One of the reasons why my husband and I began making our videos was to put a face on the issue of marriage equality. Quite often in the debate that has swept the country it has been all too easy for those who stand against the marriages of LGBT people to demonize us and turn us into shadowy characters such that we cease to be a human being to many people and become a threat. Now...I believe that the tactic of dehumanization is an intentional one because it is so often repeated. However, sometimes I am reminded that I have begun to think about the other side in much the same way. Whether is Tony Perkins of the AFA, Rick Santorum, Brian Brown, these people become so ingrained in our consciousness for their actions against the gay community that they can become characters in their own right. In our anger and frustration we can forget that they are human beings and come to see them as purely antagonistic.
This is why a recent salon.com article about Maggie Gallagher spoke to me and I feel compelled to share it with you. Written by Mark Oppenheimer, the article goes into great detail about Maggie Gallagher's early years at Yale and more specifically about the unexpected pregnancy with her college boyfriend who ultimately left Gallagher and his child...leaving her to raise her son Patrick alone. As someone who has followed the marriage battle closely, both in my state, others, and nationally I am accustomed to seeing Maggie Gallagher and very familiar with her talking points. For me, she had become the persona she projected on television and in print. To see her in such a candid way has made me stop to reevaluate this woman who has been the face of of the anti-marriage equality movement. I had to stop and ask myself if knowing what made Maggie Gallagher into an anti-marriage equality activist changed how I felt about all she had done. And what. if anything, do I do with what I now know about her? Does it change anything?
In the beginning of the articles narrative, Maggie Gallagher is a young religious and conservative young woman in Yale during the 70's and the sense of culture shock is evident. Maggie's relationship with and unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend and fellow Yale student ended in Maggie's decision to keep her baby...a decision that was met with ambivalence by her then boyfriend who abandoned Maggie when he was made aware of her pregnancy...
“I was in his room and he had to go do something, and I was going to fly out in a couple of hours, had to get to the airport. And the last thing he said to me was, ‘I’ll be back in 30 minutes.’ And then he wasn’t.”
A year later they got back together and moved into a home in Connecticut with several other undergraduates...a situation that didn't last long and resulted in their breakup. However, the young man continued to be a part of his son's life...for a while at least...
...He occasionally baby-sat for Patrick, until one day, after staying with his son while she attended a conference, he decided he wanted out. “He called me up the next day, or the next, and said that he couldn’t do it anymore, and that he didn’t really want to have anything to do with either of us,” Gallagher says. “And that was it.”
And that really was it. Patrick's father did not have any further contact with his son and eventually moved on to become a doctor, remarry, and have another family. And so the story of Maggie Gallagher moves on without him....a Catholic, conservative single mother becomes a writer for a conservative publication in order to provide for her and her son.
I have found it a challenge to discuss this article without copy-pasting huge chunks of it to illuminate the path that Maggie took from single mother to anti-marriage equality activist. There is just so much good information that I recommend reading the article itself in its entirety. However, for the sake of my readers I will fast forward a bit... the first inkling we get of the Maggie we know today show's up in her book "Enemies of Eros" in which the article points out the beginnings of some of Maggies most familiar arguments. That she blames..."elite women, magazine editors, book publishers, screenwriters, advice columnists, and auteurs"...for creating the notion that the sexes are basically the same and that idea she laments has led to the decoupling of sex from marriage. One of the effects of that decoupling being that children are being raised without knowing their fathers. The article then goes on to give one of Maggies more telling reasons for her belief in the difference of the sexes. this is what she believes about men...
"Sometimes they prefer a hotel room to a house in the suburbs, or beg us to exchange bodily fluids without ever exchanging phone numbers. Sometimes they do not appreciate that making a baby is making a long-term commitment you cannot just walk out on when you’re feeling unfulfilled."
