The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

Maggie addresses her ‘villain’ role; continues her victim act

May 17, 2012, by Jeremy Hooper

During a recent appearance at Patrick Henry College, interviewer Marvin Olasky asked NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher how it feels to live within the socio-political role she has chosen for herself. Her answer was classic Maggie. Have a listen:


Okay, so let's break this down.

First, Maggie says that when pushback is directed at her, it's not really directed at her personally, but rather "the millions of decent, loving, law-abiding Americans" who "have this view and this understanding of marriage." This is simply not true. There are millions of people who oppose same-sex marriage for their own personal reasons, but who do not work to shape the culture so that it is outwardly against LGBT partnerships (and, by logical extension, LGBT welfare). There are more than a few who, despite personal opposition, still support  equal marriage in public policy because they support it as a civil right and freedom. But Maggie doesn't fit either camp. Maggie has spent decades now working to make America a place that opposes both marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. From this issue alone, she has garnered considerable access and profit. So when someone like me responds to Maggie, more often than not I'm responding specifically to Maggie, a person who has taken on this cause in a major and often quite offensive way, and not the random person who has been duped by her rhetoric.

Then Maggie talks about gay people and what she thinks of us, portraying her feelings as being a mixed bag filled with both agreement and disagreement. But the thing is? Those of us who have a public opinion about Maggie Gallagher's work only have that opinion because of what she herself has given us. And so through this lens, when we consider that Maggie has written the being gay is “a sexual disability preventing certain individuals from participating in the normal reproductive patterns of the human species,” has admitted that she sees homosexuality as an "unfortunate thing," has equated homosexuality with "at a minimum, a sexual dysfunction much as impotence or infertility," has suggested that gays "can always control their behavior," and even made a direct call for a sitting President to give more funding to scientifically-shunned "ex-gay" research (to name just a few slights)? Well, those of us who are LGBT can only judge Maggie on her own words. These words (and others) go well beyond policy work.  The  potential damages go well beyond our naked ring fingers.

Then America's most prominent equal marriage opponent moves on to the real heart of the Maggie playbook: The self-victimization that she routinely denies but that all but defines her advocacy. Maggie asserts that her role in this debate is caused by the human need for a bad guy. She said it is "driven by the need to see the people who are opposing what you think as good as the villain, otherwise you don't have the right drama." This is deeply offensive in two ways. [1] It is an attempt to play the innocent and take all onus off the decades of work (and most gay people would say harms) that Maggie has put out to the world; [2] It is an attempt to place the burden on others, as if it's those who have a problem with Maggie's years of work who have the real problem (e.g. "I'm sorry you're upset" as opposed to "I'm sorry I upset you.").  This is a total shirking of responsibility!

As anyone would expect, Maggie then parlays all of this into a claim that we are moving toward an America where people like her "may have to be afraid." This is the kind of thing we equality activists usually regard with an eye roll, but something that really deserves more response than that. What Maggie is doing with her common "they'll call you a racist or a bigot" claim is fostering a multi-purpose meme that (a) denies the deep and demonstrable harms that LGBT people face because of inequality, (b) attempts to flip this civil rights movement's script so that discrimination is the worthy cause, and (c) acts again as if whatever negative attention someone like Maggie might receive is completely undeserved and uninformed by what she herself has chosen to do. I mean, come on with that noise! We are talking about a well-paid person who, in this very same interview, said that loving, committed same-sex couples only want marriage because they see it as a symbol:


Yes, Maggie—crude, offensive ideas like this will be greeted with more and more repulsion as the years go by. Deservedly so. But that does not mean every single person who once opposed marriage equality will be forever branded with certain labels, or that an America with fifty state and federal marriage equality should or will become a scary place for anyone! Most marriage equality activists are quite understanding and highly welcoming of those who come to a place of respect (or even just basic tolerance) for our relationships. And even those who remain opposed? The vast majority of people on the pro-equality side are completely fine with that! In fact, our guiding belief has always been that people have the right to personally oppose us, they just don't have the right to deny us in public policy in ways that hamper our deserved freedoms!

But the clear difference between Maggie and the everyday opponent of marriage equality is that Maggie, her outsized platform, and her NOM homebase are not only trying to change public policy, but are actually working to change every element of culture surrounding this marriage debate. She puts out these tiny cuts on a daily basis with an obvious goal of undercutting (and ultimately destroying) every one of our gains. Maggie tries to flip this script because she wants equality activists to be seen as the antagonists on the wrong side of history. She calls homosexuality itself into question because she operates from a deep sense of Catholicism that sees both gays and their supporters as "committing several kinds of very serious sins" and feels it is her faithful duty here on Earth to oppose what she sees as immoral. She and NOM work to pit certain groups against one another so that they can sneakily divide and conquer, not only on marriage policy, but on conservative issues as a whole. The sum of the parts fosters a dangerously inadequate world that callously disregards the well-being of a rich and vibrant population of people. At some point, Maggie has to take responsibility for all this!

Look, I don't need an enemy. I don't want an enemy. In fact, I, someone who has likely written more about Maggie Gallagher than any other American in the past four years, don't consider Maggie to be my enemy, nor do I use words like "bigot" to reference her heart or her character. But I do strongly oppose her work because I, a legally married gay man who has been told by Maggie that she would like to divorce me if she had the option, know what she is trying to do to my family! I fight the Maggie Gallagher agenda because my family is not a "symbol," my marriage is not a "social issue," and the conversation surrounding my rights is not Maggie's personal retirement fund.

Maggie Gallagher chose this, a career that would not exist in a more perfect world. I chose to work towards what I see as that more perfect world. Maggie is confident of how this will play out, ultimately:

"We know who wins this in the end"


I'll leave those other-world judgments to her. It's my and Maggie's shared community of humans who get to determine what our "culture war" engagement means for each of our mortal world legacies.