Mark Oppenheimer strongly disagrees with Maggie Gallagher on the same-sex marriage issue. But I learned some interesting things about her from his long profile of America’s leading gay marriage opponent, appearing today in Salon. Look at these passages:
Co-workers at National Review remember a cheery young woman with a gift for friendship. And Sherry Weaver, who met Gallagher on their sons’ first day in kindergarten at P.S. 321, in Park Slope, moved in with Gallagher and Patrick after her third marriage fell apart, in 1992. Weaver remembers a crowded and happy house, filled with guests, many of them from the conservative movement. Charles Bork was often there, and sometimes stayed over.
Weaver says that Gallagher is one of the kindest people she has ever met, and that Gallagher was happy to blend their families for months on end. “She housed my two children and me for seven months,” Weaver told me in an email. “But it was not in the spare bedroom or the family room downstairs in some out-of-the-way space that would not interfere with her life. No, she lived in a small two-bedroom house, so we slept in her bed and she slept on the couch. She slept on the couch for seven months! Who would do that? And she did it with grace and generosity. She paid all the bills, gave me some work that I did horribly, in order to give me money. She did all the cooking and nurtured us with unbelievable kindness. She was never grumpy or out of sorts. My children and I were completely traumatized, and this time with Maggie was a time of healing for us.”
The political writer Jonathan Rauch, the author of “Gay Marriage” and a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage, was a classmate of Gallagher’s at Yale, although he did not know her there. I ask him what he thinks motivates Gallagher. “I don’t believe she’s a homophobic bigot who hates gay people,” Rauch tells me. “She often says she didn’t want to get involved in the gay marriage debate. She says it found her. She is not like the Family Research Council or the American Family Association or Focus on the Family — she wasn’t involved in antigay stuff. She says she had been working to improve, strengthen marriage, and just as she was getting somewhere, this comes along. I have no reason to disbelieve her. She has always been good to me and my husband, Michael. She doesn’t say we’re sick, or ‘Which one of you is the woman?’ or that other stuff on talk radio.
“On the other hand, her arguments aren’t that good, and she is a very smart person. She thinks we won’t survive this last fatal blow to the family and its values, and that makes no sense to me. I wonder if it’s some type of panic. But I do not know the answer to your question.”
Anybody who thinks Maggie is a horrible, mean, nasty person — as distinct from being wrong on this issue — should reconsider. Also, if you think Gallagher got involved in the same-sex marriage fight because it interested her, think again; for Gallagher, it’s all part of a broader fight to preserve traditional marriage, one that stems from her own painful experience with single motherhood.
The far more interesting point — interesting to Oppenheimer, and just plain interesting — is that Gallagher really does think impersonally about this issue, in the sense that she takes no pleasure at all from making gay people unhappy with her stance. Read Oppenheimer’s piece; her response to his question about whether or not the sight of gay people happy together makes her happy is exactly right, from a Catholic point of view (which I happen to share): it is not an occasion of happiness to see people taking pleasure in things that are ultimately disordered. One can certainly understand why same-sex couples would be happy — I certainly do, and wish no one any ill — and at the same time think that the thing that pleases them will, in the long run, be bad for all of us. I feel exactly the same way about my heterosexual friends whose sexual conduct lies outside the moral order, as I see it. Mark says he finds it easier to relate to Evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage than to the cerebral Catholic Gallagher:
It is far easier for me to understand evangelical Christians who oppose same-sex marriage because they are worried about America sinking further into a toxic pit of sin. Unlike Gallagher, they at least are profoundly moved, in their own way, by the plight of gay- and lesbian-led families. They are not cool about it.
I think I get where Mark is coming from here, but I would just respond by asking why finding what a group of people believe and do to be disordered and socially deleterious requires feeling passionate about it? Remember Mike Huckabee’s great line? “I’m conservative, I’m just not angry about it.”
To lay all my cards on the table, I think Maggie Gallagher is one of the bravest people in our public life, but I am not as optimistic as she is about gay marriage. In the short run, we social conservatives are going to lose this thing. But in the long run, I believe she’s right. Look at this conclusion from the Oppenheimer piece:
Those would seem to be the hard facts, the evidence on which pure thought would operate. But for Gallagher these facts are temporal, contingent and ultimately meaningless. They just appear to be facts. In an email two months after our first conversation, she explains why her opponents are mistaken: “One of the lessons I learned as a young woman from the collapse of Communism is this: Trying to build a society around a fundamental lie about human nature can be done, for a while, with intense energy (and often at great cost); but it cannot hold.” Same-sex marriage is just a big lie, she believes, like Communism. It is weak at its foundations, like the Iron Curtain. It may get built, she seems to concede — in 10 years, or 20, there may be more states that recognize same-sex marriage, more shiny, happy couples raising rosy-cheeked, well-adjusted children, children who play with dogs and go to school and fall from jungle gyms and break their arms, children often adopted after being abandoned by the heterosexuals who did not want them or could not care for them — but in time (big time, geological time, God time) the curtain will be pulled back, or it will fall. Because it has to. It cannot be otherwise. Because a son, as Maggie Gallagher will tell you, needs a dad.
This conclusion calls to mind the question I raised yesterday, about how one can tell the difference between an ideologue and someone who is simply highly principled. The historical analogy Gallagher cites is telling, and useful. In 1917, you might have said, “Yes, the Tsar made a hash of things, but this Bolshevik Revolution is not going to work, because it’s based on a false understanding of what human beings are.” People might have said to you that you were heartless towards the plight of the impoverished Russian masses, that you were defending an unjust social order, that you were standing vainly athwart the tracks of history’s locomotive, yelling, ‘Stop!'”
But in time, you would have been exactly right. I think Gallagher is exactly right about the long run. I also think we as a society are going to have to learn this the hard way, over a long and difficult period. Maybe this too is a difference between an ideologue and a principled person: one’s time frame.