Columbus--The Ohio Department of Health is a contract signature away from hiring self-proclaimed marriage expert and anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher to keynote its Conference on Abstinence Education October 17-18.
Gallagher, a conservative columnist, refers to homosexuality as �same-sex attraction disorder,� and has called on the Bush administration to invest funds in research on how to �fix� it. In her columns, Gallagher says same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, and that gay and lesbian parents harm children.
�I believe there is rather powerful evidence that human beings are a two-sex species, designed for sexual rather than asexual reproduction,� wrote Gallagher in a May 10, 2001 column. �If this is true, then the absence of desire for the opposite sex represents at a minimum, a sexual dysfunction much as impotence or infertility. Advocates for treating same-sex relations as a normal, equally desirable, human variant must begin making real moral, and not bogus scientific, arguments.�
On March 27, 2002, Gallagher wrote, �Ordaining gay men to all-male celibate orders makes about as much sense as sending married guys away from their wives to live in all-girl boarding communes. Sure, Gandhi probably could do it, and maybe some priests can too. But overall, what do you expect?�
A month earlier, she railed against pediatricians for letting American Academy of Pediatrics say that same-sex parents are good for children.
�The American Academy of Pediatrics has embarrassed itself by wading into a controversy for which its members have no particular expertise at all,� Gallagher opined.
A one-time single mother with a B.A. degree in religious studies, Gallagher testified before a Senate committee on behalf of the federal marriage amendment in 2003, declaring that its passage was about �getting children the mothers and fathers they need.�
Gallagher co-authored The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially in 2001. The book only advocates opposite-sex marriage.
Other than the book, Gallagher has no credentials as a researcher, nor any legal training.
Gallagher was dropped from many newspapers after the January discovery that she had been paid $21,500 by the Bush administration to produce materials promoting the president�s marriage initiatives, then wrote newspaper columns supporting the initiatives without disclosing her financial interest to readers. The papers, including Ohio�s Canton Repository and Middletown Journal, dropped her for ethical reasons.
Valerie Huber, who directs the state health department�s abstinence education unit, confirmed that Gallagher�s contract was written to cover fees and expenses up to $5,000.
AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland director Earl Pike, a critic of the conference, said he called other abstinence educators to see what their fees were. None were higher than $2,000, which was the fee of Dr. Douglas Kirby, formerly of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Kirby�s work, however, is of a scientific nature, and far more critical of abstinence-only claims than Gallagher�s opinion pieces. It also lacks the overt anti-gay message.
Huber said that the conference, which costs participants $100-150 to attend, pays for itself and requires �very little� money that can be sourced to taxpayers.
She promised to provide the financial information from last year�s conference, but had not done so by press time.
Huber said this year�s conference is expected to draw 300-350 participants.
Huber said Gallagher was chosen to speak because marriage is �a big part� of what the conference is about.
�[Gallager�s book] is the standard-bearer of that research,� said Huber, adding that criticism of Gallagher as anti-gay is an �incredulous assertion.�
�This is not a gay marriage debate,� said Huber, �We�re talking about the health of youth, and what is best for children born out of that [married] relationship.�
According to Huber, four other speakers are confirmed, including Assistant U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Deborah Price, who is the former director of the National Prayer Breakfast; U.S. Department of Education abstinence educator Jeff Trimbath, formerly of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services special assistant for marriage education Bill Coffin, who is formerly the Marriage Preparation Coordinator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington; and Governor Taft�s faith-based initiative coordinator Christa Sisterher.
A religious component?
Huber denies that religion will influence the conference.
�It will be a focused discussion,� said Huber. �These are policy people talking about research and topics, not religion.�
On religious entanglement at a state-sponsored event, health department spokesperson Jay Carey, also on the call with Huber, added, �What people do in some aspect of their private lives is not what we�re asking them to talk about,�
Judy Price of the AIDS Taskforce, who attended the conference last year, disagrees.
�It is very definitely faith-based,� said Price. �God was the most important thing at the conference, and the underlying message was that you will burn in hell if you have sex before you marry.�
Price said the religious messages are subtle, but present.
�What they are talking about is that faith in God will help you stay a virgin,� said Price, �and that message is what gets crowd applause.�
�It felt cult-like,� said Price. �I would never want my own children taught this.�
Price objected to a more overt message the conference has for girls.
�They are teaching girls that their bodies are sacred things to be given to men, and that [girls] should already love their [future] husbands by age 16, enough to give the men their purest self,� said Price.
Price also objected to what was taught about condoms during a breakout session--that they have a high failure rate and cannot be trusted.
Former Taskforce employee Mikell Nagy, who is gay, said he was made so uncomfortable during one session last year that he had to walk out.
Nagy said during that session, replacement speaker Scott Phelps, who directs the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, railed against gay men for spreading AIDS.
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