the results to families both financially and emotionally?
    Yes, there are many arguments to be put forward in regards to the common acceptance of marriage but I must ask why is it that something that has stood the test of time should be rejected for modern day popularity?
    I am not saying that marriage is perfect but I do believe that it is better than that which is proposed by the open thinkers in today’s society.
    Jim Sturla

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