This week, Maggie Gallagher, one of the the leading voices advocating against marriage equality in the United States, announced the end of her syndicated opinion column for Universal Uclick after more than 17 years.
The weekly column appeared in 25 to 35 papers, including the New York Post. Clint Hooker, assistant managing editor of Universal Uclick, the world's largest independent press syndicate, told The Huffington Post that Gallagher's decision to end the column came as a surprise to him and that he "tried to talk her out of it."
Over the last two decades, Gallagher has expounded in her columns on the dangers of legalizing same-sex marriage and the importance of preserving, in her words, a "strong marriage culture" made up of one husband, one wife and babies. In 2007, she co-founded the National Organization for Marriage, a group that has, since its inception, led the fight against efforts to make same-sex marriage legal. In 2010, Gallagher stepped down as president of the organization, but she has continued to beat the drum for traditional marriage on TV and in her column.
Lately, as Gallagher admits in her closing column, that fight has not been going well. Since she began the column in 1995, "On every key measure, marriage is weaker," Gallagher writes. As evidence of this trend, she cites a rising proportion of children "born out of wedlock," and faults the lack of a "powerful ideal of masculinity that points men toward marriage and fatherhood."
But for many advocates of marriage equality, the future of the institution has rarely looked brighter. Last November, three more states legalized same-sex marriage -- the first instances in which voters, not the courts or legislators, enabled marriage equality -- and a number of polls show that a majority of Americans now favor legalizing it. This spring, the Supreme Court will hear two cases on same-sex marriage, with potentially sweeping consequences.
Gallagher reflected Friday via email on these changing tides and what social conservatives need to do to get an edge in an increasingly uphill battle.
Why did you decide to end your column now?
Well, I found pulling off a weekly column was getting harder and harder and interfering with some other projects I value more. I began to resent writing in 600 words only, and I wanted more time to think. So many people are flailing, I want time to think. Plus, newspapers are dying and while getting a syndicated column was an achievement when I started, it’s now more of a dinosaur. I want to free myself up to do something new. The first iteration of that is building an audience for my weekly letter posted at MaggieGallagher.com. But that's only the first iteration.
Given the signs of decline you note in your final column, how do you feel about your last two decades of work?
Pretty proud and satisfied. I've spoken the truth within the limits of my insight, which is all any writer can do. I've had an impact on my times and stood up for some denigrated truths that I do not think any society can do without. Plus, I know people trying to live by these truths and [passing] them down to their children really appreciate my capacity to put into words what is in their hearts. All in all, I feel pretty good about how I've spent my life.
Some advocates of same-sex marriage see this moment -- and the November election -- as a sweeping turning point in favor of those who wish to legalize same-sex marriage. Not only did three states vote to legalize it and one state vote against an amendment banning it, but a mounting number of polls show support from a majority of Americans. Do you see this as a turning point?
It certainly was a significant milestone. I actually think it will help us at the Supreme Court this year, but all in all I would prefer to win. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the spokesman for the Democratic leader in Illinois is claiming he needs Republican votes to pass gay marriage deep in a blue state. They adjourned Friday rather than vote on gay marriage because they did not have the votes. Deep in the bluest of blue states, the fight isn't over.
Do you think that there's anything advocates of traditional marriage could have done differently?
I think it’s always important to learn both from failure and from success. In my view "social conservatives" need to do two big things much, much better: build actual political organizations instead of religious ministries masquerading as political organizations, and invest in culture creation networks -- serious artistic and intellectual networks. Culture wars are struggles over who has the power to "name reality." We are getting swamped in this war.
Do you think anything positive could come from states legalizing same-sex marriage?
Not really. I hope I'm wrong though. Oh, except for making it less likely the Supreme Court will decide that gay people are politically powerless and need special court protection to function in a democracy.
Oh, and of course it would make some gay people happy so that's a good thing. Good that someone will be happy!
When we last spoke, you said you thought Obama's support for same-sex marriage was "quite possibly" a turning point in the election. Looking back, what do you think the significance of that announcement was?
I think it revealed that social conservatives are not in the game politically. There was no money available to try to make Obama pay a cost for his announcement and that will hurt us dramatically going forward.
I understand one of your upcoming projects will be working with the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which has announced it will help defend the Jewish ex-gay therapy group JONAH against a lawsuit from previous clients. What do you think the significance of this fight is?
I am serving on the board with my old friend Chuck Limandri who is one heck of a litigator. The overarching goal is to build legal institutions to protect traditional religious believers from what I believe is going to be increasing efforts to stigmatize and marginalize us from mainstream society -- and to interfere with the process of building institutions that reflect these beliefs.
Chuck decided to take this case and I would defer to him in speaking about it.
What else is next for you now that the column is done?
I stopped the column because it interfered with building a more direct relationship with my readers through email and the web. That's one thing I'm doing. I'm considering other projects, but I haven't made any decisions.
Looking back on the last two decades of your work, what are you the most proud of?
I spoke the truth about the good, within the limits of my insight, whether it made me popular, or whether it made me hated -- or both.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.