Maggie Gallagher is in hot water over her $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, money received while her editorials were singing the praises of the Bush Administration's marriage initiative. Sounding slightly clueless, Gallagher explained, "Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it? I don't know. You tell me."
But Gallagher's problems go beyond this ethical faux pas. While I support traditional marriage, there's a fundamental problem with Maggie Gallagher's approach.
In a February 2000 column called "False Valentines," Gallagher decried the problem of partner co-habitation. In that article she hijacked Elizabeth Barrett Browning's ageless sonnet of romantic love, and turned it into a feminist screed.
Here's Maggie's rendition of "How Do I Love Thee?": "Let me count the ways. I love thee while scrubbing your dishes and washing your floors. and while you claim your freedom, your leisure, your paycheck, and my paycheck as your own."
Do I detect something other than dewy-eyed glances in that Valentine's Day rant?
Gallagher has now toned down her rhetoric, but her fundamental worldview remains the same: Blame the man first -- and let the woman off easy.
In her 2004 column, "Be a Man, Get a Wife," Gallagher takes on the topic of out-of-wedlock births. She issues this harsh indictment: When a man declines to marry, he is saying, "I reserve the right to find someone better in the future, which includes the right to break up this family, the right to make love and children with another woman in the future."
OK, but what about the femmes fatales who seduce their boyfriends and then commit paternity fraud by intentionally naming the wrong man as the father? Gallagher never talks about that.
In "The New Advocates for Marriage," Gallagher laments the decline of marriage in the African-American community. But once again, the finger of blame is pointed at the male sex. According to Mrs. Gallagher, the problem is "a catastrophic lack of marriageable men. Men with jobs. Faithful men. Family men."
But Gallagher refuses to acknowledge the fact that welfare policy over the last 40 years has consistently favored low-income women over men. And now we're paying the price for that one-sided approach.
The marriage movement faces many challenges, not the least of which is that many men have come to believe that marriage is a raw deal. And we're not talking about just a few malcontents.
Last year Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe of Rutgers University did a national survey of single heterosexual men, ages 25-34. They found that 22% of America's most eligible bachelors - that's two million potential husbands -- have no desire to get married. Ever. (PDF version of survey.)
Why? Because, in the words of the Rutgers' researchers, "Many men also fear the financial consequences of divorce" and "Some men express resentment towards a legal system that grants women the unilateral right to decide to terminate a pregnancy".
So this past December, amidst great hoopla and fanfare, Maggie Gallagher released her latest white paper, "What's Next for the Marriage Movement?" The document, co-signed by over 100 scholars, therapists, and others, announces 86 sweeping goals to "recreate a marriage culture".
So what does the 26-page report say to reassure gun-shy men who fear they might be put through the ringer by biased child custody awards or draconian child support laws? Or the obvious unfairness of abortion laws that disenfranchise fathers?
Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Even more revealing, Mrs. Gallagher's manifesto repeatedly uses the phrase, "mothers and fathers." But never, "fathers and mothers." The message is clear: "Move over, guys. Mom is now running the show."
Of course, women have always wielded the advantage over men in the domestic realm. They serve as the social and emotional hub of the family. They usually decide how the family budget will be spent. They have the stronger biological ties with the children. Indeed, the word "matrimony," with its female connotations, suggests this institution has long revolved around meeting a woman's needs.
So designating the father as the titular head of the family seemed to compensate in small measure for this power imbalance. But without a murmur of debate, Gallagher and her merry band have opted to reverse that time-honored arrangement.
There is no more important challenge in modern America than the strengthening of marriage, and I wish Mrs. Gallagher's group well. But as long as their concerns are ignored and belittled, Gallagher's approach is bound to further alienate the millions of disaffected men who feel they have no other choice than to remain on a Marriage Strike.
Editor's Note: The answer is for each person to take personal responsibility for themselves with integrity, men and women equally. Nothing else will ever work.