No time for pessimism on same-sex marriage

Now that several states have legalised same-sex marriage, is it time to throw in the towel? Maggie Gallagher says No.
Rod Dreher | Apr 29 2009 | comment  

Rod Dreher is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. He recently interviewed Maggie Gallagher after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in that state.

I have written recently that while I am an opponent of same-sex marriage, I believe the other side will win this struggle, because the country has changed and is changing in ways that make their triumph inevitable. Maggie Gallagher, one of the most prominent advocates of traditional marriage in the country, wrote me recently to object to my position. I asked her if she'd agree to an interview on the subject. She agreed. Read below Gallagher's view on why all is not lost for traditional marriage campaigners -- and why they'd better not give an inch, or "the churches are going to get rolled." What do you think?

Rod Dreher: Maggie, you and I are on the same side of the gay marriage issue, but I am pessimistic about our chances for success. You, however, are optimistic. What am I missing?

Maggie Gallagher: Vaclav Havel mostly. "Truth and love wlll prevail over lies and hate." On that basis Havel took on the Soviet empire. Where is that invincible empire now?

Same-sex marriage is founded on a lie about human nature: 'there is no difference between same-sex and opposite sex unions and you are a bigot if you disagree'.

Political movements can--sometimes at great human cost and with great output of energy--sustain a lie but eventually political regimes founded on lies collapse in on themselves.

I don't think of myself as optimistic: just realistic. What does losing marriage mean? First the rejection of the idea that children need a mom and dad as a cultural norm--or probably even as a respectable opinion. That's become very clear for people who have the eyes to see it. (See e.g. footnote 26 of the Iowa decision).

Second: the redefinition of traditional religious faiths as the moral and legal equivalent of racists. The proposition on the table right now is that our faith itself is a form of bigotry.

Despair is gay marriage advocates' prime message point. All warfare, including culture war, is ultimately psychological warfare. You win a war when you convince the other side to give up.

So now you want to decide we've lost on an issue where, in the March 12 CBS News poll two-thirds of Americans agree with us. I mean, does this make sense?

Public opinion hasn't changed much at all. What's changed is the punishment the gay marriage movement is inflicting on dissenters, which is narrowing the circle of people willing to speak. This is a very powerful movement, no question. Nobody understands that better than I do.

But in the end--and this is not necessarily "optimistic" -I think civilizations that can't hang onto an idea as basic as to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife aren't going to make it in the long haul.

So I'm not worried about the progressive myth that 200 years from now gay marriage will be the new world norm. I'm somewhat more worried about the kind of cultures around the world that might survive. It's not clear to me they'll have the virtues of American civilization for gay people or anyone else.

Really, this marriage idea has been around for a long time. I think it has legs.

Finally there's a third reason I'm not in despair. I've learned from five years in this fight--especially the last two years--that there are many things I can do that make a difference. I was told--by good people who agree with me, really smart people too--that California was impossible; you can't raise the money, nobody cares about marriage, if you get it on the ballot, we'll lose anyway because there's a generational shift. And none of that turned out to be true. Here's the good news: as civilization collapses the opportunities for intelligent and committed people to make a profound difference actually increase.

People are flocking to the National Organization for Marriage (, not because we try to scare them about how bad things are going to be--but because we offer them a chance to come together with other people of all races, creeds and colors to stand up for a core and timeless good.

Here's what I know that maybe you can't see: There are enormous untapped energies out their waiting for someone to organize them effectively.

RD: I don't understand why so few people grasp the religious liberty implications of gay marriage. You've written a great deal about it, but I keep finding that many, many people remain ignorant. Why? What message should the traditional-marriage movement - and pastors who support it - be spreading right now?

MG: Well first of all I'd never use the phrase "traditional marriage." There's marriage and there's same-sex marriage. I think that's the single most important answer I have to your question.

But the two most important messages I've been telling people: (1) Marriage matters because children need a mom and dad. And (2) Gay marriage is going to effect a lot of people besides Adam and Steve. Because if you disagree with the government's definition of marriage you can expect to be treated like a bigot who opposes interracial marriage.

RD: It's my view that our side has lost this battle, at least in the long run, because we've lost the culture. That gay marriage is not a cause of cultural breakdown, but a symptom of something more general - which is why it's hard to make our case to many people, especially younger adults. Thus, I argue, we trads should focus our efforts on erecting constitutional walls of protection behind which religious institutions can operate freely - this, before the culture shifts so profoundly as to make the view that religious traditionalists are akin to racists mainstream. Bottom line: I believe we should retreat to a strategically defensible position while there's still time. You disagree. What's wrong with my analysis?

Rod, you are bargaining with yourself by saying "give up marriage and focus on religious liberty protections." The proposition on the table is your faith is a form of bigotry and Americans don't grant religious liberty protections to bigots.

There is no offer on the table for compromise at this point. Go look at my interview with HRC head Joe Solomonese. Or go listen carefully to HRC's Lara Schwartz response to the idea of compromise in this Brookings Institution discussion with David Blankenhorn. Conceding the main point--that our marriage tradition is a good and honorable thing that deserves respect--is not going to help you win any religious liberty protection.

These are the same fight. Both intellectually and practically. Do we need to pass more protective religious liberty exemptions? Yes.

We need to build effective grassroots organizations in blue states. Or we are going to lose marriage.. And religious liberty.

Abandoning the 60 percent or so of Americans who agree with you on marriage isn't going to help you win any fight at all.

We need to do a lot of things but one of the key ones is: we have to find the people who care about marriage and organize them into an effective force. Especially in blue states.

We don't do that, the churches are going to get rolled.

I don't have time for pessimism. The stakes are too high.

Maggie Gallagher is President of the National Organization for Marriage. Reprinted with permission of the Dallas Morning News.

Copyright © Rod Dreher . Published by You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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