The Making of Gay Marriage's Top Foe: How Maggie Gallagher's College Pregnancy Made Her a Traditional Marriage Zealot
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“I’m a revert,” Gallagher says. “I was raised Catholic. When I was 8, my mother left the church, and she ended up doing a lot of spiritual seeking … I was an atheist from the youngest age. When I was 16, I became a Randian. Becoming a Catholic began as an intellectual thing. In college, I reasoned my way into the pro-life stance. I could not come up with any good reason why the person inside a woman was not a person. Also, I had completely separated sex from procreation, and after I got pregnant, I realized that was a mistake. All the smartest people in the world, draped in all their Ph.D.s, were saying that sex and procreation were separate things, and of course that was just completely not true. The Catholic Church was the only institution that was saying that was not true. On the big issues, I began to realize that on all the issues I thought most deeply about, the church was right.”
The great trauma of Gallagher’s youth, her unplanned pregnancy and subsequent alienation from the father of her child, was rooted in failing to understand that sex and procreation are connected. It is understandable that, having grasped the truth, she is intent on emphasizing its importance. So it follows that gay marriage and, above all, gay parenthood, more than gay people themselves, presents a real challenge to her belief system. Same-sex marriage advocates offend her hard-won wisdom in two ways. First, they imply that sex and love can in fact be separate from procreation, and no less valid for it. Second, and perhaps more troubling for Gallagher, the increasingly visible column of attentive, loving gay parents — gay male parents in particular — mocks her own romantic choices. It mocks her own son’s good-for-nothing father. There must be something wrong with these gay dads, something contrary to the natural order, such that even when they appear to be splendid dads themselves, their agenda is the cause of poor parenting in others.
When I ask about the salvific status of gay people, whether or not they are going to hell, she backs away from the question. “I’m very earth-centered,” she says. “I don’t think a lot about the afterlife. Maybe it’s because nobody else in my family is Catholic, so that is a potentially painful subject for me.” Her husband is a “lapsed Hindu,” she says, and she makes it sound as if her two sons do not think of themselves as Catholic. Patrick, now 31, a New York University graduate and aspiring musical-theater librettist, would not be interviewed. And I did not ask to speak to Gallagher’s 16-year-old son.
For Gallagher, the principal problem with gay couples is not the act of sodomy: It’s that they cannot be a mother and a father. Gallagher believes that what is best for any child is to be raised by its natural mother and father — what happens when Marriage succeeds — and any law that honors an alternative arrangement is thus harmful. Adoptive parents may succeed in raising a child well, single parents may succeed, but they are both inferior to biological mother and father, the paradigm that Marriage has always supported, throughout history. In a way, Gallagher is making a more sophisticated, slightly updated version of the argument of “Enemies of Eros”: there she argued that the sex act must go with a family, and now she is arguing that the family must go with the (heterosexual, monogamous) sex act.
In a passage from her forthcoming book, Gallagher connects the poignant regret of “Enemies of Eros” with the political agenda of her work today: “Since I was a girl, in the middle of a sexual revolution, I was repeatedly taught that we had separated sex from reproduction … Under the influence of this teaching, whole generations of formerly young women of my age grew up shocked, shocked to discover they are pregnant, and the men who impregnate them feel minimal responsibility. They had consented to sex, not to babies, and what did sex have to do with babies? … Same-sex marriage is the end point, the ultimate institutionalization of this view of sex, gender and marriage, and it is false. Sex between men and women is freighted with the reality that this is the act that creates new human life, even if in any particular instance, new life never takes place … That ‘sexual union of male and female’ points to a real union of the flesh in the child, is the reality we are suppressing, the only perspective from which it makes sense to regard a union of two men as anything like the unions that reaches across the challenging gender divide in the service of new life.”