Maggie: Part 2 of 'The Harms of Same-Sex Marriage'

Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), has answered the question:

In states where same-sex couples have been allowed to marry, what harm has been brought to individuals or society at large?

I already knocked apart a portion of her answer here. Now I’d like to deal with this bit:

I think we’re in the early stages of seeing my primary concern, which is a transformation of the public understanding of marriage and the separation of it from its roots in the natural family…Gay marriage is not just adding a couple of people onto an existing institution. It requires re-norming the whole institution and making it serve new purposes, instead of its classic purpose across time and culture and history, which is to bring together male and female so children have a mom and a dad.

In other words, same-sex marriage will obscure the purpose of marriage. She hits this theme a lot, and I’ve previously pointed out the problems that arise when you talk about the purpose of marriage. So now let me hit something else — let me point out that her answer suggests this isn’t about marriage at all. It’s about gays.

See, in 2009 over 110,000 women aged 55 and older got married. That accounted for 5.1% of all marriages that year. The birth rate of women in this group is so small that the Census Bureau and the CDC don’t even report it. For these women, “the” purpose of marriage is not procreation, not about bringing together moms and dads. And by the way, when women in this group do conceive, it’s generally through an egg donor, so even that is contrary to Maggie’s repugnant, repetitive rhetoric about marriage uniting children with “their own mother and father” (that is, repugnant to adoptive parents, at least, who apparently cannot count their children as “their own”).

Now, that 5.1% figure is a bit higher than the 4.1% of adults willing to tell the government they’re gay or bisexual (which itself is different from the fraction who actually are gay or bisexual, but we’re concerned here with people willing to go on the record, as marriage requires).

So this is what Maggie needs to resolve:  We’ve got two groups, both of whom wish to marry, neither of whom can conceive on their own. According to Maggie that’s a bad combination. Yet she’s willing to let them marry as long as they’re not same-sex couples. At this point it takes some real tap dancing to avoid the idea that it’s really just all about gays.

Still, I invite Maggie to explain.

A preemptory note: Our opponents have two common responses to this:

  • It would be a terrible invasion of privacy to investigate the fertility of an opposite-sex couple before granting a marriage license! If you hear this, then ask: “So if we could somehow know their fertility, you’d be fine with denying them marriage?” You’ll likely get back something about not wanting to deal in hypotheticals (which are entirely within the realm of possibility!), and that means they’re not willing to follow their reasoning to its logical conclusion.
  • We don’t define laws according to the exceptions. In other words, opposite-sex infertile couples are merely “exceptions” that the law can’t be bothered to address. To begin with, what a dismissive insult! Can you imagine telling a heartbroken couple who has struggled and failed to conceive: We would take away your marriage rights but we simply can’t be bothered. Further, it’s not true; the law carves out exceptions constantly — consider killing as murder vs. self-defense. But most of all, if we don’t base laws on exceptions, then why do our opponents spend millions trying to rob one small exception — one small group of couples — of their marriage rights simply because they cannot conceive on their own?

So be ready for those responses. You’re likely to hear them, and they’re easy to deal with.

Here’s another way of seeing how ridicu-ludicrous Maggie’s statement is. She warns us away from making marriage “serve new purposes.” Presumably she means something other than just uniting two people of the same sex — something more than “just adding a couple of people onto an existing institution.” No, Maggie’s new purposes consist of that which goes beyond marriage’s “classic purpose…which is to bring together male and female so children have a mom and a dad.”

Do you believe that? If so, then imagine this conversation between Maggie and a new NOM intern:

Intern:  Hey Maggie, get this: in 2009, more than 30,000 women aged 65 and older got married.

Maggie:  No, that can’t be. That’s ridiculous. I should fire you.

Intern:  Fire — wait — what?

Maggie:   You’re trying to fool me into believing that 30,000 elderly women thought they could procreate!

Intern:  But I didn’t — wait — what?

Maggie:  Because that’s the only reason they would marry.

Intern:  The only — wait — what?

Maggie:  Why else would they marry?

Intern:  Um…because that’s what people in love do? When they want to build a life together? As one?

