Narrow view of gay-marriage foes

gaymarriagefoeLast month, Mollie criticized reporters for marginalizing opponents of same-sex marriage. Rather than presenting marriage traditionalists in full, journalists portrayed them as fringe types.

That was more than two weeks ago. How are journalists doing now? Based on three recent stories, I am afraid to say that coverage has improved only slightly.

The Los Angeles Times‘ story today gives a flavor of the coverage:

Opponents of gay marriage made a pointed effort today to keep a low profile on the first full day of same-sex ceremonies in California.

Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, wrote in an e-mail to supporters that they will battle in November with a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Prentice had a cautionary message for those protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. Media outlets, he warned, “would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. . . . We must not fall into this trap.”

There were only a scattering of isolated protests around the state.

A few people carried placards at the county facilities in Norwalk and Santa Ana. In San Diego, a lone protester stood on the sidewalk and cried out a message against same-sex marriage.

“It’s just not right for a man to marry a man; it’s just not normal,” said the protester, Dennis Agajanian, a member of Bikers for Christ.

It’s fair for reporters Cara Mia DeMass and Jessica Garrison to focus on the tactics of traditional-marriage supporters. But their definition of these leaders and activists is awfully constricted: It’s limited to political and civic types.

While the reporters mention that churches belong to the ProtectMarriage.com coalition, they don’t quote any church leaders. That’s an oversight. Church leaders played a key role in approving the state’s gay marriage ban in 2000. And they are likely to play a similarly influential role this fall. Check out the number of churches mentioned in the coalition’s website.

George Orwell once wrote that in times of revolution or crisis, it’s necessary to restate the obvious. In that spirit, I give one cheer to the San Francisco Chronicle. In a profile of same-sex marriage opponents in rural California, reporter Cecilia M. Vega quoted from one woman whose objections to gay marriage are religious:

Like many of her neighbors in Orland, religious beliefs are at the heart of 76-year-old Rae Whitaker’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

She lives with her husband, who was a bomber pilot in World War II, behind their son’s dentist office. The entryway wall is covered in photos of her seven children, 24 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren plus one large photo of former President Ronald Reagan, who Whitaker says is “just about my favorite person after Jesus Christ and my husband.” On her coffee table, she has framed photos of Nancy and Ronald Reagan and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

In 2000, she rallied local support for Prop. 22, and she says that if her health is good, she has every intention this fall of working for a measure to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

“Can they produce children?” Whitaker asked about gay and lesbian couples. “The husband and wife are basic to the family … God ordained the family. He set up the family as woman and man.”

Reporter Vega did not ignore or marginalize religious Californians. Yet her portrait of them is reminiscent of that famous photo of Goldwater’s supporters — the unsmiling, elderly couple sitting down and waving a wan banner. Every single one the gay-marriage opponents quoted in the story is not only old, but also an octogenarian or nonagenarian. Younger opponents, the reader presumes, are either Republicans or fuddy duddies.

This narrow portrait serves the ideological purposes of the gay-rights cause. Only old folks and religious fundamentalists oppose us. But it does not serve the interests of journalism. When the state voted in 2000 on a gay-marriage initiative, 61 percent of voters approved the ban. One-third of registered Democrats voted for the measure, while three-fifths of Catholics did. Where are the voices of these people in the Chronicle’s story?

Not all stories about gay marriage opponents have been so constricted. Via Metapundit, The Modesto Bee wrote a more balanced story, one with the voices of religious leaders:

Father Jon Magoulias of Modesto’s Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation said:

“Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. …

“As the coming kingdom is concerned, there is ‘neither male nor female.’ But the kingdom has not yet come, and the male and female roles must remain distinct, especially in regard to what we understand family to be. Each has a specific role to fulfill. Obviously, there is overlapping in many areas. But for the male to replace the female or vice versa has never been in God’s plan.

“A good example is marriage between two males or two females. This can never be acceptable because it makes marriage as instituted by God an abomination.”

Magoulias also pointed out that Paul, writer of many of the New Testament letters, uses marriage to describe the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and humanity, his bride.

“In this regard, Saint Paul tells a man and a woman entering marriage that the icon of Christ and his church should be their role model.”

