Posts Tagged ‘Maggie Gallagher’

An End

September 30th, 2011 4 comments

My final column for 365gay is below. It’s an end, but not the end…I’ll continue blogging here, and watch this site for news about an arrangement with another site. Yet I’ll miss 365: It was a great source for news, and I developed a great working relationship with editor Jay Vanasco.

“One Last Salvo Against the Misuse of Religion:

My last column is kind of an angry one.

Once again, I’m compelled to write about the collision of religious beliefs and civil rights, and – as has become typical – the tension arises in a case involving marriage equality.

As this story details, the town clerk in the small village of Ledyard, New York, has unilaterally decided that she won’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So she now requires that all couples (gay and straight) make an appointment for her deputy (who seems to work part-time) to do the job that she’d previously done.

On the surface, this accommodation might look reasonable. The woman gets to honor her own religious beliefs, and now all couples are being treated equally. Everyone has to wait for an appointment. And in general, I support creative means of conflict resolution as long as they neither stigmatize a legally protected class nor cause undue inconvenience. If, say, there were several clerks working different lines in a large city and one objected to issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples, an unobtrusive switch of clerks would bother no one.

Beyond that kind of practical accommodation, though, allowing this kind of  refusal would be a terrible mistake, and one that would sets very dangerous precedent. Consider this example:

State A passes a marriage equality law. The Attorney General’s religious beliefs are offended by the bill, and he decides that all marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples are without legal force. Of course, such an AG would likely be swiftly fired, or in any event overruled by a court. But until that happened, one might expect him to argue that he simply “couldn’t” do otherwise, as same-sex marriages were against God’s law.

But God’s law – whatever it might be in this case, and there’s no clear agreement among religions on this or any other issue – is beside the point. The AG has a civil law responsibility that he’s failing to discharge.

Much further down on the government food chain, the Ledyard clerk, one Rose Marie Belforti, is doing much the same thing. The similarity can be hard to see, because her refusal to comply with the law – unlike the AG’s – can be sidestepped. But in both cases, we have a public official deciding for themselves when and whether to recognize a law of general application. The AG wouldn’t be able to stay in office were he to insist on his own, law-defying interpretation of what God’s law requires; and the result should be no different here. If Belforti couldn’t figure out a way to do this behind the scenes, too bad for her.

And the consequences of allowing religious beliefs to interfere with clear civic responsibilities can’t be limited to the issue of same-sex marriage licenses. What if a clerk didn’t want to marry two people who’d been divorced? Who’d had sex before marriage? And what would those defending Ms. Belforti say about a judge who granted men, but not women, a unilateral divorce because of his belief that that Sharia law required that interpretation?

We expect judges to follow the prevailing law. We have the right to expect clerks to do the same.

I could respect Ms. Belforti if, like several other clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages, she resigned from her job. But I have nothing but contempt for the rhetoric being put forward by the likes of Maggie Gallagher and Robbie George. Read this article, which details how the pair is trying to turn back marriage equality by appealing openly to the idea that religion should take precedence over equality. Gallagher likens New York state’s insistence on having its laws followed in the clerk cases to the dictates of Caesar, “forgetting” that the democratically elected legislature passed the marriage equality law. But the reference to this dictator is a way of making her point about the supposed religious persecutions.

George, co-author of the much-downloaded, but intellectually dishonest, article “What is Marriage?,” continues to rail against schools that teach about the existence of (let alone the positive results linked to)  families headed by gay and lesbian parents. It’s just too bad for parents who don’t want their children “indoctrinated” into this world, he says.

Worse, he “loathes” the “bad faith” of our “strategy” of demonizing people like Belforti  by deploying the “weapons” of anti-discrimination law. But to insist that validly enacted laws, like New York’s, be interpreted in a way that favors no religion over another is only to follow the rules of democracy itself. George and Gallagher are so sure of their own (rigidly Catholic) version of God that they fail to understand that the best way to respect religion is to insist on its separation from the civil, legal sphere.

For once religion is allowed to set the rules, there’s no guarantee that the faith chosen will be one either of them would endorse. It might even be Muslim.

I can’t end this column without a last goodbye to my faithful readers (some of whom I know by user name; others of whom simply read without weighing in). I’d love for you to follow me over to my own site, Word in Edgewise, where I promise to keep up the fight. (And I might soon be blogging for another site; you’ll have to go to WiE to find out if and where.) I hope to see some of you tonight! And a fond farewell to JV and JW. Thanks to both of you. Excelsior!

John Culhane is Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law. He has edited and contributed to a book on “hot” legal and social issues, and just taped a show for The American Law Journal on the legal rights of unmarried cohabitants (gay and straight). It will be available for viewing on this website by late October. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Does Marriage Make You Happy?

March 30th, 2010 No comments

Who knows? I’m starting to think that the way one answers the question is as close to a Rorschach test as there is in the social sciences. After David Brooks opined that social happiness is more important than material gain (after a certain level of subsistence is attained) and used the example of “successful” marriages to make his point, Andrew Sullivan agreed with him, and Bella DePaulo took exception to Brooks’s conclusions.

