Kathryn Lopez

Opposing gay marriage is a losing proposition. That is, at least, what everyone seems to say, on all sides of the political spectrum. Everyone, that is, except voters.

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has been my personal political hero for the last few election cycles, due to her tireless work in defense of the institution of marriage. It's a bit of a thankless, underappreciated task. Those who disagree with her are angry and hurting, and tend to lash out. Those who agree frequently just want to leave the issue to Maggie and not think about it. But, in various iterations, she's been at it for decades now. And she goes about her job reasonably — that is, with reason, compassion and knowledge. She knows it's about more than simply disagreeing with gay activists. It's about rebuilding an institution that's been neglected, abused and underappreciated. It's about reminding everyone what a precious gift marriage is. And it's about settling and codifying a definition that is at the core of human civilization, sexuality and children's very lives.

Gallagher woke up the morning after Tuesday's elections as a winner. It wasn't the first time and, because of the victory, probably won't be the last. This time, the fight was in Maine. And Question 1, the referendum to repeal a state law legalizing same-sex marriage there, won 53 percent to 47 percent. Once again, Gallagher reminded people of why this fight is an essential one.

The win came by a bigger margin than last year's big battle in California, when Gallagher served as a pivotal leader in defeating gay marriage there And the decisive win came despite the fact that more money was spent by the proponents of same-sex marriage this go-round, presumably having learned lessons from the previous defeat.

Robert P. George, a professor of politics at Princeton and founder of the American Principles Project, observes: "Maine is a northeastern liberal state with a significant student population. There are few blacks and very few Mormons. There is not a large Evangelical Christian population. The forces working in the state for the abolition of the conjugal conception of marriage as the union of husband and wife had the strong support not only of the media, but also of the state's governor and other leading political figures. They had a significant funding advantage. On Election Day, they got the large turnout that they believed would assure them of victory. Yet, when the votes were counted, the people of Maine came down solidly in favor of restoring the conjugal conception of marriage that the state's legislature and governor attempted to abolish."

"I think people may not understand the magnitude of what we were up against," Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization of Marriage, emphasizes. "They had four years to build an effective grassroots organization and claimed 8,000 volunteers in a state with a population of only 1.3 million. Still they lost — and by a larger margin than in California." He asks where proponents of same-sex marriage go from here, "how they convince their base to fund another campaign. At this point they are 0 for 31." The "31" refers to the number of states where a gay marriage initiative has been defeated at the voting booth.

Why did it lose? It comes down to fundamentals "Most people know in their own heart that marriage is between a man and a woman," Brown says.

"Can you stand up for gay marriage?" a young man in downtown NYC asked me. In my best attempt to avoid confrontation, I replied, "No, thank you." He protested: "I'm fighting for my civil rights."

I don't wish that young man any ill will — quite the contrary. But the truth is: The majority of voters don't see it as he does. Furthermore, we do know what civil rights are, and we see some of them threatened. Tom Messner of the Heritage Foundation has a report out called "The Price of Prop 8," chronicling the acts of vandalism and harassment that opponents of gay marriage in California have been subjected to. Churches have been threatened and desecrated. Business owners have been targeted and their livelihoods have suffered. If you're not simply pulling a lever in the privacy of a voting booth, it takes remarkable courage to oppose gay marriage.

You can almost understand why even many conservatives have given up on the issue of protecting the institution of marriage as one between a man and a woman. Most of us know and love people who have same-sex inclinations and have, perhaps, adopted a homosexual lifestyle, perhaps even while eschewing political activism. Still, the success of conjugal marriage at the ballot box in the blue states of California and Maine may be "a momentum shifter," professor George says. "It gives the lie to what was, perhaps, the most compelling argument advanced by the forces favoring the redefinition of marriage, namely, the idea that the redefinition of marriage is inevitable — nothing can be done to prevent it."

Motivated by a desire to preserve something good — not, as critics charge, a bigoted desire to exclude people —Maggie Gallagher is a winner today, and not just politically. That's a good thing.

Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.