A few days ago, Huffington Post blogger Lila Shapiro posted her recent interview with Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and former president of the National Organization for Marriage and, more recently the Institute for Marriage And Public Policy. While HuffPost’s “Gay Voices” articles tend to skew towards shrill tirades against comparatively trivial grievances, Shapiro stepped back and let Gallagher speak her mind. The results were interesting.
The focal point of the article was that Gallagher more or less acknowledged the inevitability of marriage equality, and that she would henceforth direct her energy to other issues. Gallagher said that she had no regrets about fighting for an issue she cared deeply about, but that there are other battles she looks forward to fighting. “I now have a lot more freedom now to figure out what I want to do with the next 20 years of my life,” she told Shapiro. Gallagher’s concession was naturally big news, but it’s her additional comments regarding the future pro-marriage equality America that interest me.
When asked her opinion on increasing support of marriage equality from religious groups in the U.S., Gallagher had her explanation ready. She reasoned that as the dominant public morality in this country changes to support marriage equality, religious groups will want to conform in order to avoid being seen as backwards. Gallagher predicted a bleak future for these groups:
“If responses to previous cultural/sexual/moral clashes (like abortion or the sexual revolution) are any indication, religions that embrace the dominant morality and reject core Biblical teachings will fade, fast, like the Episcopalians in this country.”
To me, this illustrates a profound misunderstanding of religious support of marriage equality and LGBT rights generally. Gallagher seems to believe that religious Americans were coerced or assimilated into a viewpoint out of fear. That contention sidesteps the reality that many individuals in “mainline” Protestant denominations have advocated for LGBT rights – including marriage – as soon as the issue began to gain public notice in the early 2000s.
Perhaps more importantly, Gallagher missed the mark on impact of religious groups embracing marriage equality. While both Catholic and mainline Protestant church attendance may continue to decline, it will not be because of a compassionate stance on marriage.
Congregations are growing older and they need newer, younger members to survive. It is no secret that younger Americans are more in favor of marriage equality than their parents or grandparents, but this trend continues even among comparatively conservative Evangelical Christians. A 2011 Pew Research poll f0und that 44% of respondents aged 18-29 supported marriage equality, compared to only 12% of respondents over the age of 65.
I have seen the fallacy of Gallagher’s prediction with my own eyes and in my own community. As a practicing Episcopalian, I have regularly attended services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Syracuse since my arrival in 2011. In 2013, a rainbow flag was introduced beside the American and Episcopal flags, indicating the church’s inclusiveness to all who pass by. On at least two or three Sundays after the new flag was hung, several new and younger people and couples wandered in during the service and took a seat. Afterwards, they expressed relief to the pastor that they found a church that accepts them.
Such occasions give me hope that Maggie Gallagher’s bleak predictions for the future of religious America are unfounded.
(Sources for this article can be found in the hyperlinked text within)