Way to go, Joe! Colorado civil-unions story hits the mark

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Joe Hight, the relatively new editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, is a longtime friend and mentor of mine.

Twenty years ago, Joe hired me to work at The Oklahoman, then a statewide newspaper with a Sunday circulation of about 350,000. During my nine years with the Oklahoma City newspaper, Joe provided regular guidance and encouragement as an eager young reporter — sometimes too combustible and other times too naive about newsroom politics — gained valuable real-world experience.

Together, we and other Oklahoman reporters and editors tackled two of the biggest stories of our careers: the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing and the May 3, 1999, Oklahoma tornadoes.

While in Colorado Springs on a reporting assignment in January, I enjoyed catching up with Joe over dinner. He took me on a tour of the Gazette newsroom and excitedly showed off his new digs. As we talked, he discussed his desire to see the Colorado Springs newspaper focus on fair, aggressive news coverage. In an era when so many mainstream media outlets seem inclined to take sides, I offered my hearty endorsement of that approach.

All of the above serves as a prelude to my critique of a front-page report in today’s Gazette. I have no idea whether Joe had any direct involvement in the story or the approach taken. But the report on Catholic Charities’ concerns about a proposed civil-unions law in Colorado exemplifies the kind of old-fashioned, straight-news reporting that characterizes the best daily journalism. (I have written about the religious exemptions issue for Christianity Today.)

Let’s start at the top of the Gazette story:

DENVER – Religious-based adoption agencies might be forced to close if civil unions for same-sex couples become law, Mark Rohlena, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, testified Thursday before a House committee.

“A broad conscience protection should be included in this bill if it must be passed,” Rohlena said. “Sadly in places like Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., we have seen Catholic Charity organizations forced out of their adoption and foster care programs where they are trusted partners with the state when conscience objections are not protected.”

Rohlena said the organization’s adoption guidelines require they place children only with couples who have been married three years. The proposed civil unions law would require them to place children with same-sex couples in civil unions.

Keep reading, and the story quotes the Democratic House speaker, who hopes to adopt a 1-year-old girl with his gay partner, and a Unitarian minister who suggests that Catholic Charities shouldn’t be able to discriminate if it accepts public funding.

But the story also quotes the state’s attorney general, who was adopted as a child through Catholic Charities, and an adoptive couple using Catholic Charities because of its compatibility with their religious beliefs.

It’s pretty simple, really: Detail what the law will do. Include arguments from supporters and opponents. Provide relevant facts and insight.

This story does all of those things.

I’m not suggesting that this piece will win a Pulitzer Prize or that it’s perfectly written. But I am suggesting that this story — reported under deadline pressure —provides the basic information necessary to help readers understand what’s at stake. And I am suggesting that it’s impossible to tell where the reporter or the newspaper stand on the issue. As GetReligion readers know all too well, that’s not always the case.

In closing, let me just say: Way to go, Joe!

Image via Shutterstock

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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.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The comment about state funds by the Unitarian minister was off the mark and should have been pointed out, in my opinion.. In most cases what has ultimately driven Catholic Charities from adoption ministry is not withdrawal of state funds, but the licensing requirements in states that have passed gay demanded legislation. Even if a charity, through donations, raises enough money to finance an adoption ministry, that charity must get a license to operate. And in places like Ma. such a license can only be gotten by those who are willing to burn incense before the altar of gay driven state power.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Good point, Deacon John. I agree that clarification there would have been helpful.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Encouraging to see a good report on this issue in light of the recent public statements by WPost and others that there is no requirement for journalists to strive for balance in their stories on these issues. Thanks for highlighting it.

  • FW Ken

    I was left wondering the same thing as the deacon: does the Colorado law affect the child-placing license of the agency? It would have also been helpful to know for sure if rural areas have access to multiple agencies, so that same-sex couples could have access to adoption services.

    In general, however, I agree the article is balanced. My comments are quibbles.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    Just a reminder that comments must focus on journalism and media issues. Offer an opinion on the news coverage, not the issue itself, in other words.

  • Julia

    And in addition to the agency licensing requirement, adoptive parents must be certified as official state foster parents in order for them to receive the child into the home for a period of time while their parenting skills are assessed by the state before the adoption can become final. Presuambly state laws are now also saying that you cannot discriminate against gays or singles in regard to foster parenting.
    There were Catholic and other kinds of adoption agencies before there was any state funding for adoptions.

  • dalea

    The problem I have with this story is that it treats same sex couples as somehow different from other couples and gives the impression that the situation is unprecedented. Which I do not believe to be the case. Would the same arguments apply if an agency refused to place children with mixed race couples? mixed religion couples? aetheist couples?remarried after divorce couples? Has there been a religious exemption regarding any objection previously? Or have the agencies always worked with any straight couple that showed up regardless of that couple’s compliance with religious criteria? I really wonder if this situation is as totally novel and unprecedented as the writer makes it out to be.

    That’s my problem with the story; it lacks context. It simply looks at a current situation and quotes people involved right now. I would like to know if this is the only situation that there is a conscience objection to, or are there other types of parents that invoke the same response.

  • Sharyn

    I guess you didn’t notice how all the couples in your example were different from same sex couples adopting. Uh…they were Male and Female It’s a good thing to have a male father and a female mother raising a child—you overlooked the obvious benefits for a child which is what adoption is all about. It should not be about satisfying your wants or the wants of parents

  • Charles

    I’d like to see the following covered: how the proponents of the bill can claim the definition of an adoption agency can be legislated while claiming the government shouldn’t be able to define marriage. Certainly if it can do one or the other, it can do both, and all matters are based on the tyranny of the majority, corruption of the powerful, etc. It’s almost a false appeal made to court the libertarians without the intellectual honesty to admit the consequences.

  • cvg

    That was a well done article. My only tiny complaint would be the accuracy of the “forced to close” statement in the first paragraph. Would “pressured” to close not have been more accurate? The article is very clear on the two options currently available. I think the onus of closure is on Catholic Charities. The pressure limiting the range of options is governmental.

  • cvg

    Dalea, the only way I can think of to do what you say would be to cite instances where polygamous or polyandrous families were involved in adoption processes;

    Personally, I think such a foil is a decent way to contextualize SSM stories. I’m not aware of too many stories that have done that though. Perhaps I need to look harder to see how well it works in practice.


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