An imam and a pastor vs. California

GayMarriageYesterday I complained about a Los Angeles Times story that profiled only one couple — an Evangelical Christian one — to represent the 61 percent of California voters who voted to limit marriage to one man and one woman. It was their support of the traditional definition of marriage that was ruled unconstitutional by the California State Supreme Court last week.

In a later article, Times reporters Maria La Ganga, Hector Becerra and Rebecca Trounson surveyed leaders of various liberal and conservative congregations about how they feel about the ruling opening marriage to same-sex unions.

Ten sources were quoted or otherwise represented. Two were opposed to the ruling and six were overwhelmingly supportive. Of those opposed to the ruling, one was a conservative congregational Christian pastor and one was a Muslim imam. Two additional sources, who were noncommittal, were the president of an ecumenical seminary and a Baptist pastor. The six other sources or examples were a Unitarian Universalist Church (they played Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” at Sunday services); a rabbi at a Reform Jewish congregation (which offers “outreach to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community”); the politically active All Saints Episcopal Church; the president of a multidenominational, theologically liberal Christian seminary; the rabbi of a Conservative Jewish congregation and the rabbi of another Reform Jewish congregation.

So the two examples of clergy who were opposed were a Muslim imam and a conservative Christian pastor? Way to pound the pavement there, team of three reporters! The story focuses on whether the ruling that there is a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage will affect their marriage policies. It seems like a somewhat weird question. Most religious groups base their doctrine of marriage on laws even higher than the California Supreme Court. Mostly, those religious groups that celebrated same-sex unions will continue to do so and those that don’t celebrate same-sex unions won’t. Still, the most interesting quotes were from clergy for whom the ruling had an effect:

A mile or so away at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Susan Russell led a between-services forum on the religious, legal and political ramifications of the court’s decision.

“The justices have ruled in favor of the sanctity of marriage and against bigotry,” Russell declared, as the audience cheered. “This is good news for all Californians.”

But even though All Saints has been blessing same-sex unions for more than 15 years, the ruling unleashed a wave of uncertainty.

“At this point in the Episcopal Church, our prayer book still defines marriage between a man and a woman,” Russell said in an interview. “There’s some question about whether we can, within the canons of our church, extend the sacrament to same-gender couples.”

The decision raises questions, too, about what All Saints’ blessing ceremonies mean anymore, Russell said. Should couples who have had such ceremonies get married too? Will the civil steps suffice? Or should they go through another church ritual? And what kinds of ceremonies will All Saints provide as it moves forward?

The questions are personal for Russell, who celebrated her union with her partner in an official blessing ceremony two years ago. Russell said she and her partner haven’t begun discussing what the new ruling will mean for them. As for her church, she said, “I’m glad we have 30 days to think it through.”

The article also quotes a Conservative rabbi who says that he did not celebrate the unions of gay and lesbian couples in his past but will as a result of the decision. And the Rev. William Epps, pastor of historic Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, says that he had given no thought to the ruling. Asked if he would marry a homosexual couple, he said it would be something he’d pray about.

All in all, the article bent over backward to represent the views of religious adherents who support same-sex marriage. Their quotes are interesting, lengthy and help the reader really understand their positions. For instance, much of the division between those who retain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and those who don’t is based on differing views of Biblical authority. In that vein, these quotes from Conservative Rabbi Harold Schulweis are fascinating:

Schulweis has been a rabbi for more than half a century and has seen his religion evolve, he said, first allowing women into the full “ritual life of the community,” then ordaining them as rabbis and cantors, and eventually embracing homosexuals.

“It’s one of the most exciting parts of seeing religion as not static and inflexible but as sensitive to different times and different information and different knowledge,” Schulweis said.

“What in the world did people in the biblical time know about homosexuals?”

But the richness of these quotes highlight the great failure of the piece. Where are the equivalent quotes from the many religious adherents who oppose redefining marriage as a union between same-sex couples?

When 75 percent of the people taking a position in an article about the religious response to redefining marriage support the change, that’s just ridiculous. California has more Roman Catholics than any other state in the nation. I believe that almost one in three Californians is Catholic. California also has more Latter-day Saint temples than any other state in the union save Utah. The idea that the reporters would highlight three Jewish rabbis (all of whom somehow support redefining marriage as a union between same-sex couples), an Episcopal priest, and a Unitarian Universalist Church but only one Christian clergyman who holds the traditional view of marriage as a union of one man and one woman? It would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive and inaccurate.

Back when a Massachusetts court changed the legal definition of marriage to permit same-sex couples to marry, one media critic described the general coverage as “upbeat.” Acting like 75 percent of the clergy are embracing a legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions would have to qualify as more of the same.

Print Friendly

  • tmatt

    And, of course, there is the classic statement on this — the famous NYTs column by public editor Daniel Okrent:

    (For) those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that “For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy,” (March 19, 2004); that the family of “Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home,” (Jan. 12, 2004) is a new archetype; and that “Gay Couples Seek Unions in God’s Eyes,” (Jan. 30, 2004). I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

    Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

    This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn’t appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (“Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,” by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

  • Stephen A.