Maggie:  Nonsense. That would be an entirely new purpose for marriage!

Intern:  It would?

Maggie:  It’s so obvious, only a fool would need that explained.

Intern:  Can you explain it?

Maggie:  Oh…

Intern:  Oh…what?

Maggie:  Oh…you are so fired!

Personally, I don’t believe this conversation would ever happen. I don’t think Maggie, confronted with a 65-year-old bride, would find herself baffled. She wouldn’t investigate whether this woman thinks she can conceive. And Maggie’s head wouldn’t explode at the prospect of a new purpose for marriage. I bet Maggie would congratulate this woman on having another go at happiness.

As long as she’s marrying a man.

Maggie also offered this as a harm of same-sex marriage:

You see the idea and the ideal that children need a mother and father beginning to be redefined as the equivalent of a racist or mean or hateful idea. That’s on top of the problem of the silencing or the — which I’ve already talked about — the way religious institutions and religious people who in good conscience can’t treat same-sex unions as marriages begin to be treated as pariahs.

As you recall, I’ve written already how Maggie herself shares responsibility for this quandary. At that time, I promised to write more on it, but others anticipated me by pointing out the circular nature of her argument: Legalizing same-sex marriage is bad because it makes people who are opposed to same-sex marriage officially bad. So let me take a moment and extend that a bit.

First, Maggie is wrong in her circular argument. Legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t mean the government is calling opponents bigots; after all, the government hires Jewish military chaplains, but that doesn’t mean it’s designating as “bigots” anyone who thinks Christ is the only path to salvation. As I’ve written before, compare these two statements:

The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of salvation is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views. The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of marriage is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views.

If the statement on the left is correct, then so is the one on the right. Government neutrality is not an accusation of “bigotry.”

But there’s another response to Maggie’s argument. Suppose you spin it around like a hula hoop and turn it against her. During NOM’s ill-fated bus tour across the country, Brian Brown staked NOM’s worth on the character of its supporters. These are the same supporters who have a hard time commenting on NOM’s blog without speaking of abomination and perverts. So if we hijack NOM’s reasoning, we can say that same-sex marriage must be legalized; anything else would reinforce the idea of gays as abominable perverts who shall surely be put to death.

But of course that’s ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as Maggie’s notion that we must ban same-sex marriage to keep people from saying mean things about its opponents.

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13 comments to Maggie: Part 2 of ‘The Harms of Same-Sex Marriage’

  • 1
    John says:

    The oft-heard retort that we do not and can not “investigate the fetility” of couples is flatly wrong regarding the 7 states that make infertility a requirement for the marriage of cousins.

  • 2
    Spunky says:

    To add to John’s point, you can also use the two “common responses” against each other. If the government shouldn’t be looking into people’s fertility, then just ban marriage for women 55 and older, since they’re usually infertile.
    When the other side asks “But what about women over 55 who are still fertile?” you can say “We don’t define laws according to exceptions,” which is response #2.

  • 3
    Regan DuCasse says:

