Same-sex debate in New York

The New York Times reports that faith groups are campaigning to block gay marriage in the state of New York:

Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, determined to head off momentum for same-sex marriage in Albany, say they are mobilizing an extensive campaign to block legislation that would make New York the sixth state to allow gay men and lesbians to wed.

“Our pastors are fired up by the governor’s assault on marriage,” said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a lobbying group that represents evangelical churches in the state. “We’re already in gear.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage have already financed a wave of 500,000 automated calls urging voters to contact undecided lawmakers. And the traditional religious coalition that has fought same-sex marriage in previous legislative sessions now counts among its members Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who played only a muted role the last time the issue was debated, in 2009, when he had just been appointed to lead the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

It’s a 1,000-word news story by religion writer Paul Vitello that sticks to the facts, gives relevant background and — it seems to me — treats opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage fairly.

I did find myself wishing for more specifics and more details on certain elements of the story. The relatively short length of the piece probably contributed to some of the missing information. But in a perfect world, a story leading with a reference to New York possibly becoming the sixth state to do something would have mentioned the five that already have.

Moreover, “evangelical” has become such a vague, catch-all term that I believe more precision was needed to explain exactly what churches make up New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. Similarly, it would be nice to know Rev. McGuire’s denominational affiliation. The story later quotes a state senator who is a Pentecostal and the vice chairman of a Missionary Baptist convention. Are they part of the evangelical group?

The story provides this background on religious objections to same-sex marriage:

Religious opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have already begun using church bulletins, diocesan newspapers and sermons from the pulpit to encourage their followers to contact legislators and let them know how they feel. They make a two-tiered argument. First, they cite biblical injunctions against homosexuality. Second, they warn that social services, like foster care and adoption, provided by religiously sponsored charities could be endangered by the legalization of same-sex marriage. They point to Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where Catholic Charities stopped participating in adoption services rather than face a mandate to place children in homes without regard to the sexual orientation of the couple.

Nathan Diament, a lobbyist for the Orthodox Union, the largest association of Orthodox Jewish congregations in the country, said many Orthodox rabbis had contacted him for information about this year’s marriage bill. “Aside from the moral issues, their major concern is religious liberty,” he said.

But State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has co-sponsored the same-sex marriage bill in past years, said civil liability for violating discrimination laws was already a fact of life. As for adoption, which is already legal for same-sex couples in New York, she said, “My guess is that most same-sex couples skip over the Catholic adoption services in the Yellow Pages.”

Concerning the state senator’s argument, my guess is that it wouldn’t take many same-sex couples seeking an adoption through a Catholic agency to create a major issue. In fact, it might take just one such couple to launch a significant legal battle. I wonder if an expert might have made that point in the Times story.

But overall, the good old-fashioned journalism evident in this report impressed me. Nice job, New York Times.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Harold

    treats opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage fairly.

    Except that there’s no religious voice who supports same-sex marriage quoted, not a single word of criticism of the efforts, and only three or four paragraphs that aren’t articulating the anti-SSM religious viewpoint. That doesn’t seem all that fair to me.

    Imagine a similar article that only quoted religious supporters of same-sex marriage without a single dissenting voice. I can’t fathom that would be considered fair. Reporters are quick to seek out religious people who are opposed to same-sex marriage–arguably because they are louder and better financed–but can never seem to find people on the other side despite a wide coalition of religious people who support gay marriage.

    I don’t think this article needs more civil liberties scholars, it needs more balance or at least a little criticism of the religious efforts.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I could see the leaning of the reporter in the lede:

    Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, determined to head off momentum for same-sex marriage in Albany, say they are mobilizing an extensive campaign to block legislation that would make New York the sixth state to allow gay men and lesbians to wed.

    Describing support for SSM as a trend that religious leaders are trying to head off makes it clear who wears the white hats and who wears the black hats. Conversely, the religious leaders could be described as part of a trend toward traditional marriage rules, which the SSM proponents are trying to squash. The negative terminology applies to the “religious conservatives,” and the positive imagery to the gay rights advocates.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I notice also a pattern of references to SSM opponents in terms that suggest disproportionate use of influence:

    Opponents of same-sex marriage have already financed a wave of 500,000 automated calls urging voters to contact undecided lawmakers.

    Religious opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have already begun using church bulletins, diocesan newspapers and sermons from the pulpit to encourage their followers to contact legislators and let them know how they feel.

    As in past years, the local religious opposition to same-sex marriage will have the support of a Washington-based national political lobby, the National Organization for Marriage, which formed in 2007 to fight same-sex legislation around the country. That organization was behind the April 12 blitz of automated phone calls singling out voters in about a dozen Senate and Assembly districts where legislators have said they are undecided. Brian Brown, the group’s president, said the calls urged voters to tell lawmakers they opposed same-sex marriage.

    “We spent over half a million dollars in New York” in 2009, he said, “and we’re ready to spend that and more this time. We are willing to spend a million against any Republican senator who votes for gay marriage.”