    When 75 percent of the people taking a position in an article about the religious response to redefining marriage support the change, that’s just ridiculous.

    Yes, ridiculous, but also simply par for the course. Some reporters go through their entire lives not even noticing their internal biases, which are reinforced by others in the newsroom feeding into it.

    The quote Terry’s pulled says it best: “cheerleading.”

  • Chris Molter

    “What in the world did people in the biblical time know about homosexuals?”

    Yeah, geez, those IDIOTS..

    Man, I LOVE chronological snobbery!

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Yeah, geez, those IDIOTS..

    I think that he was acknowledging that there wasn’t a social construction of “homosexuality” as we know it today back in Biblical times, not that people back then were “idiots”.

  • tmatt


    I agree that your point is part of the debate and must be fairly and accurately reported.

    Cover the controversy.

    Uh-oh, that’s a slogan from another fight.

  • Ken

    It’s a small point but worthwhile. Among the ten sources referenced in the third paragraph is:

    the politically active All Saints Episcopal Church;

    People in Los Angeles may know that you are referring to All Saints Pasadena but not others throughtout the country. In fact, one of the churches being sued by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles for leaving is also All Saints, but located in Long Beach by way of Uganda. And that All Saints I can assure you is not going to be officiating at same sex unions.

  • Mike

    ” I think that he was acknowledging that there wasn’t a social construction of “homosexuality” as we know it today back in Biblical times, not that people back then were “idiots”.”

    I suspect at any point in time one could go to Babylon or Rome and find an analogue to NYC’s “Chelsea” district or Chicago’s “Boys’ Town”, with Athens’ quite obviously being “biblical times” San Francisco.

    Sorry, try pulling the other one.

  • Stephen A.

    The rabbi in the story said:

    “What in the world did people in the biblical time know about homosexuals?”

    To which Chris replied:

    Yeah, geez, those IDIOTS..

    To which Jason inexplicably defended the Ancients against the charge of being idiots.

    This is a great illustration of how the Internet can blur conversation rather than clarify it.

    I *believe* Chris was rather sarcastically remarking on how “unsophisticated” the ancients were (specifically, in this context, the Jewish people) for not ‘understanding’ homosexuality to the point of automatically accepting it as normative.

    While there wasn’t a “social construction” of homosexuality in ancient times, as Mike points out they certainly did exist back then. (And I’m sure they had a “social construction” even though they lacked modern sociologists to describe it to them.)

    Which puts the rabbi’s comments in perspective a bit. Surely he knows that gays existed 2000 years ago. What DIDN’T exist, of course, was acceptance by Jewish or Christian people, which is a purely modern phenomenon. Admittedly, the wider pagan culture surely did accept gays, or at least tolerate them, in the original sense of that word.

  • Dave


    Perhaps the purpose of the article was to specifically acquaint readers with the views of pro-same-sex-marriage religious types.

    We see a lot of coverage of religious types against same-sex-marriage, and coverage of secular BGLT organizations and voices in favor of it. What’s often missing from coverage is the fact that there is a religious position in favor of the it.

    (I’m not talking about coverge of generally gay-friendly churches like TEC, but of specifically marriage-equity-friendly churches like the UUA, let alone folks like Pagans.)

    So in that sense the article is more an effort to get religion than a failure to do so.

  • tmatt


    So you are saying that we missed the pro-voters of California and the rest of the religious world article?

    MZ is out of pocket today, BTW, in the air headed back to DC from out West.

  • Dave


    I don’t grasp your question. Perhaps there is better coverage of gay-marriage-friendly religion in California, but here in Ohio it’s the religious right vs the secular left that gets ink on this issue.

  • Jay


    Here in California, the coverage contrasts the open minded, tolerant, civil rights-loving normal people against the shrill narrow-minded bigoted nutcakes.

    Maybe in the OC Register you might get the latter viewpoint more fairly portrayed, but in the Chronicle, Mercury, Bee or LA Times, (as on abortion) the reporters are assuming that the viewpoints held in the newsroom are the only views held by any intelligent members of society. On religious or conservative talk radio, the anti-gay marriage perspective is representative, but not in the big city newspapers or TV stations.

  • tmatt


    I was asking a basic question: If this was the liberal article, where was the article on the majority of voters and religious leaders in the state (assiming Catholic, Baptist and evangelical pastors outnumber UCC, Unitarian, Episcopal, etc., clergy)?

  • Dave


    I am suggesting that the author of the article knew that the conservative religious side had the means to get its word out to the public, as did the secular liberal side, and so chose to give some ink to the relatively ignored liberal religious side.

  • Dave

    Jay (#12):

    I wasn’t asking about local bias as to the politics of the issue itself. I was asking about whether the religious left was covered or not covered. Perhaps you can provide some local color on that.