Some RNS cheerleading for gay marriage

A poor outing from Religion News Service this week in its article about the passage of the British government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. While it is a wire service story and cannot be held to the same standards of depth of reporting as a story prepared in house by a newspaper, it nonetheless should strive for accuracy and provide context — and refrain from cheer leading in support of one side of the story.

The version that appeared in the Washington Post under the title “Queen approves same-sex marriage bill in England, Wales” appears to be in trouble from the start. The Queen in the person of Elizabeth did not approve the bill — the Crown or the Sovereign did. This is a small thing, but it signals the direction of the story. It begins:

England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill. Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

The article walks back the headline, but what does RNS mean by saying England and Wales are two countries? Is this an eruption of Welsh nationalism on the part of RNS? Parliament in Westminster passed the bill — not the Welsh Assembly. While Wales has a cultural and linguistic identity and a devolved legislature that addresses some issues, it is not a country.

The article continues by quoting the government minister responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament and her political allies. It then states:

The bill’s passage saw many angry exchanges. It had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the consternation of many in his own Conservative Party. The leaders of two other main parties, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour, also backed it. But some political commentators predict Cameron’s gay-friendly attitudes will cost him at the next election in 2015.

Without seeking comments from opponents of the bill the article then moves to a negative response from the Catholic Church — glossing over the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs voted against the bill. The facile comment about “gay-friendly attitudes” distorts the political facts. It fails to identify who believes the Conservatives will take a drubbing at the next election nor does it say why — other than alluding to hostility to homosexuals. The Coalition for Marriage — one group that fought the bill predicts Cameron will pay a political price for pushing gay marriage — but it is not likely to recognize its views being presented by this article.

The Telegraph and BBC were able to find political opponents of the bill — not just religious ones — to speak out. Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth was cited by the BBC as having told Parliament it was “astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted, has been bulldozed through both Houses”.

Its all there in Hansard for anyone to find — even his warning to the prime minister over his political folly. “I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it.”

The RNS article also offers this:

But to the delight — and relief — of most people in the United Kingdom, the bill was passed by landslide votes in both houses of Parliament.

How does RNS know this? It could perhaps have made reference to polling data, but does not. The “delight” and “relief” quip appears to speak to RNS’s views — not the facts.

Little things are missing from the story — for example, when will the first gay weddings take place? (Answer: next Spring). The article tells us the Church of England does not permit same-sex weddings and the Roman Catholic Church is opposed — but are there faiths or denominations that support gay marriage? (Answer: Yes. Unitarians,  Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and some liberal Protestant groups). Are they banned too from offering church or synagogue weddings? No. They may opt in and offer gay weddings.

In sum, this article fails to present both sides of the story, contains inaccuracies and exaggerations, lacks context and important facts and engages in cheer leading in favor of gay marriage — confusing its own views with what it imagines to be popular sentiment. This is junk journalism.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • Thinkling

    I have noticed that the RNS’ objectivity has jumped the shark over the last couple of years or so. This fits the unfortunate pattern.

    I know some RNS folks read this site. Please take this constructive criticism seriously. Religion reporting is bad enough as it is…you do yourselves and your readers a great service to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

  • ZZMike

    Boston College of Law Professor Kent Greenfield:

    http://prospect.org/article/slippery-slope-polygamy-and-incest

    “Opponents of same-sex marriage have long argued that allowing such unions will lead to marriages among more than two people and between adults who are related. They’re right.”

    Boston College of Law is one of the major Catholic law schools in the country.

    • wlinden

      I still have yet to hear a coherent argument for why it is “hate” and “bigotry” to say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, but not “hate” to say that it is the union of two and only two people.

  • Reformed Catholic

    FWIW … I did not see any article try to explain that the “Royal Assent” is a pro-forma action by the Queen, who really does not have any other choice in the matter.

    • Sterling Ericsson

      Though that doesn’t change the fact that she wholeheartedly supported the bill and made statements to that effect.

      • wlinden

        Under the “British Constitution”, the Monarch is not permitted to make any political statements except those the government “advises” her to.

        • Sterling Ericsson

          True and so she probably asked whoever her adviser is on whether it was alright for her to give a certain statement and it was allowed. Doesn’t change the fact that it is her own personal opinion.

          • wlinden

            And you have evidence to back up this assertion? The “British Constitution” just does not work that way. Or did you think she actually writes “the speech from the throne”?

          • Sterling Ericsson

            So you’re saying every political statement the Queen actually makes isn’t her opinion at all and is written for her to say?

          • Donalbain

            What political statement are you talking about? She has made none on any piece of legislation.

          • wlinden

            Yes. That is exactly what I am saying.

      • Donalbain

        No. She did not. You will not find ANY statement to that effect from the Queen.

  • Matt

    I’m surprised at your quibble about whether Wales is a “country”. My understanding is that the UK is considered to consist of four “countries”, namely England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    Also, while it might have been helpful to explain that withholding the Royal Assent to any act of Parliament would have been an extraordinary and crisis-precipitating action, the fact remains that the queen did give the Assent and that her action made the law official, so it is a legitimate milestone.

    The latter part of your critique is more compelling.

    • Julia B

      I’ve always wondered about the difference between Wales and Cornwall. I don’t think Cornwall is just a county, but what is it vis a vis Wales?

      • wlinden

        Sorry, Cornwall is “just” a couintry of England, and is “vis a vis Wales” the same as Norfolk, Essex, Yorkshire and Somerset.

        Wikipedia reports that it is currently governed by a “unitary authority”, the Cornwall Council.

        • Donalbain

          No.. Cornwall is a COUNTY. Not a country.

          • wlinden

            That is what I thought I was saying. “Country of England”, if I had been trying to say that, would make no sense.

      • Matt

        Cornwall is part of England, though some Cornish people wish it weren’t. Wales, on the other hand, is not part of England. Even though Wales has a closer relationship to England than does Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is indeed a separate “country”.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    As said here–RNS seems not interested in the “facts”.But that is how most of the liberal social agenda is being promoted and implemented on many fronts–through falsehoods, lies, distortions, fabrications, ridicule, and insults–with much of the media leading the way. Including now apparently RNS.


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