“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” was Susie Bright’s take on Salon magazine’s story about how Maggie Gallagher’s unwed pregnancy turned her into same-sex marriage’s top foe. I come away from the story with several thoughts.
Hypocrisy: Some of my net friends have called Maggie Gallagher a hypocrite for opposing same-sex marriage while she herself was a single mother. I think the phrase they’re looking for is not so much “hypocrisy” as “misdirected anger.” As zach Ford puts it
it is hard not to read the profile without feeling that when she says, “Every child deserves a mother and a father,” what she really means is “My child deserved a father.”
I can’t see “My child deserved a father” as any more hypocritical than Bill W.’s conclusion that he needed help to beat his alcoholism (and so perhaps others did as well). The question is whether same-sex marriage has anything to do with fathers walking away from their children.
I have a friend from college, Ruth, who married the love of her life during the brief period when same-sex marriages were legal in California. In 2008, she got to watch the majority of her fellow Californians vote to say that marriages like hers shouldn’t count. She got to wonder whether her marriage would be annulled, and, when it turned out that it wouldn’t, she got to be in that odd state, of legally having a wife in a state where same-sex marriage isn’t allowed (which makes for potential difficulties with insurance companies when you try to persuade them that yes, my wife and I do get to be on the same insurance). Now she’s cheering the Ninth Circuit decision against Proposition 8, and hoping it withstands appeal.
And, if you have solid grounds, actual evidence, to believe that Ruth’s marriage would hasten a world in which the family collapses and fathers abandon their children, then you ought, be you ever so solidly committed to same-sex marriage before you saw that evidence, to be willing to say to women like Ruth and her wife, sorry, you need to settle for shacking up. As Will Wilkinson puts it, in arguing against Charles Murray’s argument that opinions on matters like “abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax” may reasonably be beyond the reach of data.
I found this exceedingly odd. I can easily imagine what evidence would cause me to change my position on any of these issues. How about you? It’s a fun exercise, let’s try….
Same-sex marriage. I’m so pro, I almost wish I were gay so I could have one. If compelling evidence were unearthed that showed that widespread same-sex marriage really would precipitate the unraveling of the traditional family and subsequently the stability of society and the ruin of us all, I suppose I’d settle for the right of same-sex couples to shack up.
If, on the other hand, you don’t see any reason to believe that Ruth’s and Leslie’s marriage will precipitate the unraveling of the traditional family and subsequently the stability of society and the ruin of us all, if you think, for instance, that, for all that Maggie Gallagher’s Yale boy friend walked away from their son, on a societal level an increase in fathers walking away from their children is more likely to be precipitated by a decline in blue collar jobs with good union wages, then Gallagher’s activism will seem woefully misdirected. Particularly if you don’t see Ruth’s and Leslie’s marriage as all that different from your own.
A woman scorned: The Salon reporter has tracked down Maggie Gallagher’s college ex, and gotten his side of the story.
He is not pleased to have been found after all these years. To get him to speak, I have promised to keep his identity secret. He became a doctor, as planned. He lives in a small town on the East Coast with his wife and family. He has not spoken to his son or to his son’s mother since that final break in the mid-1980s. He knows who she has become — she is in the newspaper and on television — but he does not pay much attention to her writings. “I don’t read them extensively, because I don’t agree with them, and I find it personally painful to do so, as you might imagine.”
His memories are vague, and rather self-serving. It seems that he did not work very hard to stay in his son’s life, but after thinking on it he apportions some of the blame to the boy’s mother….
As I read this, I’m torn between seeing in this man everything I can’t respect (you walked away from your own son? and you want to blame the boy’s mother?) and feeling a measure of sympathy for him. Picture it. You’ve walked away from your son, and now his mother is famous. Her entire career appears to be inspired by your act of abandonment. You can never undo that act, she will never, ever forgive you, and she’s so energized by that betrayal that she’s built whole organizations, changed law in the most populous state in the country, just to become the defender of all the values she saw you falling short on. “Personally painful”? Yes, I suppose it would be. Then again, you know, you could have found a way to stay in your son’s life, whatever your disagreements with his mother.
Will you still love me tomorrow: Still, Gallagher partly acquits her former love.
That was not really his fault, Gallagher says. Neither of them thought they should get married. Nobody did. “There was literally no one — not his mother, not my parents, not the counselor I talked to, none of my friends, nobody in that world,” she says, who suggested they get married. “And in fact I would say the concern was that we not get married” — that they avoid the mistake of marrying too young.
“But I think, looking back, that if he had said, ‘You know, Maggie, I love you, I love you, let’s get married,’ I would’ve been thrilled. You know, he was my boyfriend.”
Several months ago, sex educator Guli Fager posted on her Facebook feed a link to an article in a Christian magazine about 11 things to know at 25(ish). Guli liked it for the final thing to know: “Don’t get stuck.” Some of her more secular Facebook friends found it odd (before learning where she’d gotten it) for the Christian emphasis in many of the things to know. And I, once I’d seen their surprise, looked at “3. Don’t Rush Dating and Marriage” with new eyes. The truth is that, in my world (the same generation as Gallagher, but a Stanford graduate rather than a Yale one), practically no one did rush dating and marriage. We were all keenly aware of the risks of marrying too young, and, by and large, we didn’t. I knew a very few people who married in college or just out of it; a few more wound up with their college loves but didn’t marry any time soon. For the most part, “Don’t Rush Dating and Marriage” was a lesson we’d already learned well.
