The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

Then *why* are you sad, Maggie?

February 10, 2012, by Jeremy Hooper

201202101406For those who haven't ventured over to to read Mark Oppenheimer's detailed article on Maggie Gallagher, it's a must. The piece builds largely on a theory I've had a for a few years, which is that Gallagher's own experiences largely inform her political advocacy.  Although the article is no rehash -- it has all kinds of new info and insgiht that NOM Watchers will love.

You can find the article here, plus some pertinent response I gave to it here (and an interview with the journalist here).

But I do want to talk about one chunk of the piece that I find worth exploring. Namely this section, in which Oppenheimer relays a pretty straightforward question that he posed to Gallagher:

At one point, breaking from my script of questions, I interrupted her to ask if, despite all of her fears about same-sex marriage, she didn’t find it heartwarming to see those pictures of joyous gay couples in Massachusetts or Iowa or California, crying and hugging as they celebrated their marriages. Before answering, she takes a long pause, the only long pause of our conversation. “Am I happy for them?” she finally says. “That’s a tough question. I like to see people happy. It’s better than seeing people sad. So yes, I am happy for them. But I am sad. But I am not sad because they are happy.”

For those of us who have studied her work, this response is pure Maggie. She often treads the line between analytical and overthought, with her assessment of everyday considerations falling somewhere between learned Philosophy professor and pot-smoking college freshman: Rooted in reason but with an added dose of idealization, naiveté, pretense, or all three.  That's not to deny Maggie her skills -- for from it.  In fact, I think she works the line masterfully for her purposes.  But I do know, as someone who follows this stuff with a fine-toothed comb's even more refined cousin, that it can be frustrating to hear lines that are crafted in the way Maggie crafts them. 

One reason for the specifically frustrating rhetorical output, in my estimation, is that Maggie has a way of masking the deep Catholic beliefs that underlie her every step. That's not to say she denies her faith -- she absolutely does not, as a person. But as a public thinker, she's less forthcoming with the canonical law that seems to seal her "culture war" armor. Whereas a James Dobson or a Tony Perkins is all like, "As a Christian, I don't enjoy [insert various place of non-enjoyment]," Maggie tends to talk secularly, even when we know she is working from a religiously-informed view (i.e. most always).

That out of the way, let's now go back to the isolated chunk above. I truly believe that yes, Maggie does want people to be happy. Even more, I think she wants others to see her as someone who wants people to be happy. So in terms of preferring people be happy than sad, I think she's being honest. Or at the very least, being honest to her public image.

But where her thoughts veer off into the disingenuous, for me at least, is the part where Maggie admits that she is still sad about the state of marriage, without giving a clear "why." Because think about it. If she's sad because there are gay couples in this shared world of ours who are managing to claim their own happiness, what possible reason does she have to be sad that wouldn't itself involve unhappiness for these same couples? I mean, we all know she wants gay couples unmarried, right? And as I've uncovered before, Maggie admits -- right from her own two lips -- that she sees homosexuality as "an unfortunate thing" and sees both gay couples and their supporters as "committing several kinds of various serious sins." So it's safe to assume that the path to her own happiness would involve all gay people embracing "fortunate" heterosexuality and all people, regardless of sexuality, embracing Maggie's Catholic-guided "sin" model wherein only straight people can have their unions legally recognized. That's what she herself has told us.

So that established, let's go back to the final part of the above quote: "But I am not sad because they are happy.” Under any read of Maggie, based on what she herself has given us, how can this really be true? Again: She sees homosexuality itself as "unfortunate" and tells gays "you can always choose your behavior." So how can she sit there with an interviewer and say that it's anything other than the out and proud gay people who have chosen the fortunate behavior of marriage that is making her sad? Even if her desire for a universally happy world is genuine, how can she -- someone who quite literally marched in the streets of Manhattan on the day that gay couples began marrying in New York -- deny that she would prefer these couples to relinquish that which is making them happy (i.e. self-acceptance, marriage)?

I say that she can't have it both ways. Maggie can't just stop her answer right there and call it a day.  Would a fleshed out sentence go something like, "I am not sad because they are happy, I just think they would be happier if they embraced the Catholics' preferred celibacy method of 'changing' gays"? Or maybe, "I am not sad because they are happy, I just think the social conservatives' happiness should trump everything else"? Or perhaps, "I am not sad because they are happy -- I'm sad because their happiness is destroying everything right and holy about this world"?  Only Maggie knows.

But what I know is that we, as NOM Watchers, can't accept the shortened answer she provided.  Because the truth that makes me sad, even in my happiness, is that Maggie Gallagher has done too much harm to the cause of equality to put the period where she and her public image would like to place it.