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Maggie Responds! And I Can’t Leave it Alone

December 9th, 2010 2 comments

As readers of this site might not know, Maggie Gallagher directly responded to my post from last week’s 365gay.column. In a (mostly) respectful tone, she clarified — seemingly for the first time — her views on civil unions. In principle, she favors them but worries they’ll lead to full marriage equality. And opposing that outcome is her professional raison d’etre.

In this week’s column, I use her post as a springboard to discuss the oral argument in the Prop 8 case, and to agree with Maggie — civil unions do and will lead to full marriage equality. But we differ, of course, on whether that is a good or bad thing.

She’s Half Right

May 27th, 2010 No comments

Here’s Maggie Gallagher, on the reason the LGBT community has made marriage equality a priority. It’s not really about marriage, after all:

“Gay marriage is primarily about establishing an equality right,” she said, “a moral narrative about equality in the law and the culture.”

I half-agree. For complex reasons, marriage has become the central cause of the public, legal battle for LGBT equality. Some have questioned this emphasis, noting — with some justification — that this focus diverts attention from other issues of more significance for the lives of many in the community (perhaps especially the trans-community). But that’s where we are, and we’re there for reasons that are echoes of the focus of women’s rights groups on voting, and of African-American activists’ emphasis on desegregation. All of these movements have targeted state-sponsored discrimination; actions that are uniquely indefensible, especially in a country that puffs itself up, relentlessly, about equality and liberty.

So to the extent I agree with Maggie  I’d add: “Yeah, so what?” Equality: Good.

Her answer to the “so what,” of course, is that the focus on an abstract narrative of equality for some has real and negative consequences for the broader institution of marriage. Here, she’s wrong for two reasons.

First, she willfully ignores the other part of why we’re demanding the right to marry: As Maggie and conservative defenders of marriage never tire of reminding us, marriage itself has real and important consequences to those who enter into it. It creates and cements commitment, and has a personal meaning that’s not so much about equality (in the day-to-day of it), but about a deeper kind of equality — the kind that fuses with dignity and supports a shared life.

Second, even the defenders of Prop 8 admitted during the recent trial that same-sex marriages wouldn’t harm opposite-sex ones. Maggie disagrees, but try to find one negative consequence of marriage equality that she can point to with any confidence.

So who’s making the abstract argument here? Not us.

What, Exactly, Will Maggie Gallagher and Andrew Sullivan be Discussing?

February 16th, 2010 No comments

Tomorrow’s event at the Cato Institute seems like an intriguing cage-match between Andrew Sullivan, a sort-of-lapsed [small c]onservative and the Ultra-Right wing, virulently anti-gay Maggie Gallagher. The stated topic is whether there’s a place for gays in conservatism and the conservative movement. A more perspicacious question might convert the “and” to “or”: Is there a place for gays in conservatism OR the conservative movement? Because these two things are quite different. (I expect that Sullivan will pick up on this point immediately, as he’s written about how the “movement” has lost its way, and therefore him.)

I’m pretty far from conservative. But reading thoughtful conservatives is vital for anyone with aspirations to informed commentary and discussion. The conservative “movement,” though?  Not so much: Tea Parties, torture defense, hypocritical and indefensible legislative obstructionism, and…Sarah Palin. It seems that Burkean-style conservatives have plenty to do in distinguishing themselves from those who have hijacked the word “conservative” and are trying to make off with it. There’s no room for gays — or anyone else whose concern for community, nation, and world isn’t purely cynical — in that “movement.” The gay question is to some extent a distraction from this broader tension, but the issue whether conservatism can find a place for gays is important as a marker for the movement’s continued intellectual legitimacy. Any “movement” that can find no place for a large and influential demographic group is engaging in the kind of denial — closeting, to use a pointed word in this context — that is destined to consign it to history’s periphery. We’re not going away, but they will unless they can find some way of accommodating us.

Expect the third participant, a UK Conservative party “shadow” secretary (Nick Herbert) to explain how that party has abandoned its attacks on the gay community in favor of the kind of robust, inclusive conservatism that Maggie Gallagher loves to hate.

Maggie Gallagher is “Just Saying…” (But You Can’t)

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Maggie Gallagher says:

We have no scientific evidence at all, that I know of, that children raised by same-sex couples benefit if their unions are legally considered marriages. Why is that now self-evident?