It may not have escaped you that reactions fell along predictable lines here. That’s not surprising, because trying to tease out the social benefit of marriage is especially difficult, so that everyone can feel some justification for their conclusions. Even if we try to correct for the selection bias (happier, more successful folks are the ones who tend to marry), in a sense the problem is intractable. We would need to study a control group of Doppelgangers who didn’t have marriage available as an option, and see whether their happiness mirrored that of their real-life counterparts (married and not married). This isn’t likely, except perhaps in a joint venture between the SciFi Network and some dreary public access cable station.

The weight of the social science evidence does suggest that marriage produces social good, but all I’m able to get from that is:

(1) To the extent that marriage leads to longer, happier lives, that’s likely true for gay and lesbian couples as well. (Maggie Gallagher mostly forgets to mention that her co-author on “The Case for Marriage” — Linda Waite, who, unlike Gallagher, is an actual social scientist — favors marriage equality.) We’ll soon have some preliminary data to support that conclusion, but we already know, from one study of couples in Vermont, that those who entered into civil unions stayed together longer than couples who didn’t.

(2) Legal and social support for marriage isn’t justified to the extent that it hoards all of the benefits for married couples and overlooks the needs of other families and living arrangements. Even if some gentle coercion in the direction of marriage is desirable social policy (a highly contestable proposition), that’s no excuse for the embarrassment of government-conferred benefits and riches (to an extent copied by the private sector, as in the case of health benefits) from which other couples are completely excluded.

As James Joyner points out, popularizing social science research may be fun for everyone concerned, but it’s risky business.

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.

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:


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.

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.

Death-Defying! Equality-Denying!

July 9th, 2009 No comments

Today, as I was preparing for my gig on local TV (WHYY in Wilmington’s Delaware Tonight) to discuss the recently signed sexual orientation non-discrimination bill I discovered that the governor, Jack Markell, had delayed the signing by a week because the date originally chosen conflicted with a memorial service for a recently deceased state senator, Thurman Adams. Thus did Adams, who’d single-handedly prevented the bill’s passage for the past decade, reach back from the afterlife and delay the legislation one more time.

This oddity reminded me of a conversation with a friend years ago. We were discussing the efforts of reactionary forces to hold back the tide of equality for the LGBT community, even as most of them realized that their efforts were doomed to Canute-like failure. After a lifetime in opposition, what would they think, as they lay dying? Maybe something like: “I held them back…for a little…while….”

Well, why stop at death? Thurman Adams managed to delay the inevitable for another week even after he’d passed on. Might he have started something? Here are some irreverent suggestions, along the lines of an old Monty Python skit (scroll down to interview about a ‘new’ film starring Marilyn Monroe):

  • Rabid anti-marriage equality spokeswoman Maggie Gallagher can direct that her ashes be kept in a safe place until the next state permits same-sex marriages. Then, as the first couples make their way into City Hall, a high-speed fan can disperse  them into the crowd, temporarily (and fittingly, metaphorically speaking) blinding some couples, and ruining plenty of hair-dos and natty get-ups. Equality delayed!
  • James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” needn’t stop with his death. His body can be placed, at least for a few minutes, in the way of athletes trying to work out with their “predominantly gay” sports teams. Fun and fairness frustrated!
  • South Carolina Governor (and gay marriage opponent) Mark Sanford can direct that his rambling press conferences on the subject of his Argentine mistress/”soulmate” be recorded and played at ear-splitting levels whenever same-sex couples approach an adoption agency. On second thought, normal levels should do.

I’m Not Sick, Mr. President

June 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s Obama’s response to Brian Williams’s question about whether proponents of gay marriage have a friend in the White House:

Translation: No.

Instead, we get the boilerplate about civil unions, benefits — and “the right to visit each other in hospitals”?? After the show, I half-expected an episode of “L.A. Law.” How very late 80’s of you, Mr. President.

Please, can we stop talking about hospitals? Yes, there have been (and even today, continue to be) horror stories of loved ones denied access to hospitals, but is this really a controversial issue today? Even some of the most right-wingnuts support our right to visit each other in the hospital.

And speaking of the late 1980’s, I can’t help noting that the whole issue of the right to hospital visits took on political currency during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. There’s always been an uneasy mix of compassion and fear to this discussion. The compassion part was the text; the fear of the diseased “other,” the subtext. I’ve seen more than one AIDS caregiver become lachrymose, years later, when recounting stories of how only they would change the sweat-and-blood soaked sheets of their spouse, son, or brother.  Often the nurses charged with that duty simply refused. So letting gay spouses visit each other in the hospital stemmed in part from a “better them than me” sensibility.

How about a “live” issue? Here’s one that reflects reality today for many gay people and their families: The lack of dignity, transmitted through law and rhetoric, that the children of gay parents have to deal with every day, in ways overt and subtle. If my twin daughters were to say to Maggie Gallagher: “My daddy and papa are married,”  she would respond: “Not in the United States.”1

What would President Obama say to them? It disturbs me that I can’t answer that question.

  1. Her statement was made in connection with her support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but  is to an extent true even in its absence, because DOMA commits the federal government to the position of non-recognition of gay  marriages, even if valid in the couples’ home states.