Democrats back gay marriage: Who you gonna call?

At the moment, I am up in the mountains of North Carolina, which is one of those places where the occasional Democrat running for higher office will go out of his or her way to put the word “conservative” on the campaign yard signs so that they can try to hang on to the remnant of the good old days down here in the Bible Belt.

“Conservative” can mean lots of things these days, from standing up for the religious freedom of religious schools to, well, eating a chicken sandwich YOU KNOW WHERE. But mainly it means that this Democrat is not all that happy about trends in the national party.

I thought about this political fact of life when I was reading the celebratory report in The New York Times about the work being done to add a pro-gay marriage plank to the platform of said Democratic Party. Here’s a sample:

Gay rights supporters praised the Democratic Party’s vote. “Like Americans from all walks of life, the Democratic Party has recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to have their relationships respected as equal under the law,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “I believe that one day very soon the platforms of both major parties will include similar language on this issue.”

The Democratic Party platform that was drafted four years ago, when Mr. Obama was first running for president, called for “full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation,” and for “equal responsibility, benefits and protections.”

But the platform stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriages, in part because Mr. Obama had said he remained opposed.

Despite the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, the issue remains a difficult one for some Democrats, particularly those in the midst of hard-fought re-election campaigns in conservative-leaning states. Those include Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who is running for Senate in Virginia, and Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana.

Now this got me to thinking about the journalistic footwork that reporters and editors might do to get some intellectual balance into stories about this subject.

So stop and think about this for a moment. Let’s turn this coin over.

What if the Republic Party somehow managed to do something totally predictable on gay-rights issues, like take a stand in defense of religious freedom or freedom of association or what not. Journalists covering this story would need — thinking logically — to get responses from two different groups.

First of all, they would need to reach liberals and gay-rights groups, those who would oppose this action. Then the reporters would need to contact people INSIDE the GOP who were opposed to the action. Can anyone imagine this story running without on-the-record reactions coming from Log Cabin Republicans, moral libertarians, etc., etc.? There are groups inside the GOP that speak up for the gay-rights cause. They should be quoted.

Now, let’s transfer this over to the Democrats, to the story that is currently unfolding. Obviously, we need to hear the views of outsiders who oppose this move — a quote from someone on the Religious Right, perhaps. Then we need a quote from a morally conservative, traditional-religion-friendly group inside the Democratic Party. You know, blue-collar, traditional Catholics in labor families, African-American churchgoers, Latino Catholics and others of that ilk.

So, truth be told, the Times team does come through on half of this journalistic task. Want to guess which half?

Peter S. Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, predicted that Democrats will regret their decision to include the marriage plank in their platform.

“There are many places in the country where Democratic candidates will not want to be identified with the gay-marriage party,” Mr. Sprigg said. “I think this is more politically correct than it is politically smart.”

So, that’s a very predictable voice on the moral and cultural right. Now, where is that crucial vote from the right side of the Democratic Party, the voice that would be the counterpart of a pro-gay-rights GOP voice in a story about the Republicans?

Sorry about that. Maybe the folks at The Washington Post found a morally and culturally conservative voice in the diverse reality that is the modern Democratic Party? Maybe? Just maybe?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Bruce Frier

    The vote in the platform committee was unanimous. And more than 2/3 of Democratic voters favor gay marriage. What would be the point of going after the hold-outs, just for “balance.” The issue of gay marriage just isn’t controversial anymore.

  • Mark C.

    If the aim is accuracy and fair reporting, I’m not sure finding fault for not quoting someone opposed necessarily supports accuracy or fairness here. Those opposed to including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform will have plenty of opportunity to speak their mind. Why not simply report that the plank has been added to the proposed platform and report any opposition when it makes itself known (if it makes itself known)? Sometimes the drive for the media’s version of “balance” creates a false impression of controversy because quoting “the other side” is required by formula.

  • Martha

    Flip it the other way, Bruce. Suppose the Democratic Party had come out and said “There will be no proposal to support marriage equality in our campaign”. Suppose that passed unanimously.

    Are you telling me that there would be “no point in going after the hold-outs, just for ‘balance’”? That no media outlet would think of interviewing shocked and grieved Democrat activists, party members, voters-in-the-street on this topic?

    Given that some supporters are equating gay marriage rights with the civil rights struggle, and opposition to same as equivalent to racism, then what is the reaction when, say, black church leaders come out in opposition to this initiative? Are they self-hating internalised racists, or merely homophobic bigots? What is the narrative there? I will be interested to see how that angle is covered.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Mark C, yes, and sometimes the media’s version of “balance” means avoidance of quoting “the other side” to create a false impression of unanimity and lack of controversy when neither is actually the case. Opposition does exist, and is making itself heard, and coming from an important part of the Obama base that made itself heard on this issue back with the vote in CA on Prop 8.