Then she says:

I do not think same-sex marriage will serve child well-being in any appreciable way, and I don’t think there is much sign that that is the goal.

So…we shouldn’t be able to just claim that the marriage of their parents will help kids in gay and lesbian-headed families. We need proof. But Gallagher can claim — also without the evidence she’s just said is needed to make any assertion — that “same-sex marriage [won’t] serve child well-being in any appreciable way.” She just “thinks” it, and, apparently, that should be good enough for policy-makers.

This lack of consistency should be astonishing, but it’s the norm for Maggie Gallagher.

If nothing but science will do, then we’re left with speculation on both sides. If that’s so, I prefer the speculation of gay and lesbian parents who are actually raising kids to that of (in this sense) uninformed oppositionists like Gallagher. Here, for example, is my own self-interested view as a gay dad.

Even in liberal West Philly, my kids feel (and will increasingly feel) their difference from the majority of families. We tell our kids we’re married (Gallagher would call us liars, and has1) but soon they’ll know that the state treats their parents as second-class citizens. This can’t be good for them (although of course we’ll deal with it).

Am I wrong? Is that really not self-evident?

  1. Where marriage is legally prohibited, she says:  we can point with confidence to those who claim civil unions are marriages and say with confidence, “Not in the United States.” Thanks for that.

Drop the Bombs [On] the Minarets

November 29th, 2009 No comments

Voters in Switzerland just approved a referendum amending the Swiss Constitution to ban the construction of minarets attached to mosques. The supporters claim it’s not about restricting the religion of Islam, but about the minaret as a political symbol. Whatever.

Here, among other places, I’ve objected to putting people’s rights up for a popular vote. Of course, NOM Prez Maggie Gallagher thinks that legislatures (let alone courts!) are pernicious when it comes to gay rights, and says that the only results we should credit are those coming directly from voters.

Will someone notify me when she celebrates the people’s will on this weird Swiss measure restricting religious freedom? It won’t happen. Expect just the opposite. When and if she opines on this vote, I’ll post my reaction.

NOM Approves of Marriage Between Man, Videogame Woman

November 25th, 2009 3 comments

A Japanese man’s recent marriage to a videogame character, Nena, is reported here:

game

Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage (“NOM”), issued a statement approving the union. “We here at NOM believe that marriage is the union of man and woman,” said Brown. “It’s true that the couple can’t procreate, but this marriage, like all marriages between a man and a woman, promotes the naturally complementary nature of the sexes. That nature is revealed even when, through no fault of their own, the couple is incapable of bearing children.”

NOM President Maggie Gallagher agreed, and expressed a concern that gay couples would try to use this marriage as evidence that they, too, should be permitted to wed. “Expect same-sex couples to whine about their “real needs” as flesh and blood people,” she said. “Whatever those needs are, they shouldn’t be allowed to transform marriage from what it’s always been — the union of man and woman. A cyber-woman is still a woman, and we at NOM support laws that bring people, real or virtual, together. Gay marriage tears marriage apart.”

Gallagher also speculated that some who are objecting to the marriage resented the fact that Nena is beautiful. “Those almost impossibly large eyes, that vast smile….Where was I? It all reminds me of how the activist gay community had it in for that poor Carrie Prejean.”

NOM is said to be considering whether to support the couple’s right to adopt children.

Rhode Island, Salt Lake City, and Working with Principled Opponents

November 11th, 2009 No comments

Within the past couple of days, two astonishing things happened:

  • In Rhode Island,  Governor Carcieri vetoed a very modest bill that would have provided domestic partners with the right to make funeral arrangements for their partners. Although the legislature may have the votes to override this veto, it’s nonethless appalling. After providing a few arguments against the law, the governor tipped his hand as to his real objection:

“This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue.”

What is the “preferred way?,” Governor?

“If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnerships, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of the state of Rhode Island decide.”

So now the setback in Maine is being used to argue that every single issue, no matter how small or commonsensical, should be up for voter approval. This reductio ad absurdum only exposes the insanity of putting “rights” — very broadly defined — up for a vote. What’s next, a referendum on whether first cousins should be able to inherit under the law of intestacy?

  • The Mormon Church has thrown its support behind an anti-discrimination law for Salt Lake City! You read that correctly. And then the city council, to a large extent in the Church’s thrall, passed the law unanimously. It protects LGB and — yes! — “T” citizens against discrimination in housing and employment, with a religious exemption thrown in. Here’s the Church’s statement in support:

“The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage,” Michael Otterson, the director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said.