There’s a natural tension, here; the age at which we naturally want to start having sex is way below the age at which we’re able to make lasting commitments. Some of that is cultural; it’s hard to be ready to make commitments when you’re not ready to earn your own money. Some of it I think may be built in; there’s a reason that cultures that rush to marry women off before they can have kids tend to have more arranged marriages. At the same time, the age at which we start having sex isn’t well below the age at which we may want our relationships to last. And it’s not below the age at which we can have children who leave us stuck dealing with each other even after a relationship has run its course. The article in Relevant magazine is addressing a subculture that has seized one side of that tension, one where people tends to rush into marriage, and may need the reminder
One of the only truly devastating mistakes you can make in this season is staying with the wrong person even though you know he or she is the wrong person. It’s not fair to that person, and it’s not fair to you.
Stanford, when I was there, and Yale, when Gallagher was there, were not that culture. I’m not talking here about what’s called “hook up culture,” because I think the danger of that is often overstated. Oh, there were plenty of hook ups going on, when I was in college. What wasn’t happening, and what I think still isn’t happening, was women with a normal, healthy level of sexual confidence continuing to have hook ups, despite finding them alienating. Absent a drug or alcohol problem, or some other personal trauma, the normal response to having a hook up and finding it lonely and alienating is not to have more hook ups.
What I’m talking about is something subtle, something that comes out in Gallagher’s story thus:
As Gallagher tells it, she and the baby’s father were close; they had been together “on the order of one year,” she says, so he might have been expected to stand by her. “My son’s father was my boyfriend at Yale,” is how she describes their relationship….
The father remembers it differently. When I ask if he and the woman he got pregnant in college were indeed a couple, he thinks for a moment, then says, “Sort of.”
There were three men I met while I was in college (and one woman, but we’ll ignore that for now), any one of whom might have thrilled me by saying “You know, Lynn, I love you, I love you, let’s get married.” (Maybe that means my heart was a bit on the hasty side, but so be it.) Like any prudent Stanford student, I listened to the part of me that said “You’re young. Don’t be hasty,” rather than the part that said, “I could see myself having children with this person.” After Brian died in that accident, I wondered if I’d played it too cool, with him. Now I wonder if maybe I played it too cool with all of them. Not because I should have married one of them, or even could have made a marriage work with all of them, but because maybe, after all, it’s better to tell your feelings as they actually are. Maybe, if you’re far enough from being on the same page that your real feelings seem too “clingy” to the other person, you’re both better off out of that relationship, so that, whether your feelings are what he’d really want or not, it’s better to say them as they are. At the same time, telling my feelings as they actually were would have meant, “Sometimes I picture myself marrying you, and the fact that I’m thinking that way scares the heck out of me.” In other words, it would have meant something a little more ambivalent than “I’m just dying for you to propose.”
Pregnancy, though, can give you another kind of lasting tie, whether you wanted it or not. Maggie Gallagher, who I gather used birth control and found her life changed anyway after it failed, takes the “so don’t have sex before marriage” side of the argument. Guli Fager, on her Facebook page, takes the “so use birth control” side of the argument.
sex – birth control = birth, and teenage population x (sex – birth control) = teen birth explosion. i’m sick of scholarly articles noting the ‘irony’ of states with conservative sex education & abortion policies having higher teen birth rates. teen sex is a STABLE, PREDICTABLE, UNCHANGING factor. you can affect the birth rate or change the contraception use rate, but you can’t change the sex. anyone who claims you can wants to sell you a bridge to russia.
Epidemiologically, Guli is right, or nearly so. While it doesn’t appear to be literally true that teen sex is totally unchanging, it appears that the change you’re able to get, at a population level, with the absolutely most successful interventions yet found at getting teens to put off sex, is to shift the average age of loss of virginity from earlier in your teen years to later in your teen years. Meanwhile, the best success you’re able to get by promoting contraception is dramatically lower teen pregnancy rates, with a corresponding reduction in both births and abortions. The “typical use” failure rate for the Pill may be several times as high as the “perfect use” failure rate, but, given that the very definition of a “typical use” failure rate is that it includes all the people who intended to use the method and didn’t always succeed in using it, the “typical use” failure rate for abstinence is an order of magnitude higher than that for the Pill.
At an individual level, it can sometimes be a different story. Not in the sense that very many women, at all, are willing to ditch the birth control (around 98% will use it, and better that they use it well than poorly). But in the sense that, if you (as Gallagher turned out to be) aren’t convinced you’d be prepared to go through with that abortion, or that adoption, if your birth control failed, you may do well to wonder if you’ve picked the man you can trust in the event of that birth control failure. You may find yourself asking, about prospective lovers, that key question: Is this the man I want my child visiting on weekends and holidays?