Maggie & Me

On Friday, Maggie Gallagher and I had a conversation on Blogginheads in which we continued our attempt to, as she puts it so brilliantly, “achieve disagreement” about whether it is good or bad to gender-neutralize marriage’s entrance rules—i.e., to allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Maggie, as you may know, is one of the chief opponents of same-sex marriage, and has made arguing against our marriages a large part of her career. As you also know, just three days before we spoke, the pro-marriage equality side had won four different state referenda by about 52-48. Maggie was generous in loss; looking at the video, I am embarrassed to say I was testy and not as generous in return. I will apologize.

At the same time, I do think our differing philosophies of marriage become clearer and clearer. She is correct in that hers is losing. As she says, “the fact that sex between men and women makes babies is the central fact about it.” She believes that the purpose of marriage is to take care of that necessary result: tying biological parents to their inevitable offspring. If men and women are going to have sex, they need to be ready to take care of the resulting babies. By enabling same-sex couples to marry, she argues, that message is erased: more and more, the message of the institution of marriage is that what matters is the intimacy between the partners, not strenghtening the tie between sex and responsibility. (Maggie, have I got this right?) She fears, now, that “traditional Christians” like herself will be persecuted for advocating and attempting to live out what they believe, even when they are not speaking hatefully or harming others. In response, I argue that any persecution she might feel is in no way equal to what lesbians and gay men suffered in being excluded from full participation in society—the hatred, fear, beatings, and death that were permissible when we were faggots and queers.

Here are the points that the fine editors at Bloggingheads think will interest you especially:

You will also see that I hydrate even more than does Paul Ryan. What can I say? I’ve always been a thirsty girl.

Here’s my question to you, reader: Are Maggie and I talking with or at each other? Are we discussing in good faith? Is this a worthwhile exercise? Should we continue attempting to achieve full disagreement, or should we shake hands and part? I am asking sincerely. Please let me know, either here or even better, by tweeting me @ejgraff.  


I'm not going to invest 45 minutes in the video tonight. My perspective, which I'll admit up front is completely uninformed by the video I have yet to watch, is that if you're asking those questions you already know the answer.

I've spent much more than 45 minutes of my life trying to give Maggie Gallagher a fair shake - I read her earlier commentary, I read her stuff at the Volokh Conspiracy, I've seen her speak on the subject, and I have seen zero growth or development of the argument on her part. She simply ignores the aspects of marriage that don't fit with her narrative, ignores the aspects of gay marriage that are every bit as admirable as any other marriage, and consistently resorts to the same set of points you describe above.

I will try to get back to this over the next day or two, as I appreciate your sincerity. If I don not, though, it's not because I don't want to help you out, it's because I find the central role of ideologues in the national debate of these issues - even those who appear to be sincere and well-meaning - to be tiresome and unproductive, and I think it has been many years since Gallagher contributed meaningfully to the dialog.

Her "achieving disagreement" is not a joke, it's her job. I think she actually agrees with you about reproductive technology and same-sex conception rights, and so she has to invent arguments about religious freedom and norms to make it seem like someone is arguing as hard as they can against same-sex marriage. But she's not really doing that. She censors the subject of conception rights off of her blog so people aren't even aware it is the ultimate priority. She's a libertarian and science fiction fan who thinks we should allow genetic engineering and same-sex reproduction and transgendered reproduction. She wants to preserve marriage as a moral norm to get men to stay committed to women they have children with, even as men become unnecessary for women to have children. But she also wants to detach conception rights from marriage so that married couples no longer feel approval of having children with their own sperm and eggs and can be forced to use better gametes, without being able to point to their marriage certificate to say they have a right to use their own genes.

Please ask her if she supports an Egg and Sperm law that prohibits making human beings any way other than using sperm of a man and an egg of a woman. I think you'll find she opposes that law. And ask her if she thinks marriage protects the couple's right to conceive with their own genes.

Gallagher is a professional bigot. You have been played, EJ Graff.

Why do some continue to see this gay-bashing liar as a reasonable person??

99% dont buy her nasty schtick.

Okay.... I've listened to the whole thing.

When I hear Gallagher argue for a particular vision of marriage, a (clichéd) 1950's America vision, she's every bit as disrespectful of the history of marriage as the people she criticizes for calling for its continuing evolution. If it was not a problem to shift from marriage as primarily an economic institution with the partners, particularly the women, given little to no say in who they would marry or when the marriage would occur, where women's property rights were secondary to those of men, in which children were treated as little more than the property of their father, where in many parts of society male infidelity was a given and female infidelity an inexcusable transgression.... what's different this time? Would she be comfortable returning to that past, patriarchal and coercive structure because it's more likely that marriages won't end in divorce and that children will be born in wedlock, despite the serious, negative consequences for women? Does Gallagher even recognize that she is a beneficiary of those changes, that her current position and prominence is only possible because of the societal changes she implicitly decries?

We know with certainty that due to age, medical condition and the like, some heterosexual marriages will not produce babies. Gallagher may well believe that married couples shouldn't use birth control, save perhaps the "rhythm method", let the chips fall where they may, but if so she's certainly tempering that message in public. Also, although you only touched on this, your gender does not prevent you from adoption or from being a foster parent - when gay couples have children, adopt children, or otherwise raise children, how is that inferior to the child rearing conduct of a heterosexual couple? Why are their children less entitled to the ostensible 'protection' of having married parents?

If Gallagher believes what she says, her positions imply a much more extreme position underlying her public statements. If she's not being honest about the full scope of her beliefs, I don't see how it's possible to have a productive discussion with her. We already know her positions, and if she's neither willing to be candid or to concede that there's any merit to any competing position, all an invitation for dialog does is give her yet another opportunity to repeat herself.

Incidentally, I think that there are a great many pressures on the institution of marriage, and that our society should be giving serious thought on how to strengthen that institution. Although Gallagher obviously disagrees, I personally believe that expanding the right to marry - encouraging a larger population to 'join the club' - can help strengthen marriage. But that aside, I see Gallagher's arguments as a distraction to the discussion we should be having. I have not seen a single marriage grow weaker due to civil unions and gay marriages. If we obsess over who we allow to marry, we're distracting ourselves from the question of how to make marriages stronger.

Other than earning money from shilling against gay peoples' legal rights, Gallagher doesn't have much of a basis for doing what she's doing. Her tired arguments have been refuted time and again. I admire her persistence, but in the same way I admire the persistence of someone digging a hole, filling it in, digging it again, fill it in again, and so on. Mostly she's a one-man wrecking crew, when you look at the damaged she's caused or rationalized, for a living.

Her career as a bigot is marked largely by the people she's insulted: gays and lesbians, of course. But also childless married couples, whose marriages are evidently shams for not bearing children; straight people, who are evidently too irresponsible with their babies that they'll abandon them if the government doesn't offer the incentive of marriage; judges, doing their jobs of determining the constitutionality of laws, and the list goes on.

Richard John Neuhaus popularized the term "achieving disagreement."

Gallagher had NOTHING to do with it and it shouldnt even be implied she did.

I think it was a measured and mostly intelligent conversation. It's useful to see where the views diverge and where accommodations can be made.

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