Friday, January 28, 2005

Maggie Gallagher, the Goddess of Marriage

Maggie Gallagher is beginning to remind me of Hera, the Goddess of Marriage, the Divine Upholder of the Mrs. Degree and all that. In reality, Hera was always sneaking away to have all sorts of children with fathers whose name was not Zeus.

For those who have not followed the news recently, Maggie Gallagher is a marriage expert of the conservative type: only traditional heterosexual marriages with the mother preferably at home full time are good ones, and anything else is a threat to the Western civilization, the military power of the United States and God. She has the right to say all this, of course, just as I have the right to denounce her for saying it. But Maggie has done a little bit more than that: she has taken money from the Bush administration (but only a humble wifely sum) to help them with their program of getting the poor married, and then she has stayed mum about having done so in her wingnut columns and other writings.

Maggie's message is a strong one. Here she is offering expert witness testimony to the government:

I am here today as an expert on marriage. I have devoted most of the last fifteen years to research and public education on the marriage issue, particularly the problem of family fragmentation: the growing proportion of our children in fatherless homes, created through divorce or unmarried childbearing.

Marriage is a key social institution, but it is also a fragile institution: with half or more of our children experiencing the suffering, poverty and deprivation of fatherlessness and fragmented families. This is a crisis that was of course not created by advocates of same-sex marriage. But the marriage crisis is intimately involved with how committed we as a society are to two key ideas: that children need mothers and fathers, and that marriage is the main way that we create stable, loving mother-father families for children

Take careful notes: Maggie had been working for this good cause for at least fifteen years at the time of these hearings, and she is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and single mothers. Ok. Are you ready? Here's more of Maggie's opinions on marriage:

Our better tradition, and the only one consistent with democratic principles, is to hold up a single ideal for all parents, which is ultimately based on our deep cultural commitment to the equal dignity and social worth of all children. All kids need and deserve a married mom and dad. All parents are supposed to at least try to behave in ways that will give their own children this important protection. Privately, religiously, emotionally, individually, marriage may have many meanings. But this is the core of its public, shared meaning: Marriage is the place where having children is not only tolerated but welcomed and encouraged, because it gives children mothers and fathers.

Of course, many couples fail to live up to this ideal. Many of the things men and women have to do to sustain their own marriages, and a culture of marriage, are hard. Few people will do them consistently if the larger culture does not affirm the critical importance of marriage as a social institution. Why stick out a frustrating relationship, turn down a tempting new love, abstain from sex outside marriage, or even take pains not to conceive children out of wedlock if family structure does not matter? If marriage is not a shared norm, and if successful marriage is not socially valued, do not expect it to survive as the generally accepted context for raising children. If marriage is just a way of publicly celebrating private love, then there is no need to encourage couples to stick it out for the sake of the children. If family structure does not matter, why have marriage laws at all? Do adults, or do they not, have a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers?

Got it? Especially the last line about adults having a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers? Good.

Now, here's the thing. Maggie was a single mother for over ten years before she found the haven of a good husband. Evidence? Here it is, thanks to Vulture:

I was twenty-two and unmarried when my son was born, just a few months after I had graduated from Yale University

And also courtesy of Vulture:

It has nothing to do with marriage," Gallagher pipes up. "I was a single mother for 10 years. You're pretty conscious about trying to make a decent living and take care of your kids. This is not time for gabbing about."

Maggie Gallagher has been a wingnut marriage expert for about twenty years, and half of that time she was a single mother, one of those threatening the fragile institution of marriage and all things good for children. This is two-faced, to say the least.

I am uncomfortable blogging about Maggie's private life, or the private lives of anyone but myself. This case, though, is an exception to the general rule of avoiding such topics. For Maggie keeps lecturing us how to control our basic desires and then she appears to have been unable to do that herself. She's also not very forthcoming about this schism in her writings. This is a worse ethics violation than anything I'm saying here.

The wingnut argument on Maggie's behalf would probably be that she has Seen The Light and that She Knows What She Talks About. That's what is used to justify George Bush's youthful adventures, too. But the light must have been dim indeed if it took Maggie ten years to find a way out of her "mistake". No, she's just two-faced.
See also this earlier post by Digby on the same topic.