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The Making of Gay Marriage's Top Foe: How Maggie Gallagher's College Pregnancy Made Her a Traditional Marriage Zealot

Maggie Gallagher has devoted herself to stopping same-sex marriage.

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Gallagher is aware of the growing literature arguing that children raised by gay or lesbian couples turn out fine, although she believes it is inconclusive. She also surely knows that the children of gay and lesbian couples have not been wrenched away from happy hetero homes — either they are the natural children of one parent in the couple; or they are the products of sperm donation or surrogacy; or they are adoptees, given up by mothers who could not raise them; or they have been abandoned or taken away from abusive or neglectful homes. So Gallagher is not claiming that same-sex-couples are preventing proper heterosexual rearing for any actual, existing children. Rather, she is asserting what to her is a timeless social fact: that institutions and norms are delicate, and that if you mess with them — say, by expanding the definition of marriage — bad things are likely to happen.

There is an obvious problem with this sort of argumentation: it is not really susceptible to evidence. Gallagher is unwilling to make any predictions of what doom will befall families after the legalization of same-sex marriage. She just has faith that marriage, the central institution of good child-rearing, will be weakened if same-sex couples are allowed its prestige and protections. When I ask her if any kind of evidence could change her mind, she says that in theory such evidence could exist, but it would be awfully hard to come by: “Yes, you could produce the evidence that children are just as well off in same-sex couples, and that the change isn’t bad for the institution of marriage as a whole. It would take a long time to get that kind of evidence, and it’s not going to come from Massachusetts here, Iowa there.”

Gallagher points out, correctly, that everything has multiple causes, and so if gay marriage were allowed in all 50 states tomorrow, and 20 years from now divorce rates were much higher — or much lower — we would not really be able to say what caused what. So she believes that, given how difficult it will be to get good social-science data on what same-sex marriage means for children, it’s best just to assume that it’s bad for them. In her forthcoming book, she writes that “including same-sex unions in the legal category of ‘marriage’ will necessarily change the public meaning of marriage for the entire society in ways that must make it harder for marriage to perform its core civil functions over time.” How do we know? We just do.

And even if somehow the evidence showed, conclusively, that same-sex marriage were  good for children? Gallagher would still be dissatisfied: “Nothing could make me call a same-sex couple a marriage, because that’s not what I believe a marriage is.”

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.

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