Lowest common denominations?

This has been a big day for news, has it not? In Washington, D.C., President Obama nominated (see tmatt’s post) a woman who could be the first Hispanic ( which has prompted some debate over why Benjamin Cardozo didn’t count) and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

In California, the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage. The Court upheld the legality of the marriages performed between last May (when the same court upheld the legality of same-sex marriage) and November, when the proposition banning it passed. One safe bet — religious spokespeople on the right and the left will have something to say. How good journalists are in identifying the players remains to be seen.

I have a quibble with a few things about the New York Times referenced above, but I also recognize that it’s really the “first edition” of an story that will continue to reverbrate in the media as opponents and proponents react to the ban.

The California Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage today, ratifying a decision made by voters last year that runs counter to a growing trend of states allowing the practice.

The decision, however, preserves the 18,000 marriages performed between the court’s decision last May that same-sex marriage was lawful and the passage by voters in November of Proposition 8, which banned it. Supporters of the proposition argued that the marriages should no longer be recognized.

Do three state decisions for gay marriage and three possibles (all except for Iowa in the Northeast) constitute a “growing trend”? Is this the beginning of a tidal wave or a Left and Right Coast phenomenon? A few paragraphs into the story, John Schwartz underscores his “trend” assertion by referring to a recent poll:

At the same time, attitudes of Americans toward same-sex marriage favor liberalization of the practice. In an April CBS/New York Times poll, 42 percent of those surveyed favored same-sex marriage, up from 21 percent at election time in 2004, when it was a wedge issue during the presidential campaign. That poll suggests the trend will continue into the future: 57 percent of the respondents favored legal recognition for same-sex marriage, compared with 31 percent of respondents over the age of 40.

The data he quotes from this one poll suggest not that all Americans favor ‘liberalizing’ marriage but that support for same-sex marriage has grown, particularly among those under 30. What explains this apparent dramatic surge between 2004 and 2009? The reporter doesn’t explain, nor does he indentify the actual questions asked.

More puzzling for those who want to track ongoing developments among California clergy and laypeople is this paragraph from a story on today’s Los Angeles Times website.

But gay marriage advocates captured a wide array of support in the case, with civil rights groups, legal scholars and even some churches urging the court to overturn the measure. Supporters of the measure included many churches and religious organizations.

It wouldn’t be remarkable if a Unitarian Universalist congregation supported gay marriage — if a Southern Baptist congregation came out for it, that would be news! What churches is Dolan talking about? Paragraphs like this are safe, because they are so vague, but tell you absolutely nothing.

Of the early stories I’ve seen, I like the detailed one on the Washington Post website the best. It was posted two or three hours later than the other ones, meaning that the writer had more time to gather quotes and statements. Writer Ashley Surdin pays a lot of attention to the legal reasoning and implications of the ruling. She also has more quotes (as one might expect) from those who are angry about the judgment than those who are please. But she does include a statement from the Mormons and notes that many “conservative” denominations and politicians were involved in support for Proposition 8.

Where is the “religious left”? Perhaps they will be heard from in days to come. In fact, I suspect that religious voices will once again become prominent in the gay marriage debate in California — as proponents do not, by any measure, consider this a done deal. It’s unfair to judge all coverage by what one sees on the first day — since so many Prop 8 supporters were driven by religious convictions (and possibly many on the other side) that is a story that deserves to continue to be covered.

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  • Jerry

    One of the many virtues of this blog is the “Consumer Reports”-type comparison of how the MSM is covering a story. This blog post made it easy for me to pick one version to read.

  • Dave

    Against my political interest, I must object to this MSM meme of a “growing trend” for marriage equality among states. If one looks at a span of time that includes 2004 (perhaps that’s the dim, distant past for some reporters) the trend it to referendum-driven consitutional amendments like Prop 8.

  • Dave

    BTW, according to the PBS News Hour Cardozo was of Portuguese extraction, not Spanish.

  • http://bioethike.com Robert

    Although the The Post piece was an example of good reporting, I think the MSM is still just scratching the surface.

    I pity the poor 18,000 same-sex couples married in California because they still won’t be recognized as married in 44 states and by the feds, if DOMA survives and the US Supremes don’t get involved.

