Maggie Gallagher’s Plea for Tolerance

Here is the text of Maggie Gallagher’s advice for opponents of gay marriage who come under fire at holiday dinners. (Note: Maggie Gallagher is co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage.)

Most of us who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife have no interest in shaming those who don’t disagree with us. We understand that good people can disagree, even on extremely important moral issues.  But, like it or not, the gay marriage movement has cultivated a rather low threshold for moral indignation. “If you don’t think two men in a union are a marriage, you are a bigot, like people who wanted to hold back African-Americans,” too many elite voices claim. Well, that sentiment sometimes translates into some pretty uncomfortable holiday dinner conversations. So here is how to talk turkey about gay marriage:

Step one: State your position briefly. Try this: Marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason: These are the only unions that can make new life and give those children a mom and a dad, if they have children. While other unions may have wonderful qualities, they’re not marriages, and we shouldn’t be forced by government to pretend that they are. If you still get fireworks—charges of bigotry, discrimination, hatred, or insensitivity—have this response handy:

Step two: Refute briefly the charge of bigotry. It’s not bigoted or hateful or discriminatory to treat different things differently. It’s just common sense. Well, if the fireworks continue and you want to move on to a nice family dinner without surrendering your ground, move on to step three:

Step three: A call to tolerance. I think we need to be tolerant of each others’ sincere moral differences on these hot-button issues, especially inside families. The millions of Americans like me who do not support gay marriage are not all haters or bigots, and it’s really not kind or tolerant to suggest otherwise, especially among family members. Repeat step three as often as necessary, or until they bring in the pie, which usually stops the worst of the fights…

Having listened to Maggie Gallagher in debates and interviews over the last few years, I’m always struck by how consistent her message is. Unlike so many presidential candidates, she’s no “flip-flopper.” Her talking points are always the same, and no challenge, however robust, ever seems to deflect her from her course. Marriage is between a man and a woman, she reiterates, and its purpose is procreation. Never mind the inconvenient truth that many people marry for reasons other than procreation and that many couples are infertile.

Nevertheless, Maggie has heard the challenges and is now subtly inflecting her basic position statement to head them off. But notice how clumsily she does so in this video:

Marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason: These are the only unions that can make new life and give those children a mom and a dad, if they have children.

If they have children…? She has tacked on the last phrase as a nod to the inconvenient truth mentioned above. But the result is a murky and confusing concept—namely, that the purpose of marriage is the birthing and nurturance of children, that only a union dedicated to this purpose is a marriage, and … that some “married” couples may not have children. What are we to make of this hash?

I don’t believe Maggie herself knows. She has realized the basic position is nonsense and that she cannot defend it from a reasonable challenge. In fact, I’ve never heard her or anyone else do so.

Her defensiveness about being called a bigot is not new. It has been a leitmotif of all her public statements. Her worry is that she and others who oppose same-sex marriage will turn out to have been on the wrong side of history. They will have been put there by the same forces that have ensured the successes of other human rights movements in the past couple of centuries—empathy with the oppressed, massive shifts in public opinion, and the willingness of ordinary people to speak out against inequality and injustice. The last of these is what Maggie calls, “a low threshold of moral indignation.” I call it moral courage.

She and her organization, NOM, would like to stop the shaming and inculpate the shamers. It won’t work, and they know it because they’ve seen the writing on the wall. Public opinion about same-sex marriage has already shifted to the point that trends are clear: NOM is on the wrong side of the argument, it cannot sustain a reasoned debate on the issue, and it can only plead for … tolerance.


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