David Blankenhorn is president of the New York-based Institute for American Values and the author of “The Future of Marriage.” On Sept. 19 he published an editorial in the Los Angeles Times that began: “I’m a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage.”
How did this editorial come about? Was the Yes on 8 campaign involved?
Amazingly enough, I was invited to do it by the op-ed page of the LA Times. I thought it really showed a lot of class on their part because usually they take a different position than my own. I was kind of surprised.
You’re a registered Democrat?
Yes, my whole life. I sort of expect to be taken at my word on this and not have to audition. I’m an enthusiastic Obama supporter in this upcoming race. I oppose the death penalty, the Iraq War. I differ with the Republican Party on fiscal policy, environmental issues, global warming.
Philosophically, I’m a liberal, irrespective of contemporary issues. I mentioned in the article philosophers like Isaiah Berlin. Liberalism is an actual philosophy. There is a school of thought that is broadly called liberalism. It’s also in the tradition of William Galston, a contemporary philosopher whose most recent books is called “Liberal Purposes.” Liberalism is not just what you think about three current issues.
I’m a liberal in that I’m a lifelong Democrat who identifies himself as in the stream of liberal thought in the philosophical tradition. Many of my positions fit within the liberal frame, though not on gay marriage. I don’t like or accept the current framework of political discussion where we line up on two teams and engage in culture war antagonism. I struggle with that, like a lot of Americans. I don’t like Michael Moore, culture wars, Ann Coulter.
Human rights is how liberals speak about human goods. The human rights tradition of the world states that children have a right to their own parents. I think it’s weird that liberals don’t want to stop and talk about that subject. Liberals do have an obligation to talk about it. Liberals generated the idea of human rights.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is the most important human rights document in the world. Its 60th anniversary is coming up in December. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an effort to translate that document into a legally binding framework. It seems to me that liberals need to confront what these documents say about the rights of children.
They mention three rights all children have. The first is to a name. The second is the child has a right to a nation. And third, a child has a right to their own two parents. The first claim of your sympathy is to those with the least power. Children don’t write articles. The people who are dominating the discussion are writing about it from an adult’s point of view.
Your position on gay marriage would generally not be considered the “liberal” position in California.
I imagine that in California most liberals don’t agree with what I’ve said. It’s not the most popular thing to say among contemporary liberals. I’m happy for people to examine my life to see if I qualify as a liberal.
I was trying to make the case that these human rights documents state that it is an obligation of society, as far as it can, to allow a child to be raised by his own mother and father. We know there are tragic circumstances that sometimes that cannot happen. A parent dies, or both die, or a parent is incapacitated. So the institutions of adoption and foster care are seen as compensatory institutions.
Tell me more about your organization, the Institute for American Values.
We have a staff of nine, based in New York City, and budget of $1.2 million a year. We have about 100 affiliated scholars based in Universities around the country. We draw from across the political spectrum. Our whole point is to be broadly based in terms of philosophy.
It’s been noted that some of your funding comes from conservative foundations. Does this reflect a greater interest among conservatives in research into families?
If you want to point out our funding sources, I guess that’s fair enough. For what it’s worth, I think you’re going down the wrong road here. I can’t stop you. It would be a little bit like investigating where your paycheck comes from.
I am proud we have found sources who give us money who are left of center and sources who are right of center. When you as a journalist pursue this line of inquiry, I think you’re modeling the very problem I’ve spent 20 years fighting against. You should discuss what people say and do.
We get money from different foundations, I would say from across the political spectrum. We get money from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. They are a wonderful liberal fund. Do we get money from conservative foundations? Yes. The most prominent would be the Bradley Foundation. I don’t know why anyone would be interested in this. We go to them and say we are a non-partisan organization. We bring to them a mission of strengthening families and society.