LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A key witness for lawyers seeking to defend California's ban on same-sex marriage in federal court in 2010 has changed his view on the subject, and pronounced his support for giving gay unions social recognition.
David Blankenhorn, founder of the Institute for American Values think tank, wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times he now believes the time for "denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over."
"Whatever one's definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness," Blankenhorn wrote in a piece published on Friday.
In 2010, Blankenhorn was the final witness called to defend California's ban on gay marriage, which was passed by voters in the state in 2008 in a ballot measure called Proposition 8. Six states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
Blankenhorn began his testimony by asserting that the best environment for children is to live in a house led by a man and a woman.
But in a surprise to observers of the trial, Blankenhorn seemed to concede certain points to gay marriage advocates under persistent cross-examination from veteran litigator David Boies, who helped launch the legal challenge to Proposition 8.
Blankenhorn said on the witness stand he believed "adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children."
In his New York Times opinion piece, Blankenhorn maintained gay marriage "has become a significant contributor to marriage's continuing deinstitutionalization."
"I have written these things in my book and said them in my testimony, and I believe them today," he wrote in the piece. "I am not recanting any of it."
CHANGE OF HEART
But Blankenhorn went on to argue that he has changed his view due in part to the public's coming to believe gay marriage is about accepting gays and lesbians "as equal citizens."
"And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus," Blankenhorn wrote. "To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing."
Chad Griffin, president of the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, applauded Blankenhorn's change of heart.
"His experience wrestling with the issue of marriage equality and coming out on the right side of history will be an inspiration to millions of fair-minded Americans who are in the same place," Griffin said in a statement.
Representatives from the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family, two prominent groups opposed to same-sex marriage, could not be reached for comment.
Officials from the National Organization for Marriage have argued gays and lesbians should not force society to redefine marriage, and that recognizing same-sex weddings could endanger the freedom of expression of places of worship that oppose it.
President Barack Obama last month announced his support for same-sex marriage, after previously voicing his opposition to it during his 2008 campaign for president.
His change of stance on the issue galvanized the gay rights movement, and set Obama on the opposite side of the question from presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is against same-sex marriage.
In the federal court case in which Blankenhorn testified in 2010, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled to overturn California's gay marriage ban on the grounds that it violated due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
The ban remains in place while its supporters appeal Walker's ruling, which this year was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but could ultimately be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)