More than perhaps anyone else in America, David Blankenhorn personifies the struggle so many have experienced over same-sex marriage.

First he was agnostic, then he was against it, now he's for it.

This is to say Blankenhorn - a long-standing opponent of same-sex marriage - has shifted his energies to saving the institution of marriage, regardless of whom one chooses as a mate.

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If you're unfamiliar with Blankenhorn, it is because he hasn't been barking his positions on television the way so many ideologues do. And he is not strictly an ideologue but one of those rare people who agonize in search of the right thing.

As creator of the Institute for American Values, Blankenhorn initially sought to avoid the gay marriage issue altogether because it was so divisive - and because opposition necessarily meant hurting friends and, often, family. Eventually, he wrote a book against same-sex marriage and testified against it as California's Proposition 8 was challenged in court.

Last summer, he changed his mind.

Tuesday, Blankenhorn and more than 70 diverse signatories released a letter urging Americans to end the gay-marriage war and change the question from "Should gays marry?" to "How can we save marriage?"

Joining Blankenhorn are scholars, law professors, theologians and journalists. Whether one is gay or straight, they say, the challenge is to figure out how to strengthen marriage for the broader benefit to society.

Blankenhorn's journey parallels that of many Americans who, though they held no animosity toward gays, weren't sure that changing the institution of marriage was in the best interest of society.

Like Blankenhorn, my greatest concern has been the effect on our nation's children. We have witnessed the fallout from broken families in the past several decades, during which divorce and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed.

Blankenhorn's group suggests that given Americans' evolving acceptance of same-sex marriage, we should refocus our energies on a goal that transcends sexual orientation.

His group's focus is on the disintegration of marriage in the middle and lower classes, which, he says, is creating a new underclass of inequality. As it happens, well-educated people tend to stay married in greater numbers, while the less educated are becoming a subculture of economically depressed, single-parent families. Studies no longer need to be cited to convince us of what we know: Children from such homes have a lousy shot at the pursuit of happiness.

Blankenhorn still believes, as do most Americans, that a child benefits most from a loving mother and father committed in marriage. "Marriage," he has written, "is a gift that society bestows on its children."

But this gift has been badly damaged or, too often, withheld. And many same-sex couples today also have children. It is simply not possible to justify offering societal protections to only certain children. It is in our best interest that all children have the security of parents committed through marriage with all its rights and responsibilities.

In an op-ed last summer, Blankenhorn expanded on his vision:

"Once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that marrying before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace?" he asked. "Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation?

"Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents?"

Now there's a feast for thought.

Blankenhorn's personal transformation has resulted in a welcome shift in the public debate. How clever of him to recognize that his allies in strengthening marriage are the very people who for so long have been excluded.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

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