The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 rulings on two landmark marriage cases dismayed many Catholic leaders and other Americans. The decisions, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissed an appeal to a lower-court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 voter initiative, surprised and disappointed Maggie Gallagher, the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
An author of numerous books, papers and columns about the importance of building a marriage culture in the U.S., Gallagher became an “accidental” activist in the increasingly polarized debate on same-sex “marriage.” A commentator and debater, she has focused on a child’s right to a mother and a father rather than on the morality of homosexual relationships.
During a July 8 interview with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond, Gallagher recalls key moments in the fight against the redefinition of marriage and argues that Catholics must not retreat from the challenge of transmitting the truth about marriage to the next generation of Americans.
What was your reaction to the Supreme Court’s decisions on the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases?
I didn’t expect the absolute contempt expressed by the slim 5-4 majority in the decision on DOMA written by Justice [Anthony] Kennedy. He did not strike down DOMA based on a careful rejection of the arguments presented, and he did not do so on limited grounds. He issued a sweeping fatwa falsely declaring that support for our marriage tradition is grounded in hatred of gay people.
This is the Roe v. Wade of marriage. And like Roe, Kennedy struck down the democratic process without rooting his decision in any clear constitutional language, text or principle. It is a lawless and unpersuasive opinion to anyone who does not share the premise that our marriage laws equal hatred of gay people.
Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s dissent is right on the money. He said the majority opinion basically declared half of the American people enemies of the human race.
Scalia points out this is a debate between two different views, neither of which are written into our Constitution. That should have been the end of it, except for the arrogance of our judicial culture.
Activists who oppose any redefinition of marriage now predict that the other shoe will drop and the high court will soon issue a ruling that strikes down all state constitutional bans on same-sex “marriage.”
It will simply take a couple of years for Kennedy to get another case with proper standing striking down the marriage laws of all 50 states on the grounds they are based in hatred and animus. We are now shifting, as we did after Roe, to the long fight.
Will we endorse Kennedy’s judgment on our souls? Or will we refuse to accept the legitimacy of his opinion, so that, 40 years from now, the idea that marriage is the union of husband and wife is not the dead letter Kennedy proposes, but a living, breathing movement that people are willing to fight for?
Many faithful Catholics are stunned by the rapid advance of “marriage equality” in the United States, but you saw it coming back in 2003, before same-sex “marriage” was legalized in Massachusetts.
No, that’s not what I saw. I saw that "gay marriage" was going to de-legitimize Christian understandings of marriage and put us in the same category, legally and culturally, as racial bigots.
I explained how [these changes] would affect marriage — by muting the very ideas we need to strengthen, especially [the idea that] children need a mother and father — and how they would in turn create massive new church-state conflicts for believing Christians.
I felt a great calling to explain why that mattered. I quit my job and, with a $10,000 check, started the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and ran this think tank from 2003-2007.
During that time, you were publishing papers and going to Capitol Hill to talk about marriage issues, working with Sen. Rick Santorum.
Yes, and I was watching the political strategy unfold in in the Northeast. In blue states, they started to pass same-sex "marriage" bills in the House, but would not take it up in the Senate. They were trying to persuade the political class that it was safe to pass these laws.
In November 2006, I told Robert George, “We need to start an organization for marriage. If there is only one team on the field, that team will win.”
When I testified at a hearing in Connecticut, I ran across this young guy, Brian Brown, who worked with the Family Institute of Connecticut. I asked him to join NOM. Our first board meeting was in July 2007.
When did NOM get involved in the petition drive for the California voter initiative, Proposition 8?
By December 2007, auxiliary Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Diego asked us to get Prop. 8 on the ballot.
People told us, “Wait until the California Supreme Court issues a ruling.” Donors told me not to do it: “You won’t raise the money. You will raise part of the money and discourage donors from future endeavors, and even if you succeed in getting in the ballot by some miracle, you will lose at the ballot box.”
But when a bishop asks you to help him, what are you going to do? So Brian moved to California, and we put all NOM’s efforts into getting Prop. 8 on the ballot. And we won.
I am optimistic in the long battle we are now clearly engaged in, even as I recognize the gravity of living in a culture with a Supreme Court that brands us as enemies of the Constitution for our views.
Why? It takes a lot of energy to build a culture around a lie about human nature. The truth keeps poking through.
In light of the recent court setbacks, have you become pessimistic? And what do you think needs to be done to reverse the tide on marriage?
We need to build political institutions if the goal is affecting politics. Most social-conservative organizations engaged in politics are actually 501(c)3s. They are ministries, not expressly political organizations. Social conservatives sometimes go on television and act like they are in politics, but they don’t start enough political organizations.
Existing organizations do good work, like handing out voter guides and voter-education efforts. But there is a big hole in the center, in terms of raising money to elect our friends and un-elect our opponents. This is not a problem our opponents have, and, believe me, the political class notices.
As the leading spokesperson for opponents of same-sex "marriage," you have been personally attacked and your image photoshopped. Has your faith helped you maintain your perspective?
Look, I am a big girl, entered this fight with no illusions, and I have no complaints about the way I have been treated. I am concerned about how others are being treated.
God always helps when we ask him — to answer your question.
You were raised a Catholic, but left the Church as a teenager and returned some time ago.
No, my mother left the Church in 1968, when I was 8 and my family as a whole fell away from practicing (we kept going to Mass on Christmas and Easter for some years). By the time I was in seventh grade, I was a self-defined atheist.
I came back to the Church in my late 20s — the early 1990s — largely because of its hard teaching on sex, life and marriage.
I began as a pro-life atheist. Then I had a baby out of wedlock, and that caused me to seriously reevaluate the sexual revolution. It made me question a lot of what was the emerging conventional wisdom: We had to separate sex from marriage; the collapse of marriage was liberating for women and good for children; divorce was no big deal.
I came to believe the dogma of the sexual revolution simply was not true. And then I looked around and saw the Church was the only institution standing that I could see that had preserved these truths in the face of a hostile culture. I decided to trust there were other Truths being preserved as well.
Has the U.S. Church provided adequate leadership and support on the issue of marriage?
The witness of the Church has been magnificent at the highest levels. At the parish and school level? Not so effective.
One of our most urgent needs is to find creative new ways to transmit the marriage culture to the next generation in a hostile culture — first to the children in our own families, our own pews, our own schools, and then to the extent we can to children in the public square. If the Catholic marriage culture were visibly stronger — if we lived out our own vows — we would attract many more converts and grow many more homegrown Catholics.
Christianity grew by the grace of God because Christians respected the marriage bond, refused to kill their children — Roman pagans were shocked — and were willing to suffer to transmit the faith. That is what we are always called to do.
We’ve just been living a soft life in a God-blessed America for generations. That may change. Our call doesn’t.
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.