        A circular argument is needed to spin. And spin the reps of NOM do. They could make butter of anything. It’s frustrating and exhausting to go around and around and around. And there are very few opportunities to go in depth enough to challenge what MG and BB keep saying. Their arguments are based on a ton of ASSUMPTIONS they won’t admit to, and they defend marriage as if it’s rigid and inflexible and never has changed or evolved into ‘new positions’ that were positive.
       My questions to MG and BB would be:
    1. How can the children of gay parents MATTER LESS than those of het parents? Why create difficulty and a vulnerable situation for those children by keeping their parents from maximizing their security through marriage?
    2. How can a gov’t enforce DIFFERENT standards against adults who are in the SAME situation, but aren’t treated the same in the law. Non parent and parent married couples co exist in our society. So a non parent gay couple doesn’t affect children any more than a non parent het couple would. A parent couple still has the same responsibility to the children they have, regardless biological, adopted, step child or foster child.
    3. The assertion that males and female DISTINCTION in marriage ASSUMES that such distinction is NECESSARY. To the STATE it is not, only the individuals involved organize their living situation to their own purpose and no one else’s. Gender mattered only when women were held in the less autonomous position. And no state can enforce how gender will affect children anyway and never could. The state would have to ASSUME that there are rigid, unchangeable or the SAME characteristics to each individual, and there are not.
    4. Defining gender in a marriage is like trying to define one’s religious belief or cultural expression in a marriage. The state cannot enforce how couples or parents arrange their homes and what their expression will be within it.
    5. When you hear the defense of this discrimination, it also ASSUMES that ss couples are so utterly and profoundly isolated from the opposite sex, their children will be ‘deprived’ of or never have the balanced experience of the two genders. This assumes that the gay parents weren’t raised by op sex parents themselves, or single parents. This assumes that gay couples have no social or familial networks of people of diverse backgrounds and can’t meet their child’s needs for that experience.
    This always makes me laugh at such stupidity and patent insanity. That’s how you know how little experience with actual gay people or gay parents such factions have. And in the meantime, marriages are not ‘protected’ in the least by such Draconian laws against gay couples. This is not being ‘pro marriage’, but definitely anti gay.
    Because despite the fact of how many het people have the same life situation, the ONLY discrimination is enforced against gay people. For a lot more than marriage in fact.
    So MG tends to treat gay people, and certainly her audience as if she’s the smartest person in the room and no one could figure her out.
    Well she IS quite easy to figure out. She and BB and the rest are WAY too preoccupied with a legal situation that’s useless to protecting marriage from things like divorce, adultery, addiction, violence, and poverty. If they put as much energy into reversing laws in the twelve states where an underage girl can marry a grown man, I’d believe their mission was a good one.
    But it’s not. It’s an insane obsession that got old years ago.
    And yes, they are bigots. Because those who defended similar laws that denied minorities and women their basic civil and human rights, ALL look and sound alike, use the same tactics and employ fear and exploit ignorance and paranoia to get their way.

  • 4
    Russ Manley says:

    Brilliant as usual, Rob.  I have a female relative, now past retirement age, who has been married three times; she and her current husband will soon celebrate their silver anniversary.  She’s never had children, and though I’ve never questioned her on this point, I’ve gathered from stray remarks that she never intended to.  Yet no one has ever questioned her undoubted right to marry whomever and whenever she pleased, and I can’t imagine even Maggie and her ilk condemning such marriages, not even in private conversation. 
    So you’re absolutely right, it’s not about marriage, it’s all about the gays.  I’ve been “married” three times myself, so to speak, though of course not in the eyes of the law.  Yet what earthly difference is there between us?  Answer:  none.
    You have a rare gift for analyzing and demonstrating these logical flaws.  I really, really wish you would collect all these debunkings and write a book – even if you had to self-publish on or something, though I bet you would find a real publisher easily enough.  This excellent exposure of illogic and sheer bigotry needs to be on record and widely available in print/digital/whatever.  Do please think about it, buddy.

  • 5
    Jonathan says:

    Thanks for this series. I’m really enjoying it. You may want to take a look at the 2006 Cato Institute debate between <a href=””>Maggie and William K. Eskridge</a>. I asked Maggie the same question about non-procreative marriages and she offered another argument. The older or non-procreating heterosexual couples don’t interfere with the “idea” that they could procreate if they tried, or if they were younger – perhaps they did – it would be intrusive to ask. But teh gay, you see, you just look at them and, duh – they can’t “naturally” procreate. That was her argument. I think she learned not to talk so much about sex and to talk more about ideas/ideals. 

  • 6
    clayton says:

    I’ve said this before, but if childbearing and parenting are so central to the institution of marriage, how come they are completely absent from the traditional wedding vows?  The couple pledges to have and to hold, through good times and bad, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, but there is not a single reference to children or parenting.

  • 7
    Spunky says:

    Thank you, clayton. That is an excellent point that is never brought up during debates (or ever, really). Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people started adding in a “childbearing clause” out of spite.

  • 8
    Alex says:

    Since Clayton asked the question at both BTB and here, I’ll also answer it both places. 
    In a Catholic wedding, the couple is asked whether they will “accept children as a gift from God.”  If the couple said no, theoretically the priest would have to stop the ceremony. 

