BBC attacks major same-sex marriage stereotype (updated)

Here inside the Beltway, a kind of nervous hush has settled over the church-state battlefield while everyone waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its ruling on the status of gay marriage in the battleground state of California (for sure) and perhaps even in the United States of America. There have been some hints from the legal left that the court will — fearing another Roe v. Wade apocalypse — issue a narrow ruling.

Most of the elite mainstream press have, of course, remained in full-voice cheerleader mode. As Arthur Brisbane described his own company, in his swan song last year as public editor at The New York Times:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

Stepping back, I can see that as the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.

But miracles happen. Every now and then, a major media outlet breaks loose and reports some voices who do not easily and quickly fit into the familiar templates, voices that might even point journalists toward the compromise that may still be possible between the entrenched armies on the cultural left and right.

The BBC team did that the other day with an entire piece dedicated to gays and lesbians who are opposed to gay “marriage.”

Now, the scare quotes around “marriage” are there for a reason. It’s clear, in this story, that the people who are in this camp are fully on board when it comes to full legal rights being granted to other gays and lesbians. The problem, for them, is the word “marriage” with all of — yes — its religious and moral overtones.

In other words, religion is a key part of this debate. Here’s a key block of material right up top:

Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn’t fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage. But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.

“We’re not going to procreate as a couple and while the desire to demonstrate commitment might be laudable, the religious traditions that have accommodated same-sex couples have had to do some fairly major contortions,” says Soroff.

Until the federal government recognises and codifies the same rights for same-sex couples as straight ones, equality is the goal so why get hung up on a word, he asks.

“I’m not going to walk down the aisle to Mendelssohn wearing white in a church and throw a bouquet and do the first dance,” adds Soroff, columnist for the Improper Boston. “I’ve been to some lovely gay weddings but aping the traditional heterosexual wedding is weird and I don’t understand why anyone wants to do that.

“I’m not saying that people who want that shouldn’t have it but for me, all that matters is the legal stuff.”

And what about viewpoints on the lesbian/feminist side of the aisle, where the word “marriage” has rarely been a happy word?

… (While) favourable rulings will spark celebrations among pro-marriage supporters across the US, some gay men and women will instead see it as a victory for a patriarchal institution that bears no historical relevance to them.

Some lesbians are opposed to marriage on feminist grounds, says Claudia Card, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, because they see it as an institution that serves the interests of men more than women. It is also, in her view “heteronormative”, embodying the view that heterosexuality is the preferred and normal sexuality.

“It’s undeniable that marriage has historically also discriminated against same-sex couples,” Card says.

As a result, she thinks the issue of marriage is a distraction. “Gay activists should instead put their energies into environmental issues like climate change, because there’s a chance to make a morally more defensible and more urgent difference.”

Believe it or not, the journalists behind this rather unique article even found a third angle on the same essential premise. Does using the word “marriage” imply acceptance of a moral, even religious, structure that ends up denying legal rights to those who reject those moral norms?

Others in the “No” camp oppose marriage more broadly because, they say, it denies benefits to people who are unmarried, or because they
say it simply doesn’t work.

Legba Carrefour, who describes himself as “radical queer”, calls it a “destructive way of life” that produces broken families.

“We are only one or two generations away from children coming from gay marriage that are also from broken homes,” he says.

This article is so unique that, at times, it’s clear the BBC team is simply giving its best guess at the number of people who hold these viewpoints. That’s a weakness, but, as the story notes, major polling companies have not been asking this specific question to gay citizens. And then there is another factor: Gays and lesbians, and their usual supporters, who voice these opinions often face a severe backlash.

Yet, in Europe, it’s pretty clear that this ideological camp exists. BBC noted:

In France, gay men and women joined the protests that preceded and followed this year’s introduction of same-sex marriage. A website called Homovox featured 12 gay men and women opposed to it, with some of them citing a belief that children benefit most from opposite-sex parents.

The article does not, alas, do more to explore the religious element of the story, even though that pops up from time to time. For example, the article does not address the views of self-identified gays, lesbians and bisexuals who are Catholics, Orthodox Jews, traditional Protestants, Buddhists, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, etc., yet who still support and strive to follow the moral teachings of their faiths.

All of this underlines the bottom line that so many journalists do not seem to be able to see: There are multiple points of view on gay-rights issues in a variety of different camps. BBC signed off with this:

With so many different points of view on a subject that has long divided America, perhaps the debate just underlines the obvious — gay people are like everyone else.

Has anyone else seen other elite mainstream coverage of this camp in the same-sex marriage debates?

UPDATE: Just saw this, minutes after clicking to post this piece. Clearly this is a related topic:

A new study by the Pew Research Center raises an important question about that perceived momentum: Is it being created, at least in part, by positive news media coverage of the possibility of legalization?

“In a period marked by Supreme Court deliberations on the subject, the news media coverage provided a strong sense of momentum towards legalizing same-sex marriage,” reads the report. “Stories with more statements supporting same-sex marriage outweighed those with more statements opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1.”

Forty-seven percent of news stories on same sex marriage from March 18 (a week before the Court heard oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8) to May 12 focused on support for the measure while just nine percent focused on opposition and 44 percent of the coverage was mixed in its focus.

And coverage of people caught in the middle, not aligned perfectly with the folks on the far right or far left?

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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.

  • Jerry

    This is one of those areas where being careful to understand what people mean is critical. Reading through this post, it’s clear that The word marriage is both a legal and a religious term. But some also are thinking about a ceremony of marriage when they use that term. I was struck by the sentence which to me illustrated that point:

    “I’m not saying that people who want that shouldn’t have it but for me, all that matters is the legal stuff.”

  • tmatt

    That’s an excellent point. However, the other large truth in this camp is that many gays and lesbians reject the MORAL implications of the religious word “marriage.”

  • Kodos

    Terry: regarding your addendum, NPR’s ombudsman admitted the same back in May 2012 after the North Carolina gay marriage vote: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2012/05/14/152532150/eight-days-of-same-sex-marriage-the-coverage

    This admission of slanted coverage at NPR has not led to changes in the bias of their reporting over the last year, however. NPR remains a staunch gay marriage cheerleader. So it seems to me that journalists will readily admit that bias in favor of gay marriage can be found in their journalism but they are not interested in doing anything to correct that problem (?) with their professional craftsmanship. As you’ve discussed in other posts, the attitude seems to be: we’re morally right on this topic and therefore we’re justified in creating didactic news reports in favor of our position.

    I would also add, judging entirely by the comments to NPR’s stories about gay marriage, that NPR’s listeners are perfectly happy with the biased timbre of the reporting. They see NPR as speaking the truth. As is often said there, “reality has a liberal bias.”

  • NathanMichael

    I have notice many times that those supposedly who support gay people and promote all manner of stereotypical gay agenda items often do a serious injustice to some members of the gay community. I like this BBC article because it allows the voices of gay people who have different thoughts and experiences to be heard – especially voices that differ from the stereotypical media driven agenda. When ‘advocates’ push a narrow agenda, ideology, and viewpoint that actually does not line up with the experiences, stories, and viewpoints of a large number of gay people themselves, they are being marginalized. The highly biased activistic journalism we see so rampant in effect does an injustice to many of the people that it actually is claiming to help.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    This does more to prove the humanity of homosexuality to me than 40 years of gay pride parades.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think the numbers in the study are misleading. The times that news papers use biased language to describe the debate, and the fact that the news only gives real recognition to the views of one side, make claims that any articles are neutral highly questionable.