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05/24/2013

No, Maggie Gallagher—we can't agree on that

by Jeremy Hooper

National Organization For Marriage co-founder Maggie Gallagher asks:

"If we can’t agree on anything else, can we at least agree that Jonathan Rauch’s noble dream (it was noble) that gay marriage could be part of strengthening a marriage culture generally is now demonstrably untrue?"

And:

"[C]an we at least agree the noble dream of Jonathan Rauch, David Brooks, and others that gay marriage will strengthen marriage as a social institution just doesn‘t happen?"
[SOURCE]

For evidence, Maggie turns to Patricia Morgan, who is kind of like Maggie's counterpart in the UK. Morgan is a family policy thinker who has written a book on what she sees as the government-sanctioned breakdown of the family. Morgan's argument, backed by Gallagher, is that signs of heterosexual marital decline in Scandinavia, Spain, and Holland provide "tragic proof" (Morgan's words, reprinted by Gallagher) that same-sex marriage doesn't help the overall institution.

This is a truly bogus conclusion, and I'm frankly surprised that Gallagher is parlaying this suggestion into some sort of consensus position. Especially true, considering that Gallagher and fellow voices on her side of the fight are fond of saying that we can't possibly know the "detriments" of same-sex marriage until many years go by (something they love to claim whenever we point to the non-destruction of Massachusetts). How can both be true? How can a decade or so of marriage equality "prove" that same-sex marriage is of no benefit if a decade or so of marriage equality isn't enough "proof" that same-sex marriage does no harm?

Short answer: it can't be both. And in fact, I would argue that there's far more reason to look to a decade of non-destruction as a way of belying fear than there is to look to a decade of overall decline as a way of refuting same-sex marriage's positive potential. If same-sex marriage is an experiment, of sorts, then it's fair to look at how said experiment has failed to blow up in our faces; it's much less reasonable to say that our "experiment" has failed at one of its missions since it has failed to lift up the entire lab.

Personally, I find the very idea that marriages like mine are supposed to lift up a system that heterosexuals have apparently put on the decline to be a bit offensive. But at the same time, I do believe that marriage equality, when given time to settle in and inform our society, will in fact do great things for marital trend lines. As a happily married man myself, I am quite the advocate for the institution, its benefits, its statements, and its reminders, both internally among its participants and outwardly to a society that needs to remember that we are all born with equal worth. I know for a fact that people who have spent time with Andrew and me have come away with better feelings about what marriage is and what it means. And I don't just mean gay people—many straight friends, both coupled and not, have told us that we give them some sort of hope. While we don't see it as our role to model the "perfect" marriage to all around us (as if we could), we do take pride in what we have. We place deep worth in our commitment, our easy way with one another, and our united front in face of all that is good, bad, or otherwise.

Will marriages like mine help to "fix" marriages problems? Again, it's kind of offensive to suggest that I should have to jump through that, a hoop that my heterosexual peers have been free to sidestep for eons now. But either way, I do refuse to accept the idea that this thesis, whether its my own or not, has somehow failed because scant evidence points to decline within an institution that is still far from equal—an institution that none of us have lived our full lives knowing to be equal.

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