I think it’s time for people who are serious about the marriage equality debate to bump Maggie Gallagher off the stage. Her assertions are increasingly groundless or off-point, and it probably doesn’t make sense to waste much more time debating them. (This isn’t just because I strongly disagree with her; David Blankenhorn, for example, has laid out a reasoned, principled case against marriage equality).
So this will be quick and fairly painless. The back story starts with Steve Chapman, who recently invited several prominent conservatives, including Gallagher, to predict how gay marriages would affect marriage more generally. She declined, but then, from the safety of the National Review’s Corner, lobbed back: “He did not note the reason I declined: A project to document institutional change should be done in a serious way.”
Of course such a project should be done “in a serious way.” But it would start with hypotheses that, until recently, Gallagher seemed eager to offer. “Allowing gay marriages would cause the institution to crumble” is one that occurs to me, and, at least once upon a time, occurred to Gallagher as well. Here she is, speaking clearly and directly back in 2003 to host Peter Robinson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution:
Peter Robinson: What harm does it do to the institution of marriage if [gay couples] are permitted legally to marry?
Maggie Gallagher: It changes what marriage is legally, publicly and shared. And it is no longer about getting mothers and fathers for children. Every time…
Peter Robinson: And from that, what follows, the divorce rate goes up, legitimacy increases?
Maggie Gallagher: I think it will block the marriage recovery that we’re doing right now and that you will continue to see a deterioration in marriage….”
I guess she was hoping that no one would unearth that one, because early returns don’t look good. Indeed, the evidence is starting to support the contrary conclusion (divorce rates in Massachusetts since that state began to recognize same-sex marriages remains the lowest in the nation).
But evidence is quite beside the point. Anecdote and unsupported assertions will suffice. Here, for example, Gallagher recounts the story of the unhappy child of two women, who felt herself “unnatural.” What are we supposed to make of this? She cleverly avoids drawing broad conclusions, but the story was obviously introduced to make a point. Funny that she didn’t decline to discuss the story based on a principled belief that we need a “serious project to document institutional change” in that case. Then why decline Chapman’s request?
Ultimately, though, she couldn’t resist. In the National Review, Gallagher took the bait and offered several possible consequences of marriage equality. As noted here, most of the things she fears have to do with her own fear of her position being marginalized than with any demonstrable public harm that might be caused by married same-sex couples in the population.
I’d like to discuss just two of her closely related dire “predictions,” because I think they really tell us everything we need to know about her true fear:
- Public schools will teach about gay marriage.
- Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don’t belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated [sic] in any way.
Does anyone believe that, in the (mostly Christian) United States, “[p]arents who object to gay marriage will be told…that they don’t belong in the public school?” This doomsday scenario could only have been created by someone in the grip of a crazy fear that our pluralist democracy will be overrun by a Gay Mafia. Have you checked the progress of gay rights legislation lately? We’re still waiting for basic employment protection (which Gallagher, incidentally, opposed here).
And about the fear that schools will teach about gay marriage…I hope that they’re already teaching, gay marriage or no, about the multiple forms of family that exist. A good teacher, parent, or…adult with sound common sense will spend at least a moment or two thinking about the kinds of questions that might come up, and will answer them in an age-appropriate way. Recently, a neighborhood friend told me that his five-year-old son had just asked about my kids, and why they had a “daddy and a papa.” He was looking for some counsel on how to deal with the issue, but it turned out that his wife had already answered the question clearly and simply. You might already know this one: “Most kids have a mommy and a daddy who love each other, but some have two mommies, or two daddies, who love each other just as much.”
Is that really so hard to say? Or such a problem that fear of having to speak it becomes one of the Five Predictions of the Apocalypse? How else would you want to answer that question?
OK, maybe that wasn’t so quick….But it’s worth it in the cause of dismissing Maggie Gallagher’s provocations. She may yet draw me back in with a more serious argument, but I’d be surprised.