I liked the fact that Bee reporter Sue Nowicki let the priest speak at length. She also quoted the local Catholic bishop and a former homosexual man. Compared to her big-city counterparts, Nowicki is practically an apostle of religious diversity.

Yet Nowicki isn’t of course. She is a reporter, not an advocate.

(Photo by user Philocrites used under a Creative Commons license.)

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  • Brian Walden

    Wow, Nowicki, captures many of viewpoints. At the end of the article I think she captures in a nutshell the two sides of the same-sex marriage debate:

    [David, a man who according to Nowicki "once struggled with homosexual temptations" says] “I believe that since homosexuality is a form of emotional brokenness, that these people aren’t just going to live together. They want families and they want to teach other people that this is a good and acceptable way to live. They don’t want to live and let live; they want to create a whole culture that embraces their lifestyle and choices.”

    Schiefelbein thinks that kind of response comes out of fear.

    “I wouldn’t choose to be Episcopalian,” he said. “I have a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t judge them. But if anytime I saw Episcopalians, my blood pressure went up, there must be some trigger that is being pushed. If there’s some attempt to try to change or control other people, there must be some kind of fear.”

    He doesn’t believe rational, even-tempered people can disagree with him based on Scripture or other religious values.

    “I see hatred. I have known hatred from people who don’t know me or anything about me. Hatred is something that’s fear-based. It’s not what Christianity is about at all. Hatred can never be justified in Christianity.”

    David responded: “I’m not judging every person out there, but just because you don’t want to hear it called sin or that it offends you doesn’t mean I can’t believe it anymore. It’s not me who’s going to judge homosexuality, it’s God.”

  • Jerry

    “I believe that since homosexuality is a form of emotional brokenness

    It’s not clear to me if he was talking about behavior or feelings. Stories about homosexuality should take the scientific research into account such as the recent story that is getting a lot of press: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1815538,00.html

    Given the existence of homosexual behavior in animals and the medical evidence, anyone who claims that homosexuality is purely environmental or a personal choice should be challenged as to their facts.

    Talking about behavior is a moral question and thus quite something different. People will differ as to their moral judgements about behavior and thus covering all sides of the question is appropriate and necessary.

  • FW Ken

    The problem with brain studies is two-fold: the fact of correlation between a brain structure and complex psychological behavioral attributes doesn’t establish causation. I’m not sure that 90 brain scans even establish correlation to a significant degree. If I remember correctly, Simon LaVay’s findings were not replicated under controlled conditions (though I may be thinking of the genetic study), and we need to watch for checking of this study.

    The main problem, though, if that even if the brain structure is valid, that doesn’t mean it’s a positive thing. Folks with schizophrenia also show distinctive brain structures. Altzheimer’s is (in some forms) genetic.

    So a biological causality, even if it is established, does not establish a particular characteristic as a normal, healthy aspect of our humanity. Another argument is needed for that.

    And by the way, the origins of same-sex attractions are a question entirely other than that of “choice”.

  • Belden

    As a proponent of SSM, I have to say that I am all in favor of people who object to it on a religious basis having their say.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    Being from California, what I notice in these stories is the absence of Latina and Latino voices. We seem to get a disproportionate number of white Unitarians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Methodists.

    California has a very large population of 1st and 2nd generation immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Of people in their 20′s and 30′s, the percent with this Latin American ethnicity and Catholic religious heritage is huge. I’d like to hear their voices.

    And have you seen anything about how people in the Black Churches feel about this?

  • Jimmy Mac

    I believe that there are no former homosexual men. There are men who, for a variety of reasons, are not comfortable with whom they are and choose to try to live otherwise. I do think the recidivism rate among men who truly ARE homosexual in orientation and who TRY to be otherwise is quite high. I’m not talking about men who, for whatever reason, tried to live as gays when they weren’t, although they would try that once they had a little maturity under their belts is beyond me. It’s like a gay man getting married and thinking that having a wife and children will change him. Right.

    Here is some research to that effect:
    http://a_musing.blogspot.com/2006/05/ex-gay-statistics-101.html

  • Belden

    Jimmy Mac – do you think that one or more of the following is the reason(s) that “ex-gays” get short shrift in the media?

