Polyamory, pessimism and other same-sex marriage ink

After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Now, they weren’t particularly good stories and they weren’t particularly long. They were still outnumbered by the stories cheerleading in favor of changing marriage law to include same-sex marriage. But the difference was notable (see: “At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat).

Many of us wondered what was going on. Reader Jeremiah Oehlerich wrote:

The rash of articles for and against gay marriage are all a part of the sides preparing for the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA next week. Each party is trying to get their message out in every way possible to help shape and influence the debate in the courtroom and beyond next week. That, in part is what is what has made so much of the one sided reporting leading up to these hearing so frustrating. It’s made the cases feel pre-decided by those who shape and drive the media narrative in the build up to their hearing.

Reader MJBubba gave props to GetReligion:

I think what we are seeing is a major victory attributable to GetReligion.

These journalists and their editors really do think of themselves as noble professionals. It has to have stung to see themselves portrayed as cheerleaders, called out with non-emotional appeals to the basic tenets and ethics of their profession. Consistently, for years, they have promoted one side of an important cultural issue. So, there has been a pent-up interest built by GetReligion in some, you know, balance.

Also, it is finally dawning on these bone-heads that they will be trying to explain the Supreme Court arguments next week to a readership/viewership that have never seen or heard any presentation of one side of these important cases. These are necessary catch-up articles.

Thanks! But I’m suspicious. Reader Kate noted:

I agree with MJBubba that this is the result of journalists doing prep work for the court case coverage, and realizing they have a lot of catch up to do. I have this mental image of a reporter cynically clicking links and reading pro-marriage arguments, and calling around to find out what kind of arguments opponents will use against marriage redefinition, and winding up completely shocked to find out that reasonable sounding people have reasonable sounding reasons to want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage. Now they’ve got to cover it so that it isn’t so obvious next week that they’ve been falling down on the job for years.

Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of things. But a few days of mentioning the people and arguments in favor of marriage built around sexual complementarity is not really significant in any case. And the entire game is rigged. Here’s one media outlet’s tweet:

Opponents of gay marriage say they’re no bigots

So they say. But I want to know when they stopped beating their children.

And so many of the interesting angles that should be covered in news sections are being covered in opinion sections. Religion opinion writer Lisa Miller had a fascinating “Got news?” item in the Washington Post a few days ago headlined “Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet.”

Now, this is not a news story, but it is about a newsworthy trend. It’s about how the presence and activism of polyamorous families — a not insignificant part of the UU community — helps those mean bad “conservatives” with their arguments that changing marriage law to include same sex couples would lead to recognition of polyamorous marriages since if gender is an unimportant component of marriage, number of involved is, too.

We can all wade through the snipes against conservatives and it’s a very interesting and provocative piece but it would be nice to just see it as a news article, complete with religious arguments about the UU community and the families its members create.

And then there’s an opinion piece at CNN — written by the veteran Jewish legal theorist Marc Stern — on the collision between gay rights and religious liberty. It’s a scandal how little has been written about this and how poor the imaginations of reporters are when it comes to this topic. More news on this instead of opinion pieces would be and would have been nice.

The New York Times published a piece on the importance of pessimism:

People interested in truth seek out those who disagree with them. They look for rival opinions, awkward facts and the grounds that might engender hesitation. Such people have a far more complicated life than the optimists, who rush forward with a sense of purpose that is not to be deflected by what they regard as the cavilings of mean-minded bigots. Here in Britain, discussions on gay marriage have been conducted as though it were entirely a matter of extending rights, and not of fundamentally altering the institution. Difficult issues, like the role of sexual difference in social reproduction, the nature of the family, the emotional needs of children and the meaning of rites of passage, have been ignored or brushed aside.

Again, though, this was just an opinion piece and we see no engagement with these issues in the news pages of major media.

Finally, the media have shown surprisingly little substantial interest in the amici briefs filed before the Supreme Court.

Andrew Ferguson obliterates some of the media coverage on this angle in his piece on Harvey Mansfield and Leon Kass’ brief about the very serious limitations of social science research on the matters under dispute at the court (and media treatment of that issue) as well as how the media have treated the briefs of same-sex marriage enthusiasts. But his piece, which is a fantastic read, is in the opinion magazine the Weekly Standard.

What we see in the mainstream media is along the lines of the intellectual rigor Contessa Brewer applies to her coverage of the issue.

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  • Martha

    Mollie, may I ask your opinion of this? It’s an excerpt from an article, link courtesy of Eve Tushnet, about “Addict activism” and what interested me – in the context of what GetReligion has been discussing about journalism versus advocacy reporting – is this:

    “My own relationship with these organizations was complicated: As a journalist, I had to keep my distance, but I also wanted to help make change. This led to a great deal of agonizing on my part over what I could and could not do, at a time when journalism itself was changing its notions of “objectivity” and “advocacy.”

    She’s talking about late 80s/early 90s, more or less, so what I want to ask is this – was there indeed a change in the profession’s view of what constituted “objectivity” and “advocacy”, and are the news stories and attitudes in the newsroom that the GetReligionistas are commenting on merely the fruit of twenty or more years’ practice of the new model?

    That is, these aren’t new attitudes being suddenly revealed, but rather the American model of objective journalism versus the European model of advocacy was pretty much dead twenty years ago?

  • Coverage of SSM won’t be fair until the media correctly reports about kids who are hurt by same-sex parenting comes out, and how much more damaging it can be than even hetrosexual divorce.

    • Richard Mounts

      Derek, your concern about reporting on kids of same-sex couples came up in today’s Supreme Court hearing. One of the justices (Scalia ?) Noted that there is a paucity of evidence either way about how children of same-sex couples fair. The little evidence that there is can’t cover outcomes over several years, let alone a lifetime. Even the best journalist could not give a balanced report ecept to say that there’s too little to say either way.

      • Richard Mounts

        Sorry, it was Justice Anthony Kennedy, not Justice Scalia.

  • Darren Blair

    To me, the biggest potential arguments in favor of polyamory right now are:
    1. “Serial polyamory”, wherein a person repeatedly marries and divorces, is perfectly legal
    2. “Sleeping around” and “playing” are also both perfectly legal.
    As far back as the early 1900s you have examples of people demanding to know why infidelity, “hooking up”, and other such activities were legal and accepted while polyamory was regarded as a horrific crime.

    I’d love to see the media address those issues.

  • Cathy G

    I don’t think that multiple peer-reviewed studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics are a paucity of evidence. They did show up in the amicus briefs for this case, and I was surprised that they didn’t come up in the oral arguments today.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Actually, polyamory has never been perse treated as a crime. Polygamy was and is treated as a crime, but that is a slightly different institution. When I say crime, I mean crime. In theory in most states polygamy can get you sent to jail. This is a totally idfferent issue than what the Supreme Court is considering, which is the proactive recognition by the state of a relationship.

    Polyamory generally implies sexual connection between all involved, while polygamy implies one person having multiple spouses simultaneously, usually a man with multiple wives.

  • Will

    But not always. If *I* know living, breathing polyandrists, how many are there that I DON’T know about? (They didn’t disappear at the mantra “There’s no slippery slope…..”)
    But virtually always, discussion insists on treating “polygamy” as just a synonym for “polygyny”.