Maggie Gallagher has been writing about marriage for much longer than our media attention spans seem capable of focusing on a topic. She is co-author, most recently, of Debating Same-Sex Marriage from Oxford University Press.
She talks about some of the politics and realities of marriage in America today.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: If you turn on a cable-news program, a Sunday show, or even take a look at the conservative columnists, it appears we have given up debating same-sex marriage. Why is it worth putting up a fight still?
MAGGIE GALLAGHER The media collapse is real, as is a full-scale retreat by political elites, including many conservative elites. This is partly a planned donor-driven campaign that demonstrates gay-marriage proponents’ absolute dominance of the “organs of culture-making” –media, academy, the arts. And it reflects as well the very real political fact that social conservatives are not visibly in politics, except occasionally, in media terms.
Put it this way: I am not sure there was a single Republican in Congress this election cycle who could confidently point to his support for the traditional view of marriage as the margin of his victory. There is lot of conservative political money coming from people who care about life and marriage and religious liberty, but they gave it all this election cycle to the “truce” strategy of Karl Rove — with no ads run on any social issue — so it’s invisible. And there was no visible, organized reaction to Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. So now, naturally, Republican elites are giving serious thought to dumping not only this issue, but life and every other “social issue” which are being blamed for the failure of the political-consultant-driven “truce” strategy of running only on the economy. It makes no sense, even if you accept the political premise that social issues don’t “work” any more. (Since we don’t use them, how would we know?)
How these political elites imagine retreating to the party of Gerald Ford as the path forward I don’t know. It is classic “scapegoating” in the sense that it’s distracting from looking at the central failure of the last election — the failure of Romney’s economic message to connect with voters. As a full-spectrum conservative I’m frankly concerned that we are witnessing the meltdown of the conservative movement, by poll-driven consultants who have failed to win the last two elections but are advising our candidates how they too can fail to win in the next election. It will take a leader to rebuild a conservative movement confident enough to take on the Obama Hollywood/corporate machine — which now knows how to influence the party through its influence on GOP elites.
I am aware that everything I say here could be taken as some kind of populist attack; it’s not really. I’m not that much of a populist. It is simply a description of how culture, including popular culture, unfolds before our eyes. Obama is all-in on his progressive culture wars, while key Republicans are retreating like mad.
“Don’t be the bunny” is my advice to them. Yes they are defining us on the abortion issue, on the marriage issue, the “war on women.” And, yes, also on the economic issues the same dynamic is unfolding. When the GOP retreats, the other side defines who we are.
Where was the full-scale political assault on Obamacare, for example, within the GOP last election cycle? In the absence of any sustained negative political argument on our side, of course the pollsters were surprised to find out how popular Obamacare was with certain voters. Those are the ones who heard about it.
Progressives attack, the GOP retreats, the pollsters find out the attack worked. That’s the dynamic I see unfolding everywhere. Unilateral truce is not a strategy.
LOPEZ: How are you watching this play out specifically on marriage?
GALLAGHER: On the marriage issue specifically let me just say that I do not believe you can rebuild a marriage culture around the new norms of gay marriage, which is that gender is irrelevant to everything except adults’ sexual and romantic desires.
We have a massive collapse of marriage ongoing, a collapse that is rooted in our cultural inability to address the ways in which gender matters. A commitment to genderless marriage makes it very hard to see how to move forward.
Plus, of course, traditional Jewish and Christian believers are going to be redefined as bigots. That process is ongoing. It means the progressives can “unmask” our candidates at will (once this is consolidated), and the conservative movement is going to have to proceed with the relationship between America and the Christian tradition also redefined.
I don’t think you can separate what’s happening on the marriage issue from the larger facts of the conservative implosion.
LOPEZ: Can’t it be argued that this a civil-rights issue? And you’re on the wrong side of history?
