Maggie Gallagher, 51, founding president of the National Organization for Marriage, is now president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, which examines the effect of law and public policy on marriage. She is a syndicated columnist and the author or co-author of The Case for Marriage, Enemies of Eros, The Abolition of Marriage, and Debating Same-Sex Marriage, published last month by Oxford University Press.
Since you grew up in Portland, Ore., what led you to go cross-country to Yale? It's hard to tell why 18-year-olds do what they do, but I was the state champion in "Oxford debating"-extemporaneous speaking-and was interested in the Yale Political Union. Yale was the first experience for me of being in a place where being smart and interested in ideas didn't make you weird.
How did you become a follower, for a time, of Ayn Rand? My mother had left the Roman Catholic Church when I was 8. I was converted by science fiction-Robert Heinlein-to being an atheist. At 16, reading Atlas Shrugged, I became a Randian.
During your senior year at Yale you had a surprise. I became pregnant. Graduated in 1982 and my oldest son was born in October of '82. That was a life-transforming experience.
You were unmarried and an atheist: Why didn't you have an abortion? Because it is wrong to kill a human being. I come from a wonderful family and was raised to believe that taking care of your kids is the most important thing you could do. It may not be the most heroic virtue, maybe a little bourgeois, but above all you take care of your kids.
Good-but it must have been a hard graduation present. I found it extremely embarrassing, but my parents were very supportive, even though I'm the only pro-life person in my family to this day, other than my children and my husband.
How did having a baby and then caring for a baby change your life? You don't love your child for anything except for being your child, and the amount of sacrifice that it takes. It made me rethink everything, starting with the sexual revolution.
They tell you that birth control is 95 percent effective. What does that mean?
Do the math. There is a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant in any one year. You start engaging in sexual relationships at 16 and marry at 26, which would be totally unexceptional. Forty percent of those girls are going to get pregnant once out of wedlock. Nobody tells you that. Only abortion makes that big lie plausible. It's what cleans up the mess. We transfer our suffering and our problems to our children.
If you hadn't had this difficult surprise, and then raised your child, would you be writing about sex and marriage? I would not. I didn't want to write about any girly stuff. I wanted to write about war and money.
But you returned to Catholicism and wrote articles and books about marriage. So-why is same-sex marriage so bad? Same-sex marriage totally separates marriage from its core public function and idea: that we as a whole society need to bring in male and female to make and raise the next generation, because children need mothers and fathers. Marriage is not just a private act.
How does the drive to affirm same-sex marriage constrain religious liberty? It changes the relationship of the Judeo-Christian tradition to the public square. It is in the process of creating an America where you cannot be both a good citizen and be an outspoken advocate for a Christian understanding of sex and marriage, because you will be redefined as a racist in the public square.
Why do we emphasize same-sex marriage so much, when heterosexual adultery is a much bigger problem in churches? If I could wave a wand and stop all adultery vs. stopping gay marriage, sure, I would take that choice-but that is not how cultures work. They work and revolve around foundational ideas. If you lose the idea of what marriage is and Christians are viewed as racist and bigots, it will be a lot more challenging to do what we really need to do, which is to restore and strengthen our marriage culture.
How would legalizing same-sex marriage be like the move to no-fault divorce? I was 11 when they brought no-fault divorce. People then were told: This is a small change that will affect only bad marriages. There was no broad public support for no-fault divorce. It was done through elite networks, but once it's the law, it's extremely difficult to change.
Some gay activists regularly call you all kinds of obscene names. How does that affect you? It saddens me, but it's not about me. It's directed at everyone who has this understanding of marriage. The debates are like ships crossing in the night. The most important question for gays is, "What do you think about gay people?" When they are fighting a battle they need a villain: Otherwise, you don't have the right drama. I've accepted it. I'm not willing to live in an America where you have to be afraid to say the ideal for a child is a mom and dad.
In the 1990s support for abortion and homosexuality tended to go up or down in tandem. In the past decade the young have become more pro-life, but also more supportive of same-sex marriage. When I was 18 they said that an opponent of abortion was a hater of women: "You're calling my sister a murderer." But the left can't stigmatize everyone all the time. Also, abortion was politically expensive for liberalism generally. I'm not taking away the enormous achievement of the pro-life movement in developing a language, but it's not that "we found some good words and now we are winning." And, the environment will shift again, especially if we outlaw abortion. Now, every teen who might be gay who kills himself is a front page story. You'd start hearing that about women who died because of abortion laws.
How do you think the same-sex marriage battle will turn out? The future doesn't look like the present just extended. It's possible that in 10 years young gay people will feel safe and say, "This whole marriage thing was my parents' battle. I don't care about it anymore." We already see gay marriage withering in the Netherlands. Marriage will not become a dominant institution in the gay community. It's a symbol right now of equal, fair, loving treatment-but the debate is not about marriage. It's about something else for the gay community overall.
Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Maggie Gallagher: