Thoughts on NOM’s founder as she closes a seventeen-year chapter
January 03, 2013, by Jeremy Hooper
Maggie Gallagher's syndicated column is no longer. I don't know if this is because of waning interest, a shift in the syndicator's priorities, general cutbacks, or even Maggie's own life plans. In this fragmented media world, all (and more) are possibilites.
But what I do know is that Maggie's final column makes for a darn sad read. Not because she takes more knocks at gays, really. Maggie does do that, with lines demanding that society "organize sexual values, behavior and norms" around sex that makes babies and marriages that make a bride and a groom out the two participants. We would expect nothing less from Maggie, since limitation that comes at the unfair expense of LGBT accomodation will likely be the thing for which she is most remembered. It is written on her fate, so why wouldn't it be in her swan song's lyrics?
The reason why I say the whole thing strikes me as sad has little to due with Maggie's typical rigidity when it comes to my life or my marriage, or really anything involving her "culture war" knocks. The truth is that as a writer, politico, and citizen who cares about dedicating my time to causes I hold dear, reading Maggie's final column made me feel genuinely sorry for her because it is, to put it quite bluntly, a closing chapter on a two-decade failed experiment. I feel bad for her as a fellow public thinker (and human being) because I can imagine it's pretty unnerving to step back and realize that your dedicated endeavors did nothing to pull the needle in your direction.
Maggie pretty much admits it. She writes, in part:
On every key measure, marriage is weaker. The consequences are more obviously unsustainable, yet culturally powerful voices are less willing to engage, and the power of porn and Hollywood to create our norms for family life is more triumphant than ever.
Since 1993, the proportion of children born out of wedlock has jumped from 31 percent to 41 percent -- mostly since about 2003. For women with only a high school degree or less, nonmarital childbearing is the new normal. Divorce has declined for the privileged; for everyone else, stable marriage has gotten to be even further out of reach.
Without a powerful ideal of masculinity that points men toward marriage and fatherhood, more and more young men are deciding the hard work of becoming marriageable is not worth it: Porn, beer, video games with the guys, freedom and fleeting sexual encounters are good enough.
Maggie's Final Syndicated Column [uExpress]
Now, I obviously disagree with much of what she prioritizes. But for Maggie, the lost ground that she details above is the land that she staked out as her political terra firm all those years ago. Here in the now—three decades after Maggie's social conservative began at Yale, two decades after her column entered print, and around a decade after she began uber-prioritizing marriage (in)equality—virtually every bit of that landscape has slipped out from under her feet. Despite her admirable political will (and I mean that truly—Maggie's willingness to fight is admirable, despite the goals), Maggie is now standing on the margins, looking at an ever-distant piece of property. She financed that land with Reaganesque capital, anchored it with early "no new taxes" investments, grew it to new heights with profitable '90s contrarianism, and polished it with paychecks stamped "W." Now, in the era of Obama 2.0, Maggie's view of that promised land is heavily blocked by a wall of obstruction that even the most heavily recited talking points could not keep down. The writing on this wall's face speaks to an America that is much different—much more diverse, less stagnant, more prone to nuance, markedly more accepting, more open to change, etc.—than the one her movement's promises both planned and predicted.
But while I said this all happened despite Maggie's efforts, I actually mean something else. In truth, I believe that much of this happened *because* of her efforts.
Focusing just on marriage and Maggie's work with NOM—I have believed for quite some time that we, as a marriage equality movement, are actually a few steps further down the road than we might be otherwise precisely *because* the National Organization For Marriage exists and its staff engages in the way that it does. Maggie was the early face of NOM, giving us someone to focus on during those heady days of the Prop 8 debate. When we started listening to what she was saying, we started learning how to defeat the contrived lines on which she was banking. With the entire "pro-family" movement outsouring its marriage efforts to NOM, we had one primary place on which to focus our gaze—and gaze we gays sure did! We studied every lie, we uncovered every document, we challenged every hidden disclosure, we documented every rally, we mocked every ludicrous ad that made our marriages look like thunder storms, we exposed every eye-opening connection, we noted the deeply rooted religioisity that they initially tried to mask, and we poked holes in the strategy that attempted to turn those backing discrimination into the supposed victims. We took the plan and we picked it apart.
Maggie crafted much, if not most, of this NOM battle plan. And for her, the sad truth is that it is a failing plan that helped the equality side make great and historic gains. Had she and Robert George left the marriage movement as a larger, sort of "super coalition" of "values" groups who could come at us from twenty different directions with a whole host of arguments ranging from measured to LaBarbera, we would have had a harder time. At the very least, we would have to work longer hours. With a range of different voices steering the ship, the opposition movement could have been all things to all people. Instead, NOM took the reins of every single fight to come after Proposition 8, merely transplanting the same basic tactics in every state. That they *still* tried to be all things to all people only increased the ludicrousness of a playbook that was already growing increasingly laughable.
And again, this pattern is Maggie's to own. No, she's no longer the chair of NOM, working instead with Robert George's other group, the American Principles Project (which involves other key NOM players, including key money guy Sean Fieler). But Maggie is NOM's intellectual mother. Maggie is NOM's spirit guide. She remains the indelible face because her views are still driving NOM. Those views are already losing now; they will be gone, as completely as inevitably, by the time I write my own final column.
She probably wouldn't believe it, but I seriously don't say any of this about Maggie's work to gloat about my own movement's successes or to mock what I see as her decades of misfocus. Yes, I'm thrilled that we are triumphing over NOM and Maggie's generally limited marriage view, and I will work with every fiber of my being to put that view out of business altogether. And yes, considering how much personal hurt Maggie has generated for me, my husband, my family, and my future child(ren) who might have to read her archived takes on why the world's natural spectrum of normalcy is somehow a damaging lie, I surely have had some fun taking the piss out of what I see as NOM/Maggie's more laughable missteps. But as a thinker who thinks about things that make us both think, I truly do feel empathy for someone who must close out her seventeen-year run with a realization that the fight she held so dear is a fight that she will not win. A fight that she was never meant to win. A fight that, in my view, she actually helped to lose.
Maggie says, in the closing lines of her closing column, that she has traded optimism for hope—a prediction for a virtue. As for me? I feel lucky enough to retain both. Because of the rightness I feel about my choice to accept rather than limit, I have always had great hope about a view which claims millions of the world's people as something much more and more valuable than the "fluke" status that others have placed upon us. Hope has been driving the LGBT movement for decades.
But as for optimism? That is something I learned to take in during the past decade of my own work, once the cobwebs of DOMA and FMAs started to give way to a growing number of marriage equality states and modern TV families that top ratings charts. Some of it I got from the rapidly changing polls. Some of it came from everyday conversations with an increasingly clued-in public. But some of my increasing optimism about intellectual arguments that I know will break my way? Well, it came from the obviously untenable work of one Margaret Gallagher Srivastav. In her attempt to stem the tide, I (and others) found a triumphant wave—one that will carry us to our deserved victor.
Godspeed, syndicated Maggie.