Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Person Behind The Pundit...Maggie Gallagher

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 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 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 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 who originally posted these pictures of a younger Maggie. They help further remind us of the person behind the pundit.)


  1. Sometimes, when a person gets so wrapped up in the fight, they forget to take a moment and ask if there's a better way to resolve it. I know I've said the tactics used so far (pies in the face and glitter bombs are funny, I admit) have only bolstered the message that LGBTQ are hateful and anti-everything decent. We, as a community, need to support each other instead of focusing on our differences as gay men, gay women, bisexuals, and transgendered and, instead, focus on what links us. Perhaps we need to be examples of the compassion and decency we want shown to us by taking a moment to ask "why?" This article, and this perspective, is not an apology to those acting against our recognized legal rights. It's certainly not surrender, either. It takes great strength, courage, and decency to seek to understand someone who has been so vocal against our recognized legal rights. Healing, and understanding, has to begin somewhere. As difficult as it can be, as frustrating as it is when others who don't take the time to know us speak so harshly against us, we come out because we are strong enough to tell the world "this is who I am." We can be strong enough to be a better example of what morality is.

  2. Interesting…. Maybe a new tactic we can use on Maggie Gallager is to call her out on her apparent sublimation against gays and lesbians seeking to marry and suggest that her real beef is with straight men who don’t take love and commitment seriously, get you pregnant and then abandon you and your child. Unlike the hetero sleezoid who knocked her up, there is no such thing as an unintended pregnancy among GLTB people. Any children we get, whether through surrogacy or adoption, are carefully planned for and very much wanted and loved. Sure, we have some slutty barflies in our community, but those clearly aren’t the slice of us who show up to marry. Those of us who want to marry and fight so hard for the right to marry take our love, commitment and our vows very seriously, maybe even MORE seriously than our straight counterparts. When those of us who are fortunate enough to marry after much struggle, none of which is faced by straights, we cherish our marriages and our life partners so much more. We worked hard for this. We strive harder to make our marriages work and be successful, not only because we might possibly value them more but we desperately don’t want to fail at them and give our right-wing opponents any satisfaction or ammunition of “see, we told you those gays aren’t suitable marriage material. Just look at them….” So our underlying values toward marriage—true seriousness about our commitment—are really in sync with Maggie’s underlying sentiments, absent her misplaced and sublimated homophobic tantrums. If anything, she arguably should stand with anyone, gay or straight, who takes the commitment of marriage seriously. Those of us who marry couldn’t even fathom treating our partners the way Maggie’s former boyfriend did her and who hurt her so badly.

    1. Dave, I've wondered what the divorce rates in same sex couples are and whether they are closer to national norms in countries where marriage equality is more established. Just a few days ago there was an article in HuffPo by a lesbian who is divorcing her wife.

      When you mentioned the seriousness of one's commitment, I couldn't help but be reminded something I saved from the comment thread of an article on gay marriage in May 2009. The commenter was williamyard and this is what he wrote:

      The great thing about homosexual marriage is that it will allow gay people to play at marriage the way straight people have been playing at it for, like, forever.

      The county has reminded us again that our five acres of parched grass and weeds constitute a fire hazard; to alleviate part of the problem we've borrowed three horses and two mules to eat what they can stomach, which will likely amount to about a third of the offending kindling. To alleviate the rest I purchased a new weed whacker and hired a young man named Sebastian.

      Dried grass is not the only thing lying in wait on these hills. There are also snakes. We have corn snakes and garters and king snakes and, especially on hot days, which we've had not a few of lately, there are rattlesnakes.

      Sebastian knows this all too well because he just came from performing a similar chore for our next-door neighbor on his five acres. Our neighbor told us about the snakes, three of which made themselves known when the horses and mules came over week before last.

      Sebastian is 20 years old, married with a young wife at home who takes care of their young children. He is Mexican-American. He is poor. Before I gave him the go-ahead I asked him if he was worried about the snakes. He shrugged and said, "I need the money for my wife."

      Yesterday my daughter got married. The officiant said many wonderful things, including a bit about "commitment." The newly minted husband and wife nodded and beamed at each other. They know a bit about commitment, having maintained their relationship while several hundred miles apart for several months.

      However, they have not walked through fields of snakes to earn money for each other. Eventually we all must face the snakes. Sometimes it's not actually a snake in the grass but a spot on a lung. Sometimes it's a failed business, or an underwater mortgage, or a demented parent. Eventually the choice arrives: stay or walk.

      What happens then, when an open door beckons, is what marriage is all about. If someone can look at that open door, then close it and turn around and tell one's mate, "I'm here for you," one might actually be marriage material, just maybe. Otherwise everybody's just playing a game. Either way, genitalia has nothing to do with it.

