Maggie: Why Focus on Same-Sex Marriage Rather than Divorce?

Rob Tisinai

May 8th, 2012

Andrew Sullivan has offered his readers a chance to ask Maggie Gallagher questions and hear how she responds. The first one appeared yesterday:

Why do those defending the sanctity of marriage target a small segment of the threat and ignore adulterers and divorcees?

This is a polite version of: Are you really concerned about marriage, or is all this just about the gays?

Here’s her response, but let me give you a summary in case you can’t bear to watch it:

  • Before 2003, most of Maggie’s work was on divorce and married childbearing.
  • She changed focus because she understands “the enormous power of governing ideas for a social institution.”
  • People are increasingly afraid to say: marriage is important because a child’s ideal situation to be raised by a mother and father.
  • Gay activists say if you see a difference between opposite- and same-sex couples, you’re like a racist.
  • The “framing ideas of marriage” are the most important thing about it. Same-sex marriage changes those ideas, weakening the institution.
  • We’ll soon be left trying to create effective marriage cultures privately, without a governing public institution.

This is Maggie’s best public face: gentle, sweet, relaxed, a concerned woman touched lightly with sorrow.

I don’t buy it. I’ve got two reasons for that:

Reason 1: She didn’t answer the question

Maggie tells us why she’s worried over same-sex marriage — but not why she abandoned her focus on divorce. She dodges that question. And in fact, her own reasoning suggests divorce is where she ought to direct her activism.

Maggie thinks marriage and children benefit when the “framing ideas” of marriage are also the “governing ideas.” Surely one of her framing ideas is that marriage is a life-long commitment. Under current divorce law, though, it’s no longer a governing idea. So if Maggie’s sad and gentle concern is over “the enormous power of governing ideas for a social institution,” we still need to learn why she’s focused on same-sex marriage rather than divorce.

And, you know, if her major concern is for a social institution that promotes child-rearing by a married mother and father, then surely has divorce has broken down that tradition for many, many more children than same sex marriage has.

Think of it this way. Which of the following, by Maggie’s own standards, would represent a more “effective marriage culture”:

  1. A nation that allows same-sex couples (a small chunk of the population) to marry, but makes it difficult for any married couple to divorce without strict and severe cause.
  2. A nation in which same-sex couples cannot marry, but the vast number of opposite-sex couples can end their marriages entirely on whim, at whatever time and for whatever reason they choose.

A loaded question, I know, but the answer is obviously#1. Yet Maggie is devoting to energy to #2. Maggie’s defenders may object, Why must she choose? Why can’t she work against same-sex marriage and divorce?

But that is the question we asked Maggie. The question that Maggie decided to dodge.

Reason #2: Maggie, your agenda is much bigger than your explanation.

Maggie, once again, has forgotten about Google.  Her activism goes far beyond the “power of governing ideas.” The fact is, Maggie Gallagher has tried to dissuade private businesses from offering domestic partner benefits.  She’s not just trying to keep the government from recognizing my relationship — she’s try to keep my employer from doing it, too. Do you see the cruelty of that? Maggie doesn’t. She blithely explains it away with this nonsense in which she disguises her position (incredibly!) as one that benefits us:

Same-sex couples are more egalitarian in their relationships than opposite-sex couples…Yes, in the abstract, the ability to extend health insurance to a partner can be a benefit. But when both adults are working (as in egalitarian relationships), both partners tend to sustain their own health insurance. And the ability to walk away from a partner’s medical debts (or qualify for Medicaid regardless of the partner’s income) is a legal benefit of non-marriage, unavailable to spouses.

This truly is nonsense. I tore it apart a couple years ago with facts and figures, but now I have a more personal response.

In 2011, my partner Will fractured his wrist. He was back in school as a full-time student, with a full-time job that didn’t offer benefits. I hadn’t realized that schools don’t offer the same health care that I got a couple decades ago, so I hadn’t put him on my employer’s insurance. He ended up with a temporary cast, along with an appointment a couples weeks later and a warning they might have to rebreak his wrist before setting it properly.

We sorted it out, but I was angry for long afterward, and really I was furious with myself. Will didn’t think so, but I had failed him, and as we recounted the ordeal to his parents I could barely look them in the eye. Will is my responsibility, and I am his. His medical bills are my medical bills. If our circumstance changed, and I needed help, Will would quit school and take on three jobs if my health required it. So God help me, when it was over I didn’t fucking say to him, “Sorry, babe, but in an egalitarian relationship both partners sustain their own health insurance.”  No, I got him on my plan because that’s the way relationships work.

According to Maggie, that’s how heterosexual relationships work. Same-sex relationships? Not so much: gay couples can’t love each other the way straight couples do (yes, that is NOM’s official position). Maggie’s made this clear again and again and again.

So Maggie, you’ll have to forgive me my doubts over your reasons for prioritizing same-sex marriage above divorce. Your explanation doesn’t make sense, and your history provides a more plausible alternative: it’s really about those sinful, unfortunate, dysfunctional gays.


May 8th, 2012

Under Reason 1…..1st paragraph, last sentence….check it out for the extra “she”.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Well done Rob.

A couple of errors:

“And in fact, her own reasoning suggests she divorce is where she ought to direct her activism!”.

Remove the first “she”.

“The fact is, Maggie Gallagher has tried to persuade private businesses from offering domestic partner benefits.”.

I think “persuade” should be “dissuade”.

David in Houston

May 8th, 2012

Of course she didn’t answer the question, because there isn’t a rational argument to support her position. Anyone with the smallest amount common sense knows that a 50% divorce rate that impacts 95% of the population is a mammoth threat to keeping little Billy with his mommy and daddy. Compare that to 5% of the population that ALSO want to marry (which doesn’t impact Billy’s life at all) and there’s no possible way that anyone would choose to fight marriage equality over stricter divorce laws.

The reality is, anti-gay hatred makes NOM millions of dollars, thanks to the support of religious institutions. Those same institutions aren’t going to support laws that restrict divorce because that might impact their followers’ (aka: paycheck) lives.


May 8th, 2012

Rob, thank you for taking this on–I was hoping you would.

Maggie is good at this, she really is rhetorically skilled. And I do believe that she is concerned about the power of “governing ideas.” But the governing idea she is trying to maintain is the idea tha LGBT people are inherently sinful, lesser human beings, not to be granted equal status by social institutions. NOM is not nearly as concerned about the “redefinition” of marriage as it is about the redefinition of teh gays as normal, healthy, complete human beings of equal status. And that’s what marriage equality will give us.

Timothy Kincaid

May 9th, 2012

To give a slight moment of credit… we should recall that it was her anti-divorce and other ‘conform civil family law to catholic ideology’ work that qualified her to lead NOM.


May 8th, 2012

The true answer is MONEY. Maggie and Brian personally make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year persecuting gays. Do you think working against divorce would be so lucrative? Not when half the country is divorced. Maggie can wax eloquent and give her pseudo-religious, carefully worded sociological position, but it all boils down to this: gay-bashing butters her bread, and my, how Maggie and Brian like their bread buttered! They’re hucksters, pure and simple.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Very insightful David, Meadowlark and Abel – real nice additions to Rob’s commentary.


May 8th, 2012

Gallagher as usual is full of it. They’ve been using this tactic for almost a decade now and it’s becoming more and more obvious what NOM is all about.


May 8th, 2012

This is why good ole Maggie never misses an opportunity to give her opinion and obfuscate on national television any chance she gets but has yet to step into the witness box in a court of law and UNDER OATH, and subject to cross examination, to make her case.

Mark F.

May 8th, 2012

Re: divorce laws. Do people here seriously support making them more restrictive? No fault divorce seems like a big advance from the old days. There are good reasons to support it.

