The Making of Gay Marriage's Top Foe: How Maggie Gallagher's College Pregnancy Made Her a Traditional Marriage Zealot
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In September 1978, Yale freshmen would not have voted Maggie Gallagher the member of the Class of 1982 most likely to get pregnant before graduation. Gallagher was the third of four children from a close family in Portland, Ore. When she was young, her parents, a financial planner and a housewife, had been active in their local Catholic parish, and Gallagher and her siblings spent some years in Catholic elementary school. As Gallagher got older, her parents began to drift away from the church, and Gallagher’s mother became something of a spiritual seeker (“She once took me to an Up With People concert,” Gallagher now recalls, ruefully.) But Gallagher herself moved to the right in high school. Like many precocious girls, she fell for Ayn Rand’s novels, including “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” and for Objectivism, Rand’s capitalist, acquisitive philosophy. (Gallagher’s other formative influence was the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein.) When she got to Yale, she only gingerly embraced the secular mores, the drinking and the drugs and the hookup culture, that defined life on liberal campuses in the late 1970s. She tried marijuana once and did not like it. She smoked cigarettes but, afraid of becoming addicted, never inhaled.
Gallagher’s earliest acquaintances at Yale remember a somewhat sheltered young woman, polite and likable, a bit startled by what she saw. One of the freshmen who shared Gallagher’s suite of rooms, Bird Jensen, now a musician in Australia, remembers Gallagher as “a born-again Christian” — which Gallagher was not, but the mistake is telling. She remembers Gallagher, who after all was from a progressive, metropolitan area, as if she were from a small town in the middle of the plains. “It was very different for her to have Jewish people celebrating Shabbat, or have a bunch of hippies strumming guitar, or punk people playing music in our room,” Jensen says. “That was all very new to her. But Maggie was friendly. She had strong views on things, but we all got along.” Another freshman suitemate, Faith Stevelman, now a professor at New York Law School, remembers Gallagher as intellectually provocative — “She was introducing me to ideas nobody else would introduce me to” — but a bit of a killjoy. “I think she was somewhat socially immature.” Although Gallagher recalls being totally happy to be at Yale — “It was the first time in my life I was surrounded by many intellectuals,” she says — Stevelman remembers a young woman who stiffened at everything risky about college in the 1970s: sex, drugs, radical politics. “She was not easygoing,” Stevelman says of her suitemate. “She wasn’t what you would call a fun roommate.”
As a freshman, Gallagher joined the Party of the Right, a debating society affiliated with the Yale Political Union. The YPU is a very large campus organization, with hundreds of members, whose main activity is to bring speakers to campus several times a month. But it is organized into “parties,” smaller clubs that meet for meals, pub nights and informal debates. Each party has its own flavor, political and cultural. The Tory Party is right-of-center and high Anglophile (the men wear tweed, the women plan to take their future husbands’ last names); the Liberal Party is left-of-center, earnest and wonkish. The Party of the Right has the deepest culture of the half-dozen or so parties. Its membership is diverse, comprising libertarians and monarchists, Catholic traditionalists and Objectivists, monetarists and distributivists. But they share a passionate, if often pretentious, reverence for the life of the mind. Members of the Party of the Right often major in philosophy, and they prefer debating questions about God or the Good to mundane matters of policy.