    No mention is made of any mass communication or heavy spending by the “good guy” side, which leaves the impression that pro-SSM activism is all individual and grass-roots. In other words, the powerful Mordor of “religious conservatism” trying to crush the plucky little gay hobbits.

  • Harold

    No mention is made of any mass communication or heavy spending by the “good guy” side, which leaves the impression that pro-SSM activism is all individual and grass-roots.

    That’s because supporters of SSM are completely absent from the story, beyond a single quote from a gay rights organization and single legislator. From this story, you’d think that all religious people oppose same-sex marriage and that there is universal agreement.

  • Mark Baddeley

    That’s because supporters of SSM are completely absent from the story, beyond a single quote from a gay rights organization and single legislator.

    Not quite. You and Joel are touching on two separate issues that do interact but aren’t causally connected quite so simply.

    The article focuses on opposition and doesn’t give much voice to supporters. That’s one observation.

    The article seems to have a slightly negative cast to its presentation of the opposition. That’s another observation.

    Both seem to be true, but neither are likely to be an accident, one should assume that a competent writer wanted both outcomes.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Harold, I think that’s an excellent observation that a religious voice on the side of same-sex marriage would have helped the story. I don’t agree, however, with your statement that the story gives the impression that all religious people oppose same-sex marriage and that there is universal agreement. This section of the story speaks to that:

    There are religious leaders and voters on both sides of the issue. Religious leaders who support same-sex marriage include many clergy members from mainline Protestant churches, as well as the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism.

    But their role in legislative contests in past years has been less aggressive than that of religious opponents.

    Again, I would prefer some more specifics and details, but that angle isn’t completely absent from the story.

    Joel, I don’t guess I see a “black hats” and “white hats” bias in the story. If the governor of the state has said, as the story reports, that same-sex marriage is a top priority for him, that sounds like momentum to me.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Oh, yes, they call me The Spiker.

    Please keep comments focused on journalism or we’ll zap them. :-)

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    But overall, the good old-fashioned journalism evident in this report impressed me. Nice job, New York Times.

    Whoa. Not so fast. After giving a good deal of attention to New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan (and his telling line “I love my mom, but I don’t have the right to marry her”) the story proceeds to explain nothing of Catholic moral teachings—that is, what the Archbishop’s objections really are. From your post . . .

    The story provides this background on religious objections to same-sex marriage:

    “Religious opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have already begun using church bulletins, diocesan newspapers and sermons from the pulpit to encourage their followers to contact legislators and let them know how they feel. They make a two-tiered argument. First, they cite biblical injunctions against homosexuality . . .”

    And then . . . that’s it for religion.

    Most of the Roman Catholic opposition (at least that I’m aware of) does not frame its religious support of marriage as being exclusively gender-inclusive as a diatribe against homosexuality. Rather, they appeal to natural law—the biology of it all, and the need for children to be raised within the union of male and female parents, which implies a social responsibility to support these couples, not for their own romantic ends, but for the good of their children.

    Sure, some Catholics fall for the “thou shall not” mentality. But merely citing “biblical injunctions” hardly provides adequate journalistic “background on religious objections to same-sex marriage.”

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    Once again a newspaper prints a story about a peice of legislation but but does not include the name or number of the bill in the story. The report tells us Krueger sponsored similar legislation in the past but names no current sponsors. The report tells the Governor thinks “the measure” might come up for a vote again but doesn’t tell us which House of the legislature or which committee might be voting on it. This report contains none of the information a citizen needs.

  • Dave

    What mattk said.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Great feedback, folks, and mostly focused on the straight and narrow of journalism. Thank you.

  • Jerry

    The part of the story that I found most interesting was this:

    “As in past years, the local religious opposition to same-sex marriage will have the support of a Washington-based national political lobby, the National Organization for Marriage, which formed in 2007 to fight same-sex legislation around the country. That organization was behind the April 12 blitz of automated phone calls singling out voters in about a dozen Senate and Assembly districts where legislators have said they are undecided. Brian Brown, the group’s president, said the calls urged voters to tell lawmakers they opposed same-sex marriage.

    “’We spent over half a million dollars in New York” in 2009, he said, “and we’re ready to spend that and more this time. We are willing to spend a million against any Republican senator who votes for gay marriage.’”

    The journalist should have pointed out the irony of this statement. NOM routinely calls gay groups “bullies” for lobbying legislators to support ssm, and threatening to target those who do not. Perhaps NOM sees themselves as “bullies for Jesus”?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Perhaps NOM sees themselves as “bullies for Jesus”?

    No, Jerry. Each side sees itself as “the voice of the people” and the other as bullies for an agenda. That’s why coverage is so tricky on stories like this, because the reporter (and the reader, for that matter) usually already has an idea which side he thinks is which.

  • Jerry

    Joel, the focus should be on journalism, and I think journalists have a responsibility to provide context, and in this case the reporter did not provide that context. When an organization has a record of criticizing other organizations for lobbying, then boasts of threatening Republican legislators that they will spend a million dollars to defeat them if they vote a particular way, the reporter should point out history and context. Otherwise, the reporter is simply channeling a press release.

  • Dave

    Jerry!!!