At the elegant Royal Palms Resort near Camelback Mountain, two Arizona conservatives of note played host to an idea.
John and Lisa Keegan, he the former mayor of Peoria, she the former state superintendent of public instruction, introduced a grand bargain that if realized would bring together conservatives and liberals, gays and straights, in no less a cause than the preservation of marriage.
Joining him was Jonathan Rauch, a distinguished writer and editor for the Economist, Atlantic and National Journal.
For years Blankenhorn and Rauch were adversaries in a traveling debate over gay marriage. Then in 2012, Blankenhorn shook the policy world by switching sides and supporting such unions.
Now the two plan to bring 75 national "thinkers/leaders" to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2 for the founding conference of the Marriage Opportunity Project.
Their goal, as they put it, is to construct a "pro-family coalition … that builds from the center out instead of the right in."
They aspire to unite liberals and conservatives to "deepen the meaning of 'marriage equality' ... to include social class as well as sexual orientation."
To embrace this effort you will probably need to accept these propositions:
• Gay marriage is a fait accompli. Whether you like it or not, the facts are stacking quickly in its favor. It will soon be the law across the land. And if not, the next generation will make it so.
• The hard economics of American life are dividing the classes as never before, leading to a caste system in which one of the strongest dividing lines is marriage. Educated people of means are getting married. Lower income people are not, and their lack of this support structure is leading to historic levels of dysfunction.
• Gays and straights, right and left, have much to gain by working together to strengthen the institution of marriage.
If there were scripture and verse for the Marriage Opportunity Project it would have to be the 2012 tome by conservative social scientist Charles Murray, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010".
Murray argues there is a deepening national schism in which white-collar America enjoys the benefits of marriage, religion, higher education and gainful employment, while blue-collar America slips increasingly into unwed birth, ignorance, joblessness, crime and addiction.
If these trend lines continue, the country we've known will unravel, warns Blankenhorn.
And so he and Rauch propose to bring together people like themselves — Blankenhorn a married man with children who for years defended traditional marriage, and Rauch, a gay man, who championed gay marriage and recently married his partner — to refocus their efforts on defending the institution of marriage.
What's in this deal for traditional-marriage conservatives?
A context to accept gay marriage.
The argument is virtually over. Opinion polls show strong movement in a short time in favor of gay marriage. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 56 percent of Americans support the right of gay people to get married. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, support reaches a whopping 73 percent. Conservatives in opposition will ultimately need to make peace with this growing consensus.
If religious conservatives could accept gay marriage, not doctrinally, but within the context of a free society in which we all tolerate things we don't necessarily agree with, they could find themselves with allies in the policy realm in support of marriage.
What's in it for liberals and gays?
Acceptance. It is one thing to have your values enshrined in law. It is another to be fully embraced by the American family.
Imagine if gays saved marriage — saved the institution they fought so hard to get for themselves. How would that look to conservatives who've spent the last decade arguing equality would destroy marriage?
Many gays would balk at defending such a traditional institution, but marriage that includes gays is new and inclusive. And evidence is growing that marriage is a bulwark against privation and dysfunction in low-income populations. These are populations progressives want dearly to help.
If successful, Blankenhorn and Rauch will help strengthen working-class communities and build consensus that can soothe the culture wars. We eagerly look forward to a national conversation on marriage opportunity.