A front-page puff piece on same-sex marriage

The Sacramento Bee published this breaking news on its front page this week:

Gays are not guaranteed the right to wed in church

Who knew?

I vaguely recall some mention of freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution, but apparently, the Bee has confirmed this.

Not that the California newspaper is happy about it.

The top of the puff piece — er, news story:

The congregation cheered.

When Barbara Brecher and Terry Allen married in June 2008, during the brief window that year when same-sex marriage was legal in California, they asked the entire membership of Congregation B’nai Israel to
witness the ceremony. Hundreds of congregants took them up on the invitation.

Senior rabbi Mona Alfi, a longtime supporter ofsame-sex unions, pronounced the couple legally wed, and the congregation erupted in applause.

“People went nuts,” said Barbara Allen-Brecher, now 57, an administrative law judge. “They were hooting and hollering. Did I cry? Oh, of course.”

What it meant to her to marry within her faith – not just in the eyes of the state but also the eyes of her congregation – is simple: It meant everything.

“I couldn’t imagine not doing it that way,” she said. “I can’t express the joy we experienced having the opportunity to do it in the
sanctuary.”

Alas, that’s not the end of the story. Prepare to be shocked. SHOCKED:

Gay and lesbian couples can legally marry today in 13 states, including California. But if they want to marry within their faith, like Barbara and Terry Allen-Brecher, options vary widely from denomination to denomination across the religious spectrum.

From the viewpoint of America’s religious institutions, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark decisions on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 changed nothing.

Why don’t all churches allow same-sex marriage ceremonies? Does it have anything to do with 2,000-year-old teachings and beliefs?

No, not really.

Denominations change their positions slowly, Schlosser said, not in a matter of months but over years. And many religious bodies have yet to make any change in their stance on whether to include same-sex marriage as a rite.

Under the U.S. Constitution, they don’t have to.

But probably, it’s just a matter of time, right?

Fortunately, there are some religious folks — such as “committed Roman Catholic” Jan Seaman — rallying for change despite the antiquated traditions of their churches.

Sadly, the story does veer off course in a spot or two and quote religious leaders who oppose same-sex marriage. But fortunately, even in those cases, the writer immediately detours and provides more rational and reasoned voices:

In Granite Bay, Bayside Church doesn’t perform same-sex marriages, either. But Curt Harlow, one of the pastors at the 14,000-member nondenominational Christian church, said it’s likely someone has asked.

“We would tell them that everyone is welcome here,” he said. “But we hold to the biblical view that marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s the long and short of it.”

Clergy members from other faiths disagree with that interpretation of the Scriptures.

Hip, hip, hurrah for enlightened clergy members! Right, Sacramento Bee?

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.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Why does it seem that the Bee is pushing the agenda further by asking that question in the headline? OK, maybe it doesn’t just “seem.” So the question becomes, why is a paper that is supposed to be a neutral observer of all things pushing the gay agenda? Do they want church same-sex “weddings” to be guaranteed? Why don’t they just go ahead and do like the couple in Britain did and file a lawsuit against those churches that don’t allow same-sex “weddings” in their houses of worship? So I don’t think this is a mere “puff piece” — this is advocacy, plain and simple.

    • Steve

      Courtrooms seem so much a part of the infotainment industry that I wonder the same thing – when’s the lawsuit? Perhaps forming the story in print is just paving the way for the other mediums. Good PR work, if so.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        Hmm…I wonder if the Bee got paid any extra for doing that PR work? Nice side gig if you can get it.

        • James Stagg

          Increases their circulation in San Francisco, don’t you know?

  • Julia B

    I don’t know about other churches, but the Catholic Church doesn’t agree to marry every person who asks for a church wedding. I’ve heard of people who church shop to find the one that will produce the prettiest photos – no dice – go to your own parish. [there are some exceptions for some non-parish churches, of course] Couples where one is still married in the eyes of the church to somebody else. Couples who don’t want to do the pre-Canaa thing. People might be upset at being turned down for whatever reason, but I’ve never heard of anybody suing. Why should a same sex marriage be treated any differently?

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      “Because, Julia, shut up,” he explained. “Stop being logical.”

      • Julia B

        LOL Can’t help it. I’m a lawyer.

  • Julia B

    BTW I don’t think my comment was about non-journalism issues. I have yet to see any article about the wide variety of reasons why prospective couples are currently turned down at private church facilities – other than same sex ceremonies. The county courthouse is different.

  • Richard Mounts

    Julia B,

    I actually believe that you’re on to a story idea. As a former Catholic parish business manager, I am well aware that a Catholic pastor might well decline a couple (remember: 1 man, 1 woman) the privilege of being married in a parish. It is a privilege to celