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