  • 9
    Spunky says:

    Thanks Alex! I guess that lets Catholics (and only Catholics) off the hook. :)

  • 10
    Wade MacMorrighan says:

    Rob, her clams re: history, time, and culture is UTTER BS!!!  If Maggie were accurate, than we should NOT find what we do littering the historical record: Multiple cultures throughout tne ancient world have approved of the marriages between two men or two women: Emperor Nero famously had to legaly wed husbands; the Native American and Chuckchi Gay shamans famouslh marry men (this occurs to this day!); ancient Greek Spartan Lesbians were married at Twilight under the auspices of the dawn-goddess under a yoke-binding ritual; ancient Egyptian men could marry each other; and according to the late Yale or harvard Prof. of History, John Boswell, the early RC Church had a rite acknowledging the intimate physical/ spiritual union of two men in love.  Moreover, if marriage was all about the alleged “rights” of children to know their bio. parents, than the historical record would be entirely different: We for example, wouldn’t find Iron Age Celtic children banned from acknowledging their fathers as their parent until after the child had comitted a deed making them worthy of their fathers’ acknowledgement.  Equally, in Sparta, we wouldn’t find the custom in which sickly or malformed children were discarded instead of being welcomed into the family and introduced to the domestic/ ancestral hearth-goddess.  Rather, the impetus of marriage tracible to the Siberian and Mongolian shamanic tribespeople shows us that the core function of marriage was to ensure the virginity of the women of the clan so that a legitimate heir could be produced without the fear of risking one’s lands, titles, and property to a bastard with ties to another tribe.  Even the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has releaced a policy statement opposing any attempt to deny Gay couples the right to marry each other based upon tousands of years of recorded history as well as more than 100 years of consistant Field Work.  Just because hetero-normative marriage is COMMON does not mean that marriage must be EXCLUSIONARY!
    However, another argument that Maggie and her ilk relies upon for insisting on sexual orientation apartheid is that heteronormative marriage sends “the right mesage” to the next generations!If kds can SEE and GROW UP with Gay men and Lesbian women getting married then she and those that believe as she does won’t be able to tell them what a “REAL marriage” is and it’s “purpose”!  This is why, to them, infertile couples should STILL be allowed to get married because their marriages *still* show the world that it’s about the POTENTIAL to procreate!
    I have also maintained that if we take their arguments to their logical conclusions they would next, if not sooner, be calling for laws that would take children away from their Gay parents!

  • 11
    Regan DuCasse says:

    BTW…as for Boswell’s book and those RCC ‘companionate’ marriages back in the 15th century.
       The Plague decimated great amounts of people in their prime. The Church had lost a lot of it’s retinue and revenue and had to recoup in creative ways.
    These ceremonies were conducted on condition, that the couple would bequeath their property and cash to the Church. And give regularly in a special tithe, since such couples weren’t expected to have children.
    This was close to the time that priests were required to be celibate for the same reason, so that their property and careers could solely be for the Church. No family or children to compete with the Church for inheritance. The RC was and still is quite mercenary that way.

  • 12
    Neil says:

    Maggie’s argument here sounds very much like the orthodox Catholic notion of Natural Law, in which heterosexuality is regarded as the fulfilment of a Godly ordained order of the metaphysical pairing of masculine and feminine. Maggie might emphasise the procreative aspect of hetersexual union because that creates a convenient distinction. The Natural Law idea accepts infertile hetersexuality because it conforms to the “natural” order.
    From The natural sex partner for a man is a woman, and the natural sex partner for a woman is a man. Thus, people have the corresponding intuition concerning homosexuality that they do about bestiality—that it is wrong because it is unnatural.
    Maggie’s argument isn’t really about procreation. It’s about the supremacy of a particular religious ideology. But that argument has to be snuck in. The procreation angle is a means to invoke a feeling that same-sex couples are unnatural (bestial even) without having to resort to ecclesiastical metaphysics.

  • 13

    […] Waking up now responds to Maggie Gallagher on SSM […]

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