GALLAGHER: Of course it can be argued. It’s being constantly argued that way! To agree with that analysis is to agree with two things: First, mothers and fathers aren’t important to their children’s well-being. It’s mere irrational bigotry that makes us think bringing together the child’s own natural parents in one family is significant, or the basis of marriage. Second, “history” is morally progressive. For me that myth died with Roe v. Wade in 1971. “The right side of history” is the progressive substitute for Providence. What future commentators write about me (if they write about me at all which I doubt) when I am dead won’t matter much. I will by then be in the hands of a Judge both just and (thankfully) merciful, a world where truth counts. I’m not triumphal about that fact, I suspect we will all be surprised to discover first-hand how dark the sins we justified in this world really are — when our self-imposed veils of ignorance are removed. We’ll see how much we all require mercy. In the meantime let’s love each other as best we can, but always, always in truth.
LOPEZ: How is this marriage debate really about children? Surely a child being raised by two men committed to one another is better off than many others?
GALLAGHER: Well, perhaps or even probably, but I really don’t know and neither do you. We don’t care enough about the question to carefully collect and analyze the data, using probability samples. Instead any effort that hints at anything but a pro-gay-parenting outcome is either ignored or viciously attacked. There are at least four studies now in the published literature suggesting children raised by gay parents do not do “just as well.” When I last looked, two years ago, I could not find a single study that looked at child outcomes with a child with even one gay male parent, much less the radically motherless child being raised by two dads. We are looking to Modern Family to answer this question, not actual children.
I understand there is a database in Norway that would allow us to answer the question (they collect data on all families in Norway, including same-sex parent-headed families.) I’m hoping some scholar will at least take a look.
But even if it were true that two committed dads are just as well off, it would not change the fact that a society that abandons the need to bring mothers and fathers together for children is going to hurt a lot of kids — it is hurting a lot of kids. The next generation’s endorsement of gay marriage is going hand in hand with a massive retreat from connecting marriage and childbearing. Almost six in ten women with only a high-school diploma now become mothers out of wedlock. It’s the new normal.
And it’s not good for children, for taxpayers, for women, or for society.
LOPEZ: If the Supreme Court overturns DOMA and throws out Proposition 8, what will it mean for marriage? What would it mean for religious liberty?
GALLAGHER: It means the Supreme Court takes away the core civil rights of 7 million Californians to vote on the marriage question. It shuts down the question democratically (and also shuts out therefore the religious-liberty provisions that have accompanied most gay-marriage laws in the states). It means our traditional understanding of marriage, cross-cultural and historical, but including the vision of Genesis, will be redefined as bigotry. And marriage will be undefined in a new way. What is marriage? Why is the law involved in marriage? Why only two people? Why not close relatives too old to produce children? All these questions, which have clear answers in our classic understanding of marriage, become unclear and undefined. The answers we will come up with in the future are no longer certain. I suspect the strongest result will be a renewed push to get government out of the marriage business altogether, and Left and Right will come together to complete the de-institutionalization of marriage.
The feminist radical proposal of my youth in the Seventies will become the conservative orthodoxy of my middle age! Interesting times.
LOPEZ: How does one make common ground with gay-marriage proponents who argue, rightly, that we need to strengthen marriage itself, without giving up on keeping its man-woman nature intact?
GALLAGHER: I think it would have to be around specific policy proposals that we agree on. I haven’t seen many examples of that yet, but it would be the most promising pathway. One of the reasons there aren’t many policy proposals is partly because neither party now is willing to expend political capital to promote marriage. That’s a “social issue” Republicans are avoiding. And the Left cares only about gay marriage. Bloomberg’s ads on unmarried teen pregnancy are an exception to this — but of course he’s spending three times as much on ads for gun control. Still, he deserves some credit.
LOPEZ: How can we have a better conversation about this? What’s a good starting point?
GALLAGHER: Well, both sides have to want a better conversation. Right now it appears mostly conservatives want a better conversation, which is a code word for “please stop calling us bigots and haters!” The Left continues to do that because (a) they believe it and (b) it works. How do we make it stop working? Then the possibilities for a new conversation open up. Right now the question on the table is: Will the traditional understanding of marriage become unmentionable and undefended in the public square? Only if the answer is “no” will the question of “how we live together” become relevant to the Left. And cultural conservatives/Christians need to invest more resources in intellectual/academic/and artistic institutions. The Left needs more conversation partners they are institutionally obligated to respect, and the lone academics who venture out there with social-science investigations need a community of first-rate scholars to identify with and work with and for.