Let’s summarize: The Church of LDS supports anti-discrimination law, but the (supposedly secular) governor of Rhode Island vetoes a bill that would provide a small measure of human decency, and — let’s face it — do no “violence” to the institution of marriage. The law would also have allowed opposite-sex couples to qualify as domestic partners for this purpose, reflecting the reality that many people (especially as they grow older) are in relationships that don’t fit neatly into the marriage-or-blood relation only categories that usually define the universe of rights-holders. In other words, the law is precisely about creating a structure that recognizes a reality outside of marriage.The governor should be ashamed — but I’m sure he’s not.

These stories make me reflect on the elusive issue of  “principle.” Although LDS’s decision may have been to an extent politically motivated, it nonetheless shows a basic commitment to fairness and a willingness to compromise if doing so won’t violate core principles (such as an objection to same-sex unions). The Church is saying:  “Our principles don’t allow us to support same-sex unions. But that doesn’t mean we believe that LGBT people should be discriminated against in the marketplace. The two are different.”

Often, of course, marriage equality opponents claim that they’re only concerned about marriage, but anyone who takes the time to read their stuff knows better. Again, the dissembling Maggie Gallagher comes to mind. It’s not just about marriage; she opposes civil unions. AND, as this op-ed shows, she has spoken out in oppositon to laws designed to protect gays against workplace discrimination, even referring to such acts with the ironic quotation marks: “discrimination.”

Gallagher, who I remind my readers took Bush Administration money to promote their pro-marriage agenda without disclosing that fact, isn’t credible when she claims to be concerned about marriage only; what she really wants to do is drive gays and lesbians back into the closet, by denying even the most basic protections.

Give me the Mormons, any day.

Maggie’s Crystal Ball

August 31st, 2009 1 comment

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,”1 because I think they really tell us everything we need to know about her true fear:

  1. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.
  2. 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.

  1. Predictions 2 and 3 in the original article.

Maggie Gallagher Weighs In (on DOMA Brief)

August 21st, 2009 No comments

In my post lauding the Obama Administration for plainly stating, in its latest filing in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA”) case, that “the United States does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing,” I predicted “eruption of the right-wing volcanos.”

And so has it come to pass, with Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (creators of the unintentionally hilarous “Gathering Storm” video) leading the charge. In this column, she unleashes a scattershot attack. Like many such unfocused fusillades, though, she misses every mark.

First, she quotes from DOMA’s statement of purposes, apparently in contradiction to the Department of Justice’s abandonment of the procreation and child-rearing arguments: “[C]ivil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing .”

But Congress passed DOMA, in large part, because of “a deep and abiding” homophobia. Here’s a sample of statements made during Congressional “debate” over DOMA.

North Carolina Senator Lauch Faircloth: “Same-sex unions do not make strong families.”

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia: “[O]ut of same-sex relationships…emotional bonding oftentimes does not take place….”

Representative Smith of Texas: “[S]ame sex ‘marriages’ demean the fundamental institution of marriage. They legitimize unnatural and immoral behavior.” (Note the single quote around ‘marriage,’ a grammatical move made to suggest that calling same-sex unions marriages is oxymoronic.)

I think that’s enough of that, don’t you?

Even to the extent that Congress wanted to encourage “responsible procreation and child-rearing,” it doesn’t follow that excluding same-sex couples from marriage in any way furthers that goal. Gallagher cites several state supreme court cases (but  not the most recent ones, which she conveniently ignores) that mention “responsible procreation,” and then says that the cases recognize procreation as a — not the — purpose of marriage. A wise (if sneaky) concession, because many couples who can’t or won’t procreate,1 are nonetheless allowed to marry. Think of the elderly, as Scalia did in his surely-by-now-regretted dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.

And even to the extent that supporting procreation is a purpose of marriage, why doesn’t that apply to both straight and gay couples who need the assistance of modern reproductive techniques to do so?

Then, after some further boilerplate blather about “the unions of husbands  and wives” being unique and entitled to special legal rights, Gallagher unleashes her final round of artillery:

Surely there are other ways for those who advocate gay parenting to promote their views without attacking the very idea of the natural family, of the duties of natural parents, or the stubbornly retrograde longing of children to know and be known by, to love and be loved by the mother and father who made them, when possible.