Johan Lundgren

May 8th, 2012

I think that the idea of a slippery slope lies behind her thinking on this issue. It seems as if she sees the practice of the nuclear family to be linearly related to the ideas of families and sexuality allowed in general. The slope would look something like this:

Low. Two distinct gender identities are needed for heterosexuality, so any other identity gotta go.

Middle. Heterosexuality is needed for marriage, so homo- and bisexuality gotta go.

High. Fidelity and commitment are needed for lifelong nuclear families, so adultery and divorce gotta go.

The thing is, that it’s useless to fight for the things higher up on the slope if the lower ones are allowed, since they then disable the higher positions anyway.

That’s my take on her. I don’t agree one bit, as any humanist person should, so don’t go attacking me just for describing what i think she thinks.

Lindoro Almaviva

May 8th, 2012

I refuse to watch any movie clips (or audio clips) that involve maggie, whi raise my blood pressure? I already know that the woman is the worse kind of bigot, the kind that talks sweetly to you while at the same time letting you know in no uncertain terms that she believes she is superior to you in every aspect because she was born with the priviledge of being [insert you favorite one here]

I am sorry to be so cruel, but maggie does not add anything of value to the conversation or to the world. we will be better the day she dies and her picture, and words are there for the whole world to see her as she truly is.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Johan I don’t see how allowing your lower scenario disables any of the higher positions. I.E. one can allow gayness and bisexuality and that has no impact on requiring fidelity and committment.

You apparently think Maggie is motivated by genuine concern for heterosexual marriages, I don’t see that as being at all the case, particularly in light of the points Rob raised.

Johan Lundgren

May 8th, 2012

Priya, it doesn’t. In our reality. But Maggie doesn’t live in reality as we know it. She seems believe in a slippery slope logic where it is impossible for her version of marriage to thrive unless all alternatives are disallowed, starting with the more serious then moving on to the less serious ones.

As she stated in several instances she believes that the acceptance of lgb people will weaken the idea of marriage, which according to her is what keeps people from being unfaithful etc, so that will in the end be a greater threat than the acceptances towards infidelity and divorce themselves. And therefore fighting lgb first is the most “rational”, like treating the disease over the symptoms.

“You apparently think Maggie is motivated by genuine concern for heterosexual marriages”

What’s the need for labeling me with that opinion? There nothing in my post that suggests that I think so at all, which is reasonable since I don’t think so. Or at least, I think she believe her concern to be primarily about the safety of heterosexual marriage, but I don’t think that her reasoning is logical nor factual so the actual consequence of her “concern” becomes something else.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Johan, I said you think she is motivated by genuine concern for heterosexual marriages because you initially gave three examples of ways she thinks gayness harms them. In your latest post you said she seems to believe for heterosexual marriage to thrive all alternatives must be disallowed; for her fighting LGB first is the most rational way to protect heterosexual marriages; and you think she believes her concern to be primarily about the safety of heterosexual marriage. So, you’ve repeatedly stated you think she is motivated by genuine concern for heteroexual marriage. That you don’t think her reasoning is logical or factual doesn’t change that. To repeat, I don’t believe that for one second.

Johan Lundgren

May 8th, 2012

First of all, the three points in the first post are just one – written as three – and they serve to explain her thinking of a slippery slope, not excuse her.

I think Hitler believed himself to have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the german people. I think pedophiles who groom children online believe themselves to have genuine loving relationships in mind. I don’t think anyone, not even the most cynical political pundit or deranged fundie is intentionally dishonest or working towards what they percieve as injustice. What covering up, focusing, etc. there is can easily be internally motivated with the greater good or that it is actually fair and balanced because the opponents have biased the media.

In order to actually be able to call your concern genuine I therefore think you have to objectively verify the real world consequences of your proposals. Since everyone can just go on having the whole hodge-podge of “sincere” opinions if we don’t establish objective criteria for evaluating what is genuine care, I divide it up in two parts, one subjective without criterias and one objective with them.