  • Martha

    “The issue of gay marriage just isn’t controversial anymore”

    Which is why there are no mayors in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, or an alderman in Chicago, or a council member in Philadelphia or a New York city councillor promising to ban any Chick-fil-A restaurants from setting up in their wards or cities, or writing letters asking for them to be removed, or issuing press releases saying that restaurant chain is bad, naughty, wicked, and undesirable – oh, wait!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    How can the issue of gay marriage no longer be controversial as one said here??
    Considering the fact that when the people are allowed to speak at the ballot box in states not under a form of liberal dictatorship– like here in Ma.– they virtually always vote against what they view as an absurdity or immoral.
    The only reason it appears non-controversial is the lopsided pro gay marriage coverage in the news media.
    Our whole family just got back from the Chick-filet in Peabody, Ma. just a few miles from Mayor Menino’s attempt at pro gay coercion of Chick-filet in Boston.
    We were shocked. Never have we seen the food pavilion at the North Shore Mall so thoroughly mobbed with lines from the Chick-filet stand up and down aisle after aisle –some people -willingly–waited 2 and a half hours to get food. How much coverage will this protest by food purchase get in the media??? Little or none I suspect (and what coverage there is will probably be sneeringly negative).
    There are a lot of former traditional Democrats–like many in my family– who changed to Independent (or Republican) over the abortion issue and have given the Repubs a lot of added strength. If that one-third in the Democratic Party who are against Gay marriage also leave the party –will the Democrats ever win another election???

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Lots of folks have thought their cause was the forward wave of history, at lease until the wave crashed on the shore. You have to wonder if the current declines in the business of the news media is just that they tied themselves to waves that aren’t quite as settled and inevitable as they think.

    NBC News just had a piece on Chick-fil-a and it was decent. There was a quick view of gay-marriage advocates, but not a focus. Our local news is also doing a decent story, with a comment from the local gay-church pastor. Both local and national news misquoted Mr. Cathy. The local news claims he actually said that marriage should be between a man and a woman. He’s probably said that at some point, but not recently.

    By the way, our local Chick-fil-a is next to a Starbucks.

  • sari
  • sari

    I found these two sections interesting:

    ” Democrats appear ready to embrace same-sex marriage as part of their party platform…”

    Shouldn’t this read The Democratic Party? Party affiliation does not translate to all Democrats walking in intellectual lockstep.

    Despite the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, the issue remains a difficult one for some Democrats, particularly those in the midst of hard-fought re-election campaigns in conservative-leaning states. Those include Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who is running for Senate in Virginia, and Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana.

    Surely some Democrats may oppose gay marriage for reasons other than political expedience. Perhaps that’s the biggest voice missing from the article, given that so many religious institutions and their followers openly oppose same-sex marriage. Are we to assume that one can be a Democrat or one can be religious but that the two are mutually exclusive?

  • MJBubba

    I think in this context Bruce Frier (#1) must mean that the issue of gay marriage isn’t controversial anymore within the Democratic Party. However, even that is not true for Democrats in flyover country. TMatt is absolutely right that, if the situation was on the conservative side, unhappy campers within the Republican party would be sought out by the NYT for their reactions.

  • dalea

    Part of the problem is that in 2010, Blue Dog Democrats (the conservatves) lost in droves while the Progressives maintained their seats. So, right now, there are not a whole lot of conservatives to interview. And, many anti-abortion Democrats are also progressives (Marcy Kaptur). Other than some AA pastors, who would the media interview.

    Additionally, the Democrats are a loose coalition type party with no central ideology. Democrats disagree on all sorts of issues but still remain in the same party. On affirmative action, two major Democratic groups, Jews and Asians, loath affirmative action. But they can work with those who favor it. Democrats tolerate ambiguity well.

    Finally, the Democrats are dependent on GL money and volunteering. Something like 92% of LG voters vote every election. But even more staggering, 47% donate money and 42% volunteer for election work.

  • John M.

    OK, I’m going to go off the journalism reservation a little bit here. But it seems to me that the modern Democratic party is a more fragile coalition than some seem to think it is. And I wonder if the urban liberal elite segment of the coalition isn’t overplaying its hand on the gay marriage issue in particular, in a way that could lead to some pretty punishing results, probably not this year and probably not in the presidential election, but in ways that could make it very difficult for Democrats to be elected to the House in bluish-purple districts in flyover country, no matter what the individual candidates’ positions on gay marriage.

    And the urban elite media is totally missing 51% of the story on gay marriage (the 51% that consistently votes against it) with trumpeting the inevitability of the whole thing, which makes me wonder if the urban elite wing of the Democratic party is going to notice this trend before it becomes a tsunami.

    And look at that, I wound up back on the reservation.


  • sari

    I wouldn’t get too wrapped up in the 51% or any number being representative of the population as a whole. The numbers tell us that 51% of the people who cared enough about the issue to vote, voted against it. People vote their priorities. The groups which best mobilize their followers win elections. That was definitely true in yesterday’s Texas runoffs, where votes made by a very small contingent will have major repercussions at the state and federal level. Better to look at what percentage of eligible adults voted; the math is easy.

    That said, I think the media, like the major political parties, represents the polar ends. Moderates are completely ignored; they no longer have a voice. Both parties have a lot of disaffected members. My local paper frequently runs articles on minority voter apathy. Perhaps it’s time to address general apathy–why more and more people opt out of voting altogether.

  • Ray Ingles

    “Can anyone imagine this story running without on-the-record reactions coming from Log Cabin Republicans, moral libertarians, etc., etc.?”

    Well, actually, I can. Take this story about Montana, or this story about Texas. Both states only this year dropped their planks calling for the criminalization of ‘homosexual acts’. I can’t find any quotes from people in the state GOPs that supported such a plank…

  • Mollie

    I’ve deleted a few particularly off-topic comments but others might want to redouble efforts to focus on media coverage here.