Maggie Gallagher’s Ideal Marriage

Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

In trying to understand Hadley Arkes’ narrow view of the “telos” of marriage (“Judge Walker and the Language of the Law,” The Catholic Thing, August 17, 2010), I decided to listen to what Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), had to say about it during a podcast debate on 1/15/10 with David Boies, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case. (You’ll find the debate on FORA-TV.) 

One of her main concerns was that legalized same-sex marriage (SSM) would lead to a devaluation of the ideal of marriage as being between a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and nurturance of the young—the ideal that Arkes also supports. If SSM were legalized throughout the country, she predicted, those who believe in the sanctity of the “traditional” model (or at least the recently traditional one) would face ostracism and be labeled “bigots.” Heterosexuals might shy away from commitment under such an oppressive regime, thus leading to a higher incidence of out-of-wedlock births, single parenting, and all the other ills of a society that does not value marriage. 

This is a very fanciful scenario. There is no evidence that anything like this has occurred in countries where SSM has been legalized. While it is true that heterosexual marriage is in decline in some of these countries, there is no evidence that the declines were caused by SSM. Declines have also occurred in countries that do not allow SSM. Marriage as an institution can only be made more robust by allowing more couples to make solemn lifelong commitments to each other. 

Maggie says she has never heard a gay man or lesbian admit that marriage between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation and nurturance of children is “the ideal.” This may be because the word “ideal” refers to something that everyone should strive to achieve. Is she suggesting that gay men should strive to marry women and raise families? The word “ideal” is much too loaded to be used in this discussion until we acknowledge that different ideals may be appropriate for different groups or individuals. An advanced degree might be an appropriate ideal for those who are academically inclined, but it is not for everyone. Maybe Maggie’s marriage is an ideal for heterosexuals, but it cannot, even logically, be one for homosexuals. 

If there is a marriage “ideal” for homosexuals, it is a loving commitment between two adult individuals who will in some cases enlarge the circle of their love and commitment to include children. 

And what of the children? What is ideal for them? Is Maggie’s “traditional” marriage the optimal scenario for bringing children into the world? 

That might have been a no-brainer until about a month ago, when the American Journal of Pediatrics published the results of a U.S. national longitudinal study measuring the psychological adjustment of 17-year-old adolescents raised by lesbian couples. 

Yep. You guessed it. Lesbians actually make better parents. Read about it here

Let’s draw out the implications of this news for Gallagher’s argument. If we accept her notion that marriage should be the special reserve of couples who can provide the ideal environment for children, then only lesbians should be allowed to marry. 

So my advice to Hadley Arkes and Maggie Gallagher would be, “Back to the drawing board.”  If the Prop 8 case goes to the Supremes, you’re going to need some better arguments to feed to the trial lawyers.


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One Response to “Maggie Gallagher’s Ideal Marriage”

  1. Tony Sidaway Says:

    I honestly don’t think any heterosexual or Christian marriage is threatened by marriage equality. The idea that allowing gay people to marry will somehow drive a stake through the institution of marriage itself is not only so counter-intuitive that it’s difficult to take seriously, it’s also utterly devoid of supporting evidence. I’ve been a man happily married to a woman for 25 years, and in all that time I’ve been a fervent supporter of gay rights, including the right to marry. What conceivable harm could a gay couple cause to anybody by marrying?

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