So as I said, she probably believes herself to be genuinely caring for the heterosexual marriage, but that “care” cannot be verified as based in reality. And therefore, it does not meet the criteria of genuine concern, so I can safely say that she believes herself to be sincere and that she isn’t objectively sincere at the same time without contradicting myself.


May 8th, 2012

I agree with Abel, “The true answer is MONEY. Maggie and Brian personally make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year persecuting gays. Do you think working against divorce would be so lucrative?”

And speaking of M-O-N-E-Y I wonder what happened in California at that hearing to make it illegal to “treat” gay children with “reparative therapy”. That hearing was today at 2:30pm i think.

Timothy Kincaid

May 9th, 2012

I’m right on all matters and my opinion has never erred. And this is so obvious that any sane person is fully aware of my infallibility. Therefore those who disagree with me cannot do so with sincerity and must either be intellectually inferior to all who agree with me or have ulterior motives.

They are all

A. Bigots and haters
B. disagreeing with me for the MONEY that can be made from disagreeing with me
C. Have beliefs about religion that control their minds (being infallible, my beliefs about religion do not unduly influence my thinking).
D. All of the above

This frees me to ignore what they are saying and focus solely on them as people.

And the fact that they are doing the same to me proves that they are evil.

Or maybe this really ISN’T the most effective way to seek solutions.

(this is not a criticism of the commentary. Just a reminder that making up imagined motivations only weakens our ability to counter their positions)


May 8th, 2012

@ Mark F.
I’m not in favor of doing away with no-fault divorce laws. However, if we accept Maggie Gallagher’s arguments (1) that marriage is primarily for the good of the child, and (2) that the best possible scenario for the child is to live with both a mother and a father, than it follows as night unto day that the highest priority for those seeking to protect marriage would be lowering the divorce rate for heterosexuals, since (a) they are abandoning that institution at a rate nearing 50% (doing so at the very same moment in history when gays and lesbians are trying to join the institution) and (b) since there are far more heterosexual people than homosexuals, it only stands to reason that their actions are overwhelmingly more likely to damage the institution.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Mighty fine dancing, Johan.

To paraphrase: “She believes herself to be genuinely caring for heterosexual marriage but she is not genuinely caring for heterosexual marriage.”. That is not the same thing as saying she isn’t objectively sincere. Her sincerity is not determined by reality, its determined by what she actually believes, true or false.

It doesn’t matter if one is correct in there being concern for heterosexual marriage, if one believes oneself to be genuinely concerned for heterosexual marriage then one IS genuinely concerned for heterosexual marriage. Whether she’s being objective or not is irrelevant.

I never said you were trying to excuse her, I never said you were agreeing with her. I’ll play along with your contradictory statments though and rephrase my statement to accomodate you:

I don’t believe for one second that she believes herself to be sincere in claiming opposing same sex marriage helps heterosexual marriage or believes herself to be genuinely caring for heterosexual marriage by opposing same sex marriage.

Johan Lundgren

May 8th, 2012

I guess we differ there then, I believe she is hung up on gays for an internal reason other than just hating gays, namely wanting to preserve the conservative marriage ideal (although through faulty means). You apparently don’t believe in that reason.

What then? Just pure hate?

Anyway, my statements are not contradictory. We are probably just working from different premisses.

I demand a distinction between objectively verified knowledge of consequences and purely subjective belief when I categorize peoples intent. It is only if a person actually says outright that they have an opinion that I will say their subjective view is that, or if their other statements leave no other interpretation. Except if there is a contradiction in which case they will have to clear it up themselves.

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Johan, I believe she is doing this solely because she wants to oppress gays and thinks of them as inferior.

You apparently are saying one’s concern needs to be real and objective to be genuine, I don’t agree. I think it would be less confusing if instead of phrasing things that way you were to say “Her concern is not valid” rather than “Her concern is not genuine”.

Johan Lundgren

May 8th, 2012

I confused your intent to be to accuse me of covering for her in some way, but yeah, that’s a better way to phrase things. It’s past midnight here, so I’m going to bed, have a good evening and happy Victory in Europe Day!

