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Maggie Gallagher's reliable sleight of hand

by Jeremy Hooper

It was a few months after she helped pass the discriminatory Proposition 8, roll back equality in California, and write marriage discrimination into the Golden State's constitution that I first heard Maggie Gallagher go on in length about how she was the supposed victim of the same-sex marriage fight. "They're going to call us bigots," was the gist of her fearful claim. Listen to that speech here; my response to it here.

What struck me at the time, and what continued to strike me in the subsequent years in which she and her movement adopted this "victims" meme writ large, was the way Maggie stripped the concept of merit (or lack thereof) out of the situation altogether. Not only would she pretend that hers was simply a cause to "protect marriage," the purposely installed defense system behind which anti-equality conservatives have long been hiding, but she would also fully exclude the very real pain and practical repercussions that citizens who are in, or who might someday want to be in, a same-sex civil marriage experience as direct result of her chosen line of work. It was always as if she was simply selling daisies on the side of the road, and those of us who challenge Maggie's cause were simply out to get her. It was like we had nothing better to do with our time so we thought we'd just go after this "innocent" writer and her views.

Fast forward to the year 2014, and we find the same Maggie, surely battle weary and possibly even regretful over the failing strategy that she very much helped develop, yet still woefully (and I suspect deliberately) obtuse when it comes to what her work has actually wrought. She lays this out in a new piece for National Review Online, where she argues that "the left" has essentially played dirty on the issue of marriage and is now applying that to other fights. Here's a pertinent snip:

The recent flaying of Brendan Eich for the sin of donating to Prop 8 was only the visible wedge of a far larger mechanism at work. At a seminar in Washington, a young left-leaning member of a usually conservative religious denomination challenged me on this point: “Doesn’t it show that executives shouldn’t donate to controversial issues?” she asked.

Don’t kid yourself, young lady; the business owners who donated against Prop 8 faced no such effective retaliation for their private and personal donations. Right now, the stigma game is one-way, directed by those who have power and know how to use it against traditionalist communities they hate. (No doubt, if cultural conservatives had more power like that, they would use it in ways that would outrage liberals — I am not making a moral point here, just pointing out the mechanics as truthfully as I can.)

FULL: Organizing Groupthink // The Left applies lessons learned from gay-marriage victories to the next war. [NRO]

Business owners who donated against Prop 8 didn't face retaliation? Well no, obviously not. That's because equality is a good thing. Fairness is a virtue. Despite the pro-discrimination crowd's willfully misleading framing, this marriage fight is not a two-sided conversation with equally-merited positions. Opting to discriminate against your fellow citizen, especially in a fight that is almost exclusively in place because of people who want to overextend their religious convictions, is a really bad choice.

Prop 8 supporters have never had reason or cause to retaliate against those who fought against the discriminatory measure. There is not one California citizen who opposes marriage equality whose life has been changed in any way by the roller coaster Prop 8 debate. When the state supreme court first brought marriage equality to California, oppositional straight people were just as married as they ever were. When Prop 8 passed that November, none of these oppositional folks were any more married than they were the day before the election. Same goes for the court battle, right up until present day, when equality is now and forever the order of the day in California and the entire west coast. There are surely people in the area who very much wish Prop 8 were still a reality, but while they might be annoyed or even dismayed, their rights are not in any way altered and their lives are not really affected.

This is not true for many of us who opposed Prop 8. Thousands of couples who successfully married before the passage of the ban saw their unions in limbo. Many more couples were denied the opportunity for many years after. Personally, I had my entire wedding planned in California, which my husband and I had to cancel and move to Connecticut after Prop 8 went into effect (our vendors had placed special Prop 8 language into all of the contracts that we signed that summer). And there are countless other stories. Because those of us who are gay, or even those of us who simply love and support LGBT people and equality, had very real rights at stake. And not only rights but an overall peace of mind. It is an uniquely dehumanizing experience to have your civil rights turned into a popularity contest.

I understand why Maggie doesn't want to focus on the very tangible and easily perceptible harms connected to her legacy. Sure, she largely denies that there are any, instead insisting that she has been working for good. However, that narrative is looking flimsier and flimsier. Heck, even NOM, which Maggie co-founded and stewarded, is now admitting that the laws that have long-denied us are, indeed, bans. When this story is told over the next many years and decades and centuries, people are not going to have to be told which side was the aggressor. People know what a ban is. People know what discriminatory rhetoric sounds like. People know what offense and defense looks like.

The lesson Maggie should learn from her own time in the marriage fight is that the script won't change simply because the the wily foe doesn't like the role into which he has been cast. You can't work day in and day out to achieve a certain plot then overlook all the backstory when the first act's downtrodden team becomes the final act's prevailing voice of reason.

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