    1) Most people know from personal experience that sexual orientation is not changeable, except for the few true bisexuals, though they differ on the cause.

    2) Science has trumped religion in this regard.

    3) The media neither knows nor cares to know the “ex-gay” story because they are truly shills for the homosexual agenda.

    4) The reporters who cover SSM are afraid of not being taken seriously if they give voice to this story. After all, who would want their sister or daughter to marry an ex-gay man?

    5) Any or all of the above.

    Curious minds want to knw.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    There are a lot of women who have been in same-sex relationships but are not interested in that any longer. Are they ex-gay, or do you only mean men?

  • http://www.LutheranLucciola.blogspot.com LutheranLucciola

    Perpetua:

    I live in Oakland, CA, and the vast majority of black churches and black Christians in general are against this over ruling decision. (I say over ruling, because the voters originally voted against this a few years ago, and it was put through the voting mill again after a court went against the people). That is what I am hearing out on my avenue, and the folks I hang around.

    It’s the same situation where a bunch of black and Chinese churches marched against abortion, and the press ignored them.

    For the record, I’m not completely freaked out by the civil marriage end of this, except that the adopted/sperm donor children of these marriages always do lose out on the family structure in the end. And that our judges keep ruling what votes are allowed, and which are not. But I will vote against it in the upcoming vote.

    Which most likely will be overturned. ;-)

  • Stephen A.

    Wow, there’s a lot of pro-gay marriage talking points and discussion of science here on this thread.

    Mark’s right about the analysis of the media not getting much better on this issue, but I’m beginning to think this lack of balance and reversion to stereotyping the opponents isn’t 100% their fault.

    I look at the “pro” side and I see liberal activists who are highly educated, bankrolled by the Left’s other pet interest groups, articulate and media-savvy, they stick to the talking points that downplay any negative images and present positive, emotive images of wronged gay couples in their place. The gay rainbow and flambouant parades are gone, and the little blue and yellow “equal” sign is on the Volvo bumpers, driven by smiling, “just like us” men and women in dark, conservative suits who know how to call a news conference, and always delivers interesting stories for the media. It’s truly brilliant. (no snark implied)

    And on the other side, I see religious traditionalists who often simply spout Bible verses as a knee-jerk response and who are not well organized in anywhere near the same way their opponents are. The oppo also has the very elderly, for whom gay sex is akin to Satanism, and can always be counted on say so, in almost those words.

    I know both of these are stereotypes, as well. Certainly a lot of younger people are against gay marriage, too (though I bet they are not eager to advertise that on campus, in the current climate.) But I have to think that they are simply not making a case loudly or effectively enough. Media slant, while it clearly exists here, cannot be explained by institutional bias alone.

    Bottom line: If you don’t make your case, the other side will.

  • mary carson

    Well for starters do not look to the Sf Chronicle for reporting on this subject . The Bay Area where I reside and its news organizations are on a crusade . I am also a Human Development Major and I take issue with the comments about research proving anything concerning Homosexual behavior. There are no conclusive theories proving a biological basis for having sexual activity with a member of your own gender. The majority of voters in my opinion are quiet on the subject right now. Those of us who oppose this situation as it stands come from all walks of life . We actually cannot be pigeonholed because there is a wide variation . I say wait until October when our voices will be heard . Then the Chronicle can do some actual reporting . They wont have a choice.

  • http://www.LutheranLucciola.blogspot.com LutheranLucciola

    I agree with what Mary has said above.
    There are flaws in these “biological” tests, one of which is the brain mapping.

  • Brian LeStourgeon

    Why are proponents of traditional marriage often referred to as “opponents of same-sex marriage”?

    Why not

    “Proponents of traditional marriage made a pointed effort today to keep a low profile on the first full day of same-sex ceremonies in California.”

    or,

    “Like many of her neighbors in Orland, religious beliefs are at the heart of 76-year-old Rae Whitaker’s understanding of the basic definition of marriage.”

    ?

  • K-W

    I think the Modesto Bee article interviewing an Orthodox priest was a good touch. The Orthodox are not on the cultural radar screen in the same way as the Roman Catholics or the Generic Evangelical Protestant Church(es), and are thus less likely to be placed in a ready-made narrative by the reader. Slightly less baggage, perhaps a slightly higher chance of being heard, and no one can accuse the reporter of merely running around grabbing the usual suspects.

