LEXINGTON, VA — The former head of the National Organization for Marriage said Wednesday that she disagreed with some specific wording in the group’s controversial anti-gay marriage strategies but that she did not find the strategies themselves inappropriate.
During a debate at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, Maggie Gallagher said she did not like the language used in recently released internal memos that suggested the group should attempt to drive a wedge between the gay community and racial minorities.
A memo titled, “Naitonal Organization for Marriage Board Update 2008-2009” described the strategy as the “Not a Civil Right Project.”
“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” reads one document. “Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue. Consider pushing a marriage amendment in Washington D.C.; Find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally.”
Another section described NOM’s strategy for the Latino community.
“The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote,” NOM wrote, “and will be so even more so in the future, both because of demographic growth and inherent uncertainty: Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity — a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”
Gallagher insisted that while the language in the memos was inappropriate, NOM’s racial strategies were acceptable.
“What NOM has actually done is go across the country and reach across lines of race, party, and color and religion to work with people who believe marriage is the union of a husband and wife for a reason,” Gallagher said. “I don’t think that’s a racist or unethical strategy at all.”
Gallagher also said she didn’t like the language in the memos because it suggested that minority leaders only opposed gay marriage because of NOMs efforts.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the African and Hispanic leaders who have stood up because they oppose gay marriage in fights across the country,” Gallagher said. “For us to suggest that they are doing so as a result of being manipulated by white, suburban, Republicans girls like me [is wrong].”
Gallagher also defended the idea behind another NOM memo that suggested the group hire a staff member to seek out children of gay parents who would speak about their gay marriage concerns on camera.
“I don’t think [it] was ever acted on because we had a whole bunch of gay marriage fights in between, but the theory is that the voice of the children as managed by the gay marriage community is not the real discourse,” Gallagher said. “I just know because I get emails occasionally from children.
“They love their parents. Some of them have feelings about [gay marriage] and they respond to the idea that children need a mother and a father.”
Gallagher admitted that it would have been “impractical” for NOM to be the group to foster that dialogue.
Gallagher’s opponent during the debate, Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan, took exception to that statement.
“Impractical to ask a child to testify against his own parents?” Sullivan asked. “It’s wicked. If you want to know why I think many people fighting [against gay marriage] are not pro-family, it’s something like that.
“It’s such a despicable political tactic that the argument against it is not about its practicality,” Sullivan said. “It’s about its moral corruption.”
Sullivan said that neither opponents nor proponents of gay marriage should use children’s testimony as support for their cause.
“I think we can make our arguments without doing that, and we should,” he said.
When Gallagher asked audience members to raise their hands to show whether they tended to support or oppose gay marriage, most of the students and community members indicated that they favored legalization.
Gallagher based her argument on the claim that children have a right to be raised by a mother and a father and that prohibiting same-sex marriage helped society enforce that right.
Sullivan said that love between LGBT couples was equivalent to love between straight couples and that the most important expectations of marriage – that a couple take care of one another and raise their children responsibly – applied just as appropriately and effectively in both same-sex and heterosexual marriages.
Students interviewed after the debate said they sided with Sullivan on most issues, including the idea that NOM’s proposal to use children in the marriage debate was inappropriate.
“Unless they have children speak for both sides, it’s not fair to bring them into it,” junior Taylor Maxey said. “It’s family they’re talking about. There’s a very strong emotional attachment, positive or negative, and so [the children] are going to want to twist it.”
Fellow junior Elizabeth Lamb of Charlottesville said no child’s testimony could paint a conclusive picture of life in a same-sex marriage.
“There’s a difference between an individual and a group as a whole,” Lamb said. “There are things that children may comment on that don’t necessarily apply to the whole and that’s true from both sides of the gay marriage spectrum.”
Freshman Nick Lehotsky said Gallagher’s argument gave him a better sense of the anti-gay marriage rationale, but that it didn’t sway him.
“I had a really hard time not picking her argument apart,” Lehotsky said, “but I would say it has changed my views in the sense that it gave me a broader scope to look at the issue.”
Maxey, from San Diego, Calif., said the debate left her thinking more deeply about a question that defines the entire discussion.
“I’ve always been very pro- gay marriage simply because if we call it anything else, it leaves the door open for discrimination,” Maxey said. “I have to go home and think about what resonates with me and what doesn’t.
“It comes down to the question of ‘what is marriage?’”
IMAGE: Maggie Gallagher speaking at CPAC 2012, Feb. 11, 2012 (AMERICAN INDEPENDENT/Sofia Resnick)