These comments....directed as they are to men and to the feminist movement are ones that are very familiar to anyone who has heard Maggie talk about gay marriage. The decoupling of sex and marriage meme along with the cry that children need to "know and be known by their parents"...and now we see the roots of that oft repeated talking point in the personal experience of feeling abandoned by the father of her child. That one pivitol moment in Maggie Gallaghers life crystalised her rather dim view of men and the state of marriage.
Some time later, the article details that maggie first began to voice her concerns about gay marriage at a conservative political conference in 2003. Maggie is credited with being the first one to raise the concern which no one else really took seriously. But Maggie, being focused on what she saw as the deterioration of marriage saw it as a threat that she took all to seriously...and began to marshall her fellows against what she felt was a grave and inevitable threat to her view of marriage. the rest, as they say...is history.
I read the whole and rather lengthy article in one voracious gulp. This woman had loomed so large in my life and her work had such lasting impact on my family that to see her in this light caused me to look at her in a slightly different light. I now understood the "why" of what Maggie Gallagher did when she delivered those same old talking points on CNN and again in newspapers, blogs, and townhall meetings across the U.S. This woman, who had cast a shadow across all of our lives...was doing so because she was angry at what had happened to her. The marriage and family she thought she should have had been derailed by the circumstances of her life...and for that, she blamed the changing culture of the time. The fact that she seems exclusively focused on denying LGBT people the chance to marry now looks more like a logical extension of the blame she lays at the feet of society as a whole.
Where I disagree with the writer of article is in his assertion that Maggie carries no animus toward gay people...
Reading Gallagher’s portion of “Debating Same-Sex Marriage” and watching numerous clips of her debates, what surprises me is how little Gallagher talks about gay people, or even gayness. Gallagher’s opposition to gay marriage seems to have very little to do with gay people, indeed with people at all. What really excites her is a depersonalized idea of Marriage: its essence, its purity, its supposedly immutable definition.
While I grant that she mourns the state of marriage because the one she hoped for did not happen, there are simply too many examples in which Maggie has referred to homosexuality as dysfunctional and unfortunate. She has also willfully undertaken the same strategy of lies and deceit in the referendum battles for marriage equality in state after state. Maggie Gallagher has not expended nearly as much energy combating divorce as she had in making sure that gay people never get to marry in the first place. Maggie Gallagher may well live in the world of the mind but that does not mean that her actions are driven from some purely intellectual place...there is hurt there and anger. Perhaps she can see that...perhaps not. But were it not for these powerful emotions and beliefs that drive them we wouldn't be discussing her impact on my marriage today. In fact, Prop 8 may not have succeeded at all......What a thought that is for me to consider.
Everyone has their own feelings and opinions on Maggie Gallagher. Some opinions of her come from a place of deep anger and a feeling of being personally attacked by her efforts. She has been vilified, hung in effigy, and accused of being a closet lesbian, and questioned on why no one has EVER seen her husband at her pro-marriage rallies. What ever you think of her...any discussion of marriage equality will usually include a mention of her name. Even though many other people are doing the same behind the scenes arm-twisting of politicians and on camera hand wringing...no one is as recognizable as she.
For myself...I read this article and behind the face I had known from the news and blogs a new face had begun to appear. Will it matter to some that she does what she does because of her own past mistakes?...probably not. But if Jay and I hope to combat the mindless fear of gay people by letting the world see our own. And if it's equally important to us that we show the bad with the good. How can it be any less good to see our opposition in the same light? We stand on separate shores of an ideological divide and lob the bombs of the culture war at the other side simply because they are "the other side" and not people just like us. Perhaps if we can not come to a place of compassion for someone like Maggie Gallagher...then maybe knowing her story will at least take the sting out of her words and give us a framework from which to address them.
All of us are human. We all live lives that may not have gone the way we thought they were supposed to. We have those touch points with each other that can help us see the basic flawed humanity in each other...even in those who we may have a hard time forgiving. I don't know of any other way to end this useless culture war for good.
Until next time dear readers....
(And...a special thanks to Jeremy Hooper of Goodasyou.org who originally posted these pictures of a younger Maggie. They help further remind us of the person behind the pundit.)