Leading Gay Marriage Opponent On Losing The Battle: 'I Have A Lot More Freedom Now'

Margaret Conway, center background, of  Washington and her daughter Quinn watch in the audience on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Ma
Margaret Conway, center background, of Washington and her daughter Quinn watch in the audience on Capitol Hill Wednesday, March 3, 2004, as the Senate Judiciary Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Subcommittee, begins hearings on judicial invalidation of traditional marriage laws. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, wait to testify in the foreground. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Now and again, I like to check in with Maggie Gallagher, a woman who co-founded the National Organization for Marriage, the leading advocacy group opposing same-sex marriage. Gallagher has long served as one of the intellectual pillars of that movement.

She doesn't dispute that the tide has turned in the fight for gay rights since she entered it. But she isn’t completely dejected about the recent string of losses. "I have a lot more freedom now to figure out what I want to do with the next 20 years of my life," she wrote in an email on Thursday.

She weighed in on what's next for the social conservative movement and the growing number of religious Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, among a range of other issues, not excluding the recent St. Patrick's Day controversy. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the United States, has proposed a boycott of Guinness beer after the company withdrew support from New York's St Patrick's parade due to organizers barring gay and lesbian groups from marching with a banner identifying themselves as LGBT.

This week, Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, announced he was putting all of his organization's energy into a boycott of Guinness beer. It's hard to imagine such a boycott affecting Guinness' bottom line. What do you make of efforts like that?

Consumer boycotts are not usually an effective strategy. As YouTube celebrity Antoine Dodson (back when he identified as gay) said, when asked why he was eating at Chick Fil-A, "Them Waffle Fries are banging."

At this point, what do you think is the most effective way to push the message of "traditional marriage" forward?

As I said last summer, it was clear to me from reading Windsor [the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor], gay marriage advocates now have five votes for inserting a right to gay marriage in our Constitution. We are now in the 'gay marriage in all 50 states' phase whether we like it or not. What's next? In my view people who believe in the traditional understanding of marriage, and believe that it matters, have to become a creative minority, finding way to both express these sexual views, culturally, artistically and intellectually and to engage with the newly dominant cultural view of marriage respectfully but not submissively.  

Lots of thoughts packed into the latter sentence.

As for social conservatives as a political movement, even to retain religious liberty protections is going to require a new and more serious engagement with politics. Gay rights people donate enormously more money to direct political action than Christian conservatives who tend to prefer giving to [501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt] ministries who do research, pastor-organizing and spokespersoning -- which is fine as long as you don't imagine you are going to have sufficient political influence that way. It's a failed strategy on its own.  

But I suspect the initial reaction among evangelicals is going to be retreat and hope to be left alone rather than engaging in building new institutions. Will they be left alone? We'll see.

Do you support the religious exemption legislation that several southern states have been pressing?

I haven't read the legislation in question -- it was vetoed in Arizona practically before I became aware it existed, but assuming the religious liberty scholars (including Prof. Doug Laycock) who wrote about it were correct, yes I would support it. I do not think religion should be used to discriminate against gay people in everyday life and I also do not think whole professions should be closed to people who cannot affirm gay unions as marriages, because then, once in a while, a gay person will have to find another photographer.

The comparison of these efforts to "Jim Crow" is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Jim Crow was a system where powerful elites tried to crush the ability of black people to live their lives as part of ordinary society. Melissa of Sweet Cakes (like Elane of Elane photography) [both businesses that denied services to gay couples] is not trying to keep the gay people down. She is trying to live her life, not run lesbian people's lives. 

If it were likely major corporations were trying to push gay customers to the margins and discriminate against them, I would feel differently about it. 

But right now what I see, as I suspect you do: powerful corporations, elite institutions are all lining up to protect and proclaim the dignity of gay people. Small numbers of unusually devoted Christians are just trying to feed their kids. I do not see who is benefited really by putting them out of business. Melissa has five kids, her husband (I was told) now hauls garbage. I understand it would be a rude shock to realize the woman happy to bake you cupcakes doesn't want to bake your happy wedding cake, but I really don't get deciding to put her out of business. It is abstract justice versus real concrete and unreasonable harm.

Have you seen this recent survey showing a really dramatic shift in public opinion among religious groups, and what do you make of it?

Religious people do not exist in a vacuum and as opposition to gay marriage becomes defined in the public sphere as a bigoted and discriminatory impulse, many religious people want to get good with the newly dominant public morality. The new rule is: the only way to express concern and care for gay people is to be for gay marriage, so of course many religious people wanting to express concern and care for gay people generally and for the gay people in their lives will go that route. If responses to previous cultural/sexual/moral clashes (like abortion or the sexual revolution) are any indication, religions that embrace the dominant morality and reject core Biblical teachings will fade, fast, like the Episcopalians in this country. Whether the traditional religious denominations are able to create the institutions necessary to "keep the faith" is an open question.

But I would not expect religious people to remain insulated, which is one reason of course I thought the fight over [same-sex marriage bans] matters culturally and broadly. It is not just a matter of making some gay couples happy by providing benefits to help them live their lives with no consequences for anyone else. It's a broad cultural shift redefining not only the place of gay people in society but of traditional religious believers as well. And also of what marriage is and what it means.  

A lot of people are going to want to escape from the moral disapproval and really sometimes the open hatred directed at you for maintaining the classic view of marriage -- the view that I would say goes something like this, at least in my head and heart: "We are born male and female, our bodies contain a call to come together in love to make and raise the next generation as their mothers and fathers. Yes, many people, for a variety of reasons some, under their control and many not, are not going to end up being married; we should be as kind to one another as we can manage."  

This is the view being discarded and many people will try in a variety of ways to reconcile the new culturally dominant marriage narrative with their religious views and their views about human nature. I am one of those who believe my job is to explain, first to myself and then possibly to others, why I cannot. 

Has this been a difficult time for you? Does it come up often in conversation with others who oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, and if so, how is it talked about?

No, it's really not been a difficult time for me personally. I went into this fight, in good conscience, because I believed it mattered and that I had something to contribute. I did not promise myself I would win. I promised myself I would do everything I could see, to do this good, to fight for marriage as a universal human institution with certain goods and goals. I feel a great deal of contentment about that. I can see some things I might have done differently, but basically I was at post. One cannot do anything better with one's life than stand up for what you deeply believe in, i.e, to speak truth, whether in power or to power.

I have a lot more freedom now to figure out what I want to do with the next 20 years of my life. Thank-you for asking though!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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