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When the Institute for American Values asked me to write a short response to their new report on marriage, I was happy to oblige and am grateful they posted it. It turns out the president of IAV, David Blankenhorn, is decidedly unhappy with what I wrote, replying in his own piece: “No thank you. And, no thank you. It’s time for a new conversation.”

In my response to the IAV report, I mentioned how odd it was that a report titled “The President’s Marriage Agenda” never once says what marriage is. I asked, “How successful can a ‘new conversation on marriage’ be when its leaders can’t even say what marriage is?”

Blankenhorn’s response fails—again—to say a word about what marriage is. So the question remains: What is marriage?

We have yet to hear how redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships provides a rationale for marital norms IAV seeks to promote.

Blankenhorn summarizes my argument thus:

Ryan Anderson’s core argument is that no one can do or say anything effectively to strengthen marriage without first agreeing with him that gay marriage is bad. How does that sound, as a basic idea?

He goes on to argue that he changed his position on redefining marriage so that he could

get out of the very box that Ryan Anderson wants to put me and everyone else in — the little box inside of which the culture war on gay marriage must precede and overwhelm and define everything else.

No thank you. And, no thank you. And I can report from personal experience that the air is much easier to breath, [sic] once you are outside that stifling little box.

Nothing good can happen until we all agree with him on matters of definitions and core principles? Really? I must have missed that memo.

Of course that’s not what I argued, and Blankenhorn quotes nothing I actually wrote to support his assertions. Instead he simply makes something up:

And for those who, like Mr. Ryan, can only say “Oh no! You must jump in my little definition box until I say it’s OK for to come out and do something else,” I say, no thank you. And, no thank you.

My piece on the report made arguments—something entirely missing from Blankenhorn’s series of bald assertions—about why not talking about what marriage is makes advancing a marriage agenda difficult, and why redefining marriage to exclude sexual complementarity is at odds with the goals that Blankenhorn and I both share as far as building a marriage culture goes.

I asked specific questions, questions that Blankenhorn never bothered to even attempt to answer:

The authors [of the IAV report] encourage President Obama to embrace his position as “a cultural leader who can inspire citizens, especially young people,” because “if we are to strengthen marriage and families in America, ultimately this will happen because young people want to bond with one another and give their children the gift of their father and mother in a lasting marriage.” But how can President Obama stress the importance of fathers and mothers while supporting the redefinition of marriage to exclude sexual complementarity?

And I added:

The authors propose that the United States ban anonymity in sperm donation “and reinforce the consistent message that fathers matter.” But how does marriage policy reinforce that message if it redefines marriage to say that mothers and fathers—one of each—are optional for marriage? How does redefining marriage to include lesbian relationships not further incentivize the type of anonymous sperm donation and resulting fatherless children that the authors protest?

Had Blankenhorn answered these questions and showed how the “President’s Marriage Agenda” is compatible with redefining marriage, he might have written a more constructive response.

Instead Blankenhorn engages in ad hominem:

Ryan Anderson wants to sit up in philosophical heaven and shout “Stop!” until until [sic] all definitions are agreed on and all principles are understood and accepted. And it just so happens that he already knows exactly what those definitions and principles are — so all we have do in practice is agree with him, and once we do, we can then (but only then) feel free to try to go to work in the real world to strengthen marriage. I view that as a fairly brassy and arrogant demand.

And he concludes:

The fundamental implication of Mr. Ryan’s argument is that by definition nothing can be said or done in the U.S. to strengthen marriage that is not premised in opposition to gay marriage. That’s the box that he wants us all to be in.

The argument I made in my piece responding to the report—like the arguments I made in the various linked articles such as arguments in my new book What Is Marriage?—are all at the service of discovering the truth about marriage and better understanding why and how that truth matters. It’s not about agreeing with me, it’s about discovering and understanding the reality about marriage, and then moving law and policy and culture closer to a better embrace of and adherence to that truth—because the truth about marriage matters for law and policy and culture.

David Blankenhorn is free to conclude that I’ve gotten it wrong, and he could help move the conversation along by pointing out the mistakes that I’ve made.  However, that would require engaging with my arguments, countering the reasons I offered with reasons of his own, answering my questions to show how squaring this circle is possible.

Blankenhorn is also free to conclude that there simply is no truth about marriage, or that none of us can know the truth, or that the truth doesn’t matter for law, policy and culture. But then again, I’d want to hear arguments and reasons why—not just heated rhetoric.

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