The Corner

In Defense of Marriage: Law and Reality

Last week, Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, testified in defense of traditional marriage in both Baltimore and Providence, while keeping an eye on potential Republican candidates for president. I checked in with her this Valentine’s Day for her quick thoughts on the state of the traditional-marriage debate.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is marriage winning? Some days it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Maggie Gallagher: Actually, marriage was on a big roll last week. A marriage amendment passed the Wyoming senate 20 to 10 (a two-thirds vote was required), after moving through the house judiciary committee, also by a two-thirds margin. In Indiana, a marriage amendment just passed the critical hurdle of the house judiciary committee, which had bottled up marriage amendments for years. In Rhode Island, neither the speaker nor the governor showed up at the hearings — even though Governor Chafee has (absurdly) called gay marriage a key part of his economic-development plan. Legislators are getting hammered with phone calls from constituents in both Maryland and Rhode Island, and things the Left once considered “done deals” in those states are now in danger.

That’s not what you hear, of course, because most of the media — and functionally, even much of the conservative media — is pro-gay-marriage, or at least anti-anti-gay-marriage.

For instance, what was the big news about gay marriage this week? Historic new victories in Wyoming and Indiana? Huge new crowds turning out against same-sex marriage in Rhode Island and Maryland? Legislators getting slammed with phone calls from constituents opposing SSM?

No. The big story was that one Maryland senator changed his vote to favor gay marriage. Gay-marriage advocates are still several votes shy of what they need, even though Maryland is one of the bluest states in the nation, but never mind the facts: “Big victory inevitable” is always the message you hear, no matter what the facts are.

James Davison Hunter is right: Cultural power is the power to name reality. They have far more cultural power than we do, and they name our realities.

Lopez: Not to be part of the problem here by focusing on Maryland, but: Is Maryland, once the Catholic colony, about to give way to gay marriage?

Gallagher: Maryland and Rhode Island are extremely deep-blue states, and with Democratic leaders pushing gay marriage, it’s a tough fight in each state. But Maryland, like Maine, has a referendum process, a “people’s veto.” We are going to win in Maryland, one way or another.

Lopez: What do you find people most misunderstand about the marriage fight?

Gallagher: That it matters. Law names reality. It’s not about what two people do with their liberty in their private lives; it’s about what the law is going to insist is true about marriage, sex, and family, from here on out, if we lose.

Lopez: You were watching all the CPAC speeches this weekend. What’s your takeaway from the fact that there wasn’t a lot of explicit talk about marriage?

Gallagher: This was the first time I’ve covered CPAC as an opinion journalist. I was struck by how much applause there was anytime someone mentioned either the life or the marriage issue. There’s a “story” that the base is ready to give up on social issues. I think Mitch Daniels is wrong about that.

Lopez: Will the marriage issue be a big one during the presidential primaries and election?

Gallagher: The economy is the huge, overwhelming, number-one issue — the economy and Obamacare. However, the first two states in the GOP nominating process are Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which have been gripped by gay-marriage battles. It’s hard not to see Providence in that.

Lopez: How are American marriages? Is this fight helping Americans get their priorities straight (no pun intended)?

Gallagher: American marriage is a little-bit-of-good-news-much-bad-news story. #more#Those who enjoy most every other advantage in human and social capital — the college-educated — are seeing something of a minor revival in marriage: low rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing combined with a sharp drop in divorce over the last 20 years.

The other two-thirds of the American population is in a tailspin. The out-of-wedlock birthrate appeared to stop climbing in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Since the gay-marriage debate broke out in 2003, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has continued to skyrocket: We’re getting close to 45 percent of births out of wedlock. (I’m not claiming cause and effect here, just noting the timeline.) 

If young people are pro-gay-marriage, the effects of the cluster of attitudes that go with being pro-gay-marriage appear to be more like David Blankenhorn predicted than Jonathan Rauch predicted: It goes along with the idea that family structure is not that important, love makes a family. It tends to reduce marriage to a symbol of romantic love, disconnecting it from childbearing.

Lopez: What is your new Ave Maria Law School project — the Center for Research on Marriage, Religion, and Public Policy — about?

Gallagher: Oh, it’s a chance for me to take a break from politics and focus on some interesting intellectual, theoretical, and scholarly questions about sex, marriage, family, religion, and the law. 

I’m toying with the idea of putting together a conference on the topic “Do Dead People Have the Right to Procreate?” just for example. There is some interesting case law being created around the question.

Lopez: What are you most enthusiastic about regarding the marriage issue right now?

Gallagher: To me, it’s amazing, given the array of forces pushing for gay marriage and the weak response of most conservative politicians, that the American people have stubbornly dug in their heels on this question: Are two men in a union a marriage?

The answer is “no,” and people really do know it. Marriage is the union of husband and wife — for a reason. Creating a world where people are treated like haters or bigots for standing for marriage is irrational, and people know that, too. An America in which Genesis is akin to racism is an America that will be unrecognizable. Ideas have consequences, and this idea cuts us off from our roots and makes the future much harder.


The Latest

Colin Powell, R.I.P.

Colin Powell, R.I.P.

We had substantial disagreements but recognize that he will be remembered for a long, consequential career of service to a country that he loved.