  • http://weblog.theviewfromthecore.com/ ELC

    This narrow portrait serves the ideological purposes of the gay-rights cause. I think that is an erroneous observation. It is more correct, I think, to assert This narrow portrait supposedly serves the ideological purposes of the gay-rights cause. Also, I think my correction is applicable to a very wide variety of circumstances and causes. Any time any controversial cause gets disproportionate and slanted coverage in the mainstream media, the strength of its proponents is thereby falsely magnified and the strength of its opponents is thereby falsely diminished. The proponents can quite easily get a false sense of security, while the opponents get a motivation to work harder.

    I think this is replayed over and over, as in elections or propositions that go opposite of the way “expected” or turn out much closer than “expected”. Of course, “expectations” that have their basis in narrow and biased reporting are going to turn out to have been wrong.

    More specifically, it might very well turn out that octagenarians and nonagenarians turn out by the millions in California to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. ;-)

  • Stephen A.

    ELC writes:

    Any time any controversial cause gets disproportionate and slanted coverage in the mainstream media, the strength of its proponents is thereby falsely magnified and the strength of its opponents is thereby falsely diminished. The proponents can quite easily get a false sense of security, while the opponents get a motivation to work harder.

    Tell that to opponents of Vladimir Putin.

    ELC is right about older voters. They DO vote, and in large numbers. Younger voters, more apt to junk traditional values, are not reliable voters, generally speaking.

  • Dave

    Belden, I suspect ex-gays get short shrift from the media for two reasons. One is that they are a small part of the population, compared to confirmed gays or straights. The other is that they are often exploited as front men for the traditional-marriage proponents; reporters may figure, why interview the horse when you can talk to the rider?

    Stephen A., you are absolutely right: If you don’t make your case, the other side will. I know that advocates of marriage equity have put serious effort recently into how to present themselves to the media and the general public. If the other side doesn’t take the same care in framing its message, it’s wheel-spinning for GetReligionistas to blame the MSM. That’s shooting the messenger.

    The irony in this is that, just four years ago, the other side was framing its message better. But that was Republican operatives bringing traditional voters to the polls with anti-marriage-equity ballot measures so they could re-elect Bush. GOP operatives know how the MSM works and played them like a harp. This time around there isn’t a national political project running on the traditional-marriage side, so the religious opponents of marriage equity are speaking for themselves and seem to have been caught flat-footed in terms of how to frame their message.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    #13 Brian LeStourgeon makes a very good point as illustrated by the use of language in #17 Dave.
    The gay rights activists want the proponents of traditional marriage cast as anti-gay marriage or opponents of marriage equity.
    The news stories should be handled very much like abortion. If we use the words Pro-Life and Pro-Choice we are letting each side define itself.

  • Dave

    Perpetua, you are right that “marriage equity” is a term preferred by the side that supports it. That’s why I use it.

    Generally: There is GOOD NEWS from the various pieces that have been linked regarding this issue. Two names of legal experts interviewed in the Barbara Bradley Hagerty piece on NPR, were cited earlier in the Maggie Gallagher article from the Weekly Standard. These people are sober-sided informants who can describe the collision between gay rights and religious rights without hyperbole, nastiness, sectarian language or demonization of any parties.

    The reason this is good news is that it represents movement of intelligent reporting from the conservative media to the MSM. It doesn’t actually represent the MSM getting religion any better but it may serve to ameliorate the one-sidedness that gets GetReligionistas into a lather as though it constituted failure to GR.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Belden: #1 and #2

    I know 2 ex-ex-gays and they admitted that many pressures (societal, familial and religious … both were former conservative Protestants) caused them to want to “change.” The tried hard to sublimate (one even got married) but eventually realized that the truth that they were seeking was the one that they were trying to deny.

  • Claude

    (Sorry for this intrusion. This is just a note for Dale, who on the other thread, thought that I was accusing him of being a homophobe. I am sorry that you thought that. I certainly did not intend to do so. I do not know you personally and I have no knowledge of what is in your heart. However much I might disagree with you, I do not mean to question your motives. Sorry if you got that impression.)