No one is “attacking” anything, unless it’s the opponents of same-sex marriages. All the Obama Administration is saying is that, at last, science, psychology, and the reality of human lives have overrun the assumptions that only one possible setting can lead to good outcomes for children.

And where is she getting her “stubbornly retrograde” (indeed!) notion that kids need to know their biological parents? Sometimes, that’s not such a good idea. And, as she concedes (but doesn’t follow through on), it’s not even always possible for kids to know who their bio parents are. And why does that matter? And what message are we sending to “non-traditional” (including adopted) kids by continuing to defend a marriage regime that pushes them and their families to the perimeter?

I weary of this argument, based on nothing but definition, assumption, and faith in the familiar.

  1. “Procreate! I command you!” “You can’t make me!”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatheads

April 14th, 2009 No comments

The silly season may be upon us.

The serious arguments against marriage equality are falling fast, leaving only nonsense and fear behind. Even many  conservatives who formerly opposed equality have come around (sometimes only by recognizing that, whatever the perils of allowing same-sex marriages, they pale as threats to the institution next to divorce and the declining percentage of kids born to married couples). And the overwhelmingly supportive views of younger people are filtering up to the generations above, working through surprisingly permeable soil. It turns out that older people can and do change their views as they’re educated by the next generation, by courts, and by the lives of those around them. New York Senator Charles Schumer is a recent convert, and the Governor of Maine, John Baldacci, has gone from “no” to “hmmm…. let me think about this some more.”

So, expect increasingly desperate, and probably inadvertently humorous, tactics to forestall the march towards equality. Let’s talk about two examples. This petition was being circulated at a Town Hall meeting yesterday in Iowa. (Thanks to  Iowan Kyle Payne, who was at the meeting, for posting this and for letting me know what’s going on there.) It’s just one page, and it “argues” that, just as Abraham Lincoln defied the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, so too could Iowa’s Governor, Chet Culver, ignore his own supreme court and simply executively order overturning Varnum v. Brien (the decision by the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality). I suppose they believe the state’s citizens need to be “emancipated” from judicial tyranny.

In looking over the petition, it initially seemed that it was the work not of runaway citizen zealots, but of duly elected legislators: Rep. Jason Schultz and Sen. James Seymour. But Rep. Schultz e-mailed me to assure me that neither he nor anyone in his office had anything to do with it.1 This assurance was heartening, but also serves as a reminder of the perils of direct democracy on an issue this highly charged; because whoever wrote this petition didn’t bother doing any actual research, unless you include the reference to Wikipedia. 2

In fact, Lincoln had campaigned on a promise to abide by the Court’s decision in Dred Scott, much though he disagreed with it. (Norm Coleman, are you reading this?) For that reason, as well as because of his belief that he could not rely on his inherent war powers to emancipate slaves, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited to those slaves in the states in rebellion, and did not even apply to the border states: Only the insurrection gave him the power to do so, as an incident of his power as Commander in Chief. Is this really the Civil War (in caps)? It would be laughable were it not disturbing, countenancing, as it does, the deracination of the separation of powers.

Along these lines of “disturbing yet somehow funny” is the newly issued video by Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage, which is by now viral — both in its original form and in the inevitable and sometimes revealing mash-ups and parodies. (Here are a couple of keepers.) Instead of the original, which you can find here, the following audition tape really says it all:

Note that these actors are saying exactly the same things that are uttered in the final, wrenchingly risible, version. But this audition tape, through its repetition of the awkward statements in the actual video, points to its own absurdity.

Take this example: “I am a California doctor forced to choose between my faith and my job.”

Huh? What, exactly, are these actor/not-real-doctors talking about? Honestly, I have no idea. Are they saying that they don’t want to treat gays who are legally married? But refusal to treat on that basis would run afoul of the state’s antidiscrimination law, whether there’s marriage equality or not. So what else could they be talking about? Nothing that you can identify, and that’s the point. Plant the fear, and don’t diminish it by being specific (doing so might — not incidentally — also make your statements inaccurate).

“There is a storm gathering. The clouds are dark and the winds are strong. And I am afraid.”

To paraphrase my kids’ current favorite book: It’s cloudy, all right — cloudy with a chance of meatheads.

  1. I haven’t yet heard from Sen. Seymour, but I have to believe that if Schultz didn’t draft it, neither did Seymour.
  2. Luckily for me, my colleague Bob Hayman is a rich repository of knowledge on this subject. My thanks to him for his insights and contribution.