    2. Leave or stay…. I agree that things can happen to any married couple that really put that commitment to the test, like health crises and failed businesses and that genitalia shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. Kinda gets you into that “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” territory. I do think, however, there are other factors apart from equality struggles to be able to marry in the first place that I at least would hope would cause gay spouses to cherish what they have more and that they would take affirmative steps to take good care of their marriages so when those kind of external roadblocks you mentioned happen, that we can stand up to those challenges better and not have our marriages crushed by them. Our pool of eligible mates available to us is tiny. Having only 5% or whatever small percent of the population being gay is a real problem. Then we, who want to eventually marry, have to screen out a sizeable plurality of that tiny population—i.e., the freaky, multiple f**kbuddy commitment-phobic bar “hoes”—as unsuitable life partners and an already serious problem is made that much worse. With the numbers so overwhelmingly against us, our chances of finding that same kind of enduring love again are pretty damn awful, relatively speaking, so we especially can ill afford to risk ruining our marriages out of complacency and neglect. And I very much hope that will eventually translate into a divorce rate among gays that is markedly less than for straights and that my idealism on this matter isn’t proven to be in vain.

    3. I hadn't considered the problem of a limited partner pool, and I hope that time supports your idealism, too!

  3. Very interesting blog, it really is different to see those that so oppose us and our rights, in such a light. It is hard to say if I hate any person of not, I mean it's like if Maggie had something bad happen to her I would feel bad for her, or hypothetically if she was in parallel and needed my help I would help her, or even Santorum etc, but I also can't say that I get anywhere near the warm and fuzzy's about them as people ether. I would never wish ill on them but it's hard to see them as good people when they work so hard and do so much to harm me with out even ever meeting and knowing me.

  4. I met Maggie at a Cato Institute lecture in 2006. Virginia was about to pass a draconian marriage "protection" constitutional amendment and the Virginia blogosphere was extremely ugly, many of them repeating her memes ad-nausium. She told her personal story. It was compelling, but it was purely emotional. She presented no evidence that "the idea of marriage" was a very fragile concept that required Victorian purity to ward off decay.

    After the lecture, we had a three minute face to face. I explained that I was married to a man and that we raised a child together. The said she was very happy for me, but cautioned that my family was an idea that should not exist and that she would do everything possible, politically, to insure that in the eyes of the law, we never would.

  5. Maggie’s happy for you my ass. It’s one thing to hold those views in the abstract without actually seeing the people you’re hurting, but it’s so much worse to spew that kind of hate right to your face so unflinchingly. Whatever tiny amount of compassion I might have started feeling toward her as a result of Bryan’s post just got erased by hearing what she said directly to you. I think we need to return her dehumanized badge of shame to her. Congratulations, Maggie. I’m so happy for you…. ;->

  6. Johnathan, it's rather dispeciable of her to say that. I for one have no desire to forgive her because of her past, she had made it clear that she doesn't care for other people, doesn't care about facts, and would continously spread lies no matter what. At least that's how i see her. While we should understand her past and a bit about her, we should never forget that she is too cold to care about facts and about LGBT couples and parents.

  7. I blogged about the incident here:

    This is what I wrote back in June 2006:

    *After the forum, I stopped by the podium and asked Maggie if I could relate a personal story and ask a question. She hesitantly agreed. I told her that my husband and I just celebrated our son’s graduation, and that anti-gay activists had extended her sentiment that ‘every child deserves a mother and a father’ to claim that we raised our child out of ‘selfishness’. She acknowledged that our child rearing was probably not a nefarious act and that I do value family. I then asked if she lives in VA since IMAPP’s P.O. box is in Manassas. Her treasurer lives in Manassas. She lives in the Boston area. Regardless I gave her the voteNOva palm card and asked her how she would vote on our amendment. She read the first sentence and said she would vote yes. I asked her to read the entire amendment, she said she would vote yes to protect marriage based on the first clause:

    “That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.”

    She said she would not have written the amendment the way it’s written, but that she would vote yes. She was getting impatient. I asked her to acknowledge my situation, that the more I support marriage, the more I run afoul of the language:

    “intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage.”

    She blinked and dismissed me with her body language. I felt as if Jabba the Hut had just picked me up, chewed off my legs, picked his teeth with my bones, and thrown me to the ground, expendable collateral damage in the all-important culture war.

    Epilogue “Living in Boston, Maggie should have a pretty good understanding of the actual changes in marriage since 2003. The marriage equality community can’t allow this slighted single-mother cross-bearing pundit to claim expertise in the ‘de-norming’ of marriage when she really doesn’t seem interested in our stories. She is however interested in highlighting every case where a disrespected non-traditional family or supporter lashes out and calls a ‘marriage-protector’ a bigot or homophobe.

    Maggie may be holding on to some personal resentment for the marginalization she experienced as a single parent. Yes, gay people can have sex and not get pregnant, but so can straight people. That’s not a good reason to deny us marriage equality.