    These couples were really done a disservice by the State of California, IMHO, and most certainly will be discriminated against simply because they were “grandfathered in”. That’s a story in itself.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  • dalea

    I just watched the ABC channel 7 news. Devoted 9 minutes to the Prop8 decision and protests, which is in fires in Malibu territory. The local news rarely gives more than 3 minutes to anything, even to a major car chase. On the pro8 side, they had an AA minister speak. The anti8 side received most of the coverage. The big event was the rally at Hollywood and Highland, the culmination of the march.

    (Background: Hollywood and Highland is home to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Kodak Center, home of the Oscars. The Hollywood Bowl is nearby. This is a one of the premier tourist destinations on Earth. People come from throughout the world to see Marilyn Monroe’s handprints in the cement. It is fascinating to see women wearing saris knelling there while their sons photograph them. It is the sort of surreal place that is ordinary in SoCal.)

    The coverage kept emphasizing that the pro8 people were connected with conservative churches. And that the protests were messing with a major tourist venue. (The Asian tourists do seem to be fascinated with Gay people. Buses will pull up in Gay neighborhoods, Asians will get off and take pictures of us. They are always very pleasant and nice. They seem to be totally cool with men kissing men, and take pictures of the event. LA has bus companies that provide transit for them, buses covered in Japanese etc are all over the place.)

    I would suggest that there needs to be some sort of context for discussing this. Carrie Prejean is a conservative Christian who discusses in public her breast enhancement surgery. We are talking about a metro area where active porn stars have been elected to public office. Where pro gay marriage, pro choice Gov Ahnuld is usually regarded as an ultra-conservative.

  • http://orrologion.blogspot.com Christopher Orr

    Regarding Justice Cardoza, “First Hispanic justice? Some say it was Cardozo” by Mark Sherman (AP) discusses the ‘dispute’ over whether Justice Cardoza was Hispanic – and thus the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. In this article it makes clear that, “Benjamin Cardozo was indisputably the second Jewish justice on the Supreme Court…. He was a member of a prominent family of Sephardic Jews who claim Portuguese heritage.”

    However, “Some definitions of Hispanic include Portugal and Portuguese-speaking cultures; others don’t.”

    According to Wikipedia:

    Both Cardozo’s maternal grandparents, Sara Seixas and Isaac Mendes Seixas Nathan, and his paternal grandparents, Ellen Hart and Michael H. Cardozo, were Sephardi Jews; their families immigrated from England before the American Revolution, and were descended from Jews who left the Iberian Peninsula for Holland during the Inquisition.[1] Cardozo family tradition held that their ancestors were Marranos [i.e., "in Spanish history, a Jew who converted to the Christian faith to escape persecution but who continued to practice Judaism secretly" [2]] from Portugal,[1] although Cardozo’s ancestry has not been firmly traced to Portugal.[3] “Cardoso”, “Seixas” and “Mendes” are common Portuguese surnames.

    It seems clear to me that being a Jew from Portugal or Spain or Latin America is a different thing than ‘simply’ being Hispanic, Spanish, Portuguese or Puerto Rican – especially if one purposefully continues the ‘secret’ practice of an ethnic religion other than that which predominates. I think we could agree that a Jew having a German or Russian surname and having one’s great-grandparents hail from a village in Germany or Russia does not make one German or Russian, but Jewish, ethnically. Culturally, a Jewish person could self-identify as German or Russian, but it seems that Justice Cardoza did not self-identify as anything other than as a Sephardic Jew.

    [1] Kaufman, Andrew L. (1998). Cardozo. Harvard University Press. pp. 6-9. ISBN0674096452. http://books.google.com/books?id=eOJ8QbxAHOIC.
    [2] “Marrano.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 May 2009.
    [3] “First Hispanic justice? Some say it was Cardozo”. Associated Press by Mark Sherman. 27 May 2009.

  • http://www.newsy.com/videos/california_decision_good_for_same_sex_marriage Jess

    The Wash Post article provided a very real tone that it isn’t exactly a “trend” because 3/50 isn’t exactly majority. But it’s a start. This video is another one setting the scene about the commentary surrounding yesterday’s decision. It forecasts a more positive tone for the future though.

  • Elizabeth

    Christopher, thank you for adding to this conversation.
    The whole question of Jewish identity is tremendously complex, interwoven as it has historically been with centuries of being considered second class citizens in many countries (as is black identity because of slavery). But in America, one generation’s persecuted minority may be the next one’s success story. In America, the lines between ethnic and cultural identity (for example, what now distinguishes an Irish or Italian Catholic from other Catholics?) become more and more blurred, in my opinion, from one generation to another.