What Are Gay Marriage Opponents Thinking? A Discussion With Maggie Gallagher

With federal court after federal court ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in recent days, and with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week reaffirming its ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, do gay marriage foes see the walls closing in on them?
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With federal court after federal court ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in recent days, and with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week reaffirming its ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, do gay marriage foes see the walls closing in on them?

Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, told me in an interview this week that she found it "kind of insulting" that the 9th Circuit decided not to have a larger panel of the court rehear the case, possibly sending it to the Supreme Court, because she and others put a lot of "time and treasure" into getting Prop 8 passed.

Statements like that are what lead people to believe that she and other opponents of gay marriage just don't get how deeply offensive the campaign against marriage equality is to gays and lesbians as well as to millions of other Americans. She instead sees herself and those opposed to marriage equality as the true victims, and events this week only seem to have solidified that view.

But, Gallagher says, "I think about gay people as my fellow citizens, my neighbors, my friends, for some of us, family members." Gallagher was on my radio program, participating in a debate I moderated between her and scholar and gay marriage advocate John Corvino, about a book they co-wrote, Debating Same-Sex Marriage (It's surely the only book ever that will feature both Rick Santorum and Dan Savage praising it on the back jacket.)

I noted to her that she speaks in that way, about gay people as fellow citizens who should have rights (even if not marriage), when she is on shows like mine and on CNN and other mainstream outlets. But when she goes on Christian media outlets she talks about homosexuality as something that is an "unfortunate thing" and sinful.

"I think it's not true that I go on some stations and have a radically different view than I have here," she responded. "I don't see that any of us has the right to redefine marriage. It's older than government. It has its own meaning and purpose."

But Gallagher did not deny that she called homosexuality "unfortunate" and in fact reiterated that she has "orthodox" Catholic views on the issue. It's an important fact because Gallagher and NOM often try to couch their arguments against gay marriage as strictly secular, social science-based arguments about the family and children. The only reason religious people are so prominent in the debate, they contend, is that they have more "motivation" to speak up.

"I think the reason you hear only primarily religious people willing to stand up for that idea is that it requires a community," Gallagher said, "and religious people have more motivation to be willing to stand against the charge that you're hateful, or bigoted, or discriminatory or wicked, really, if you don't believe in gay marriage."

With events changing rapidly on marriage equality, and with gays and lesbians getting married now for eight years in Massachusetts and with no damage to the heterosexual marriage (Massachusetts actually has the lowest divorce rate in the country), what would it take for her to throw in the towel and say that gay marriage does no harm?

In the book she actually says that there are no studies of the children of married gay couples because it hasn't existed long enough. That is bizarre in that she is putting enormous weight on a piece of paper and not looking at the actual reality of gay families, where all the evidence is quite clear that children do just as well as with heterosexual parents. It also seems pretty desperate, as if the gay marriage foes do in fact know the walls are closing in.

On the show Gallagher responded to that question by saying that it might take 30 years or more for us to know the effects of gay marriage, and thus that long for her to change her mind.

"In terms of no-fault divorce it took about 30 years for social scientists to come up with a tentative consensus" about the effects on marriage, she said. She added that she'd want to see a society where gay marriage didn't have a negative effect, over a very long period of time, before she changed her position.

That of course makes it virtually impossible: we can't know the effects of gay marriage, she is saying, unless we see what it would do over a generational time span in a society, but we can't let it happen (even though it is and has been for eight years), in order to actually measure its success or failure, because it could be harmful, even though there is no evidence suggesting that.

"It's a long-term perspective," she reiterated. "That's what I'd like to see before I became convinced."

But why should that even convince her? She is, after all, an"orthodox" Catholic who believes the Vatican's position on homosexuality. Thirty years of social science research, on any number of issues, doesn't matter to the Pope. It's doubtful it's going to matter to Gallagher either, and it betrays the true reason why she's waging this battle.

Correction: A previous version of this piece erroneously stated that Massachusetts has been performing same-sex marriages for five years. It has been eight years.

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