WASHINGTON (BP)–Marriage is not merely an individualistic act between two people, a self-described “liberal Democrat” told the Family Research Council Feb. 27 in Washington, D.C.
“It begins with the passionate relationship between the two lovers,” Blankenhorn, a fatherhood and marriage specialist, said in a speech. “Then, via marriage, it requires a formal, public and legal dimension structure to it that helps sustain and orient and make it a lasting institution into which our next generation is born and reared.
“The question of marriage merely as private ordering is completely contrary to the historical definition of what marriage has always been,” he said.
Many leaders are trying to de-institutionalize the idea of marriage and make it into a personal commitment, Blankenhorn said. Instead, society should work on strengthening marriage as an institution, he told the audience.
“The importance of marriage institutionally is where the whole fight is today,” Blankenhorn said. “It’s not about homosexuals; it’s not even about gay marriage; it’s about figuring out if we have the ability to understand that it’s the marriage that keeps the love going.
“The greatest gift society can give to a child is the gift of the two parents that made the child,” he said. “To give up on that is to give up on thriving for our children.”
Homosexual relationships are entitled to the same respect as heterosexual relationships, Blankenhorn said, but he does not believe children should be raised in a household where there is no identifiable mother and father figure.
“The child needs a father and mother who are there for the child and there for each other,” Blankenhorn said. “That’s the great gift — that’s what marriage does for us as humans. It gives us the gift of the two people that helped make us. That’s the common core.
“Marriage exists in all known human groups and has one principle that is common everywhere,” Blankenhorn added. “It is the male and female that come together in marriage; those two individuals are the legal, social and biological parents of the offspring they produce.”
The institution of marriage sets the guidelines for all marriages, he said. For example, the institution says fidelity is an understood part of marriage.
Descriptions of marriage as an “exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other” or “a relationship of love and dedication to another person” are too vague and leave out two important words: ‘sex’ and ‘children,’ Blankenhorn said.
“Since the world began, almost everyone who has defined marriage has understood the consummating, defining act of marriage as public recognition of a sex relationship,” Blankenhorn said. “Children is the other thing.”
Blankenhorn, who last year described himself to USA Today as a liberal Democrat, founded the Institute for American Values in 1987. Since then, he has been addressing the importance of marriage and fatherhood. His 1995 book, Fatherless America, focused on the role of fathers in children’s lives. In his 2007 book, The Future of Marriage, he argued that children need both a mother and a father.
Blankenhorn’s dissatisfaction with the current redefinition of marriage — as a personal commitment between two individuals — sparked two years of research for The Future of Marriage, he said.
“I went on this journey to ask myself, ‘What is marriage in human societies?'” he said.
His research was cross-cultural and global to see if there were any constants in marriage. He chose anthropology as his primary research tool to appeal to a broad audience.
“I discovered marriage is a very diverse institution in society,” Blankenhorn said. “It is remarkable the difference across time and cultures. The diversity of marriage in human groups will blow your mind.”
One constant he found, however, was that most cultures have a specific view of marriage.
“Some people see marriage as a permission slip to have sex,” Blankenhorn said. “Marriage is how you get to have a child. I can show you societies where there’s not the slightest thing wrong with premarital sex. But it is shameful and wrong in the most sexually permissive culture on the planet to have a child unless the parents are married.”
Blankenhorn said children born into divorce or single motherhood lose a vital part of their upbringing — the father.
He pointed out that one ancient Mesopotamian society decreed that a father must stand by his child and vice versa, while in contemporary society children born into alternative lifestyle families might wear T-shirts that read, “My daddy’s name is Donor.”
“What is the society we want?” Blankenhorn said.
Katherine Kipp is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.