Priya Lynn

May 8th, 2012

Sleep well, Johan.

Jonathan Justice

May 9th, 2012

Rob is usually sharper than this. The story as I see it is that Ms. G. is handsomely paid to perform in a side show that is designed to divert a large and properly anxious segment of the population from the obvious damage that hard times and weakening income expectations going all the way back to the 1970’s are doing to families. If those bad people over here can be blamed and people’s energy and money (as in California, North Carolina, and elsewhere) can be channeled into fighting over these issues, then, Ha! Ha!; income equity, workplace dignity, environmental sustainability, and making society work for families with children all get stuck out in left field waiting their turn. Once that framing idea of social discourse is in place, it is hardly surprising that big chunks of money flow into her hands to keep the show going. The money comes from people who wish to avoid discussing those much larger moral issues.

As is so often the case in these discussions the real surprise is how effective some people are at doing the work of being families. That 50% of all marriages statistic goes back to the end of the 1950’s and conservative malarky about it goes back to Ancient Roman times. Some people are just not suited to being married to each other, and many others marry without being ready for the challenges. They have far more important personal development work to do than staying married.


May 9th, 2012

I think the divorce bit didn’t pick up traction when it was their focus because people didn’t want to give power over to religious fundamentalists in regards to arbitrating their civil marriages. I think people are willing to hand that power over when they think it won’t affect them personally.

I think NOM’s long-play angle is that by focusing on the gays they can regain (in their minds; in reality gain is the appropriate verb) legitimacy to talk about “wider marriage society” in the future rather than remaining what they were before they shifted focus: a fringe religious group with no influence. Right now they’re blinded by their seeming influence & “winning!” They think they’re actually being influential and turning people from For to Against.

But they’re not convincing anyone of anything. Instead all they’re doing is giving cover to people to have biased opinions towards us. “I’m not a bigot; NOM says so!” It’s easy to be
“influential” when all you’re doing is agreeing with people’s biases against an unpopular minority. I’m not sure they realize they’re not actually convincing anyone.

They’re in for a rude awakening once they start trying to talk about other “problems”. Unless, of course, they manage to change the nature of one of the political parties… perhaps transform it into a vehicle for wacko religious-paternalism under the guise of Liberty and free market economic policy.

Anyway I’m feeling much more pessimistic after NC.

Priya Lynn

May 9th, 2012

You’re right as always, Timothy.

Mandy Cat

May 10th, 2012

Short answer: Because lots of Republicans are divorced and very few of them are gay.

Johan Lundgren

May 10th, 2012

On second thought and for any possible future reckoning, scratch that comparison to Hitler, he was probably to quite a large degree motivated by pure hatred since he said so himself.


I’m trying not to make up inner motivations for my opponents, but there comes a difficulty in how you avoid that when they don’t elaborate on their thoughts. What I presented now was a piecemeal composed of her various arguments, showing one possible way of thinking quite consistent with her statements. There is a fine line there, between drawing justified conclusions from statements and projecting meaning into the minds of others.

Richard Rush

May 10th, 2012

Mandy Cat said, “Short answer: Because lots of Republicans are divorced and very few of them are gay.

I feel fairly certain that a substantially greater percentage of gay Republicans than other gays have entered into dysfunctional/fake heterosexual marriages to please family, friends, God, and/or colleagues who could enhance their professional opportunities. So, of course, they always want to make sure an exit-strategy is available.

Ben in Oakland

May 10th, 2012

I wish I had 20 million, and not just. Excuse I’d like 20million.

I’d put an initiative up that would ban divorce, and ban recognition in californiaofdivorce from other places. It would deny marriage in California to divorced people. I would frame it as being pro marriage, pro family, and pro child. I would cite the bible on the subject.

I wonder if Maggie would come out for that, or shrug her ample shoulders and say. Oh, we’ll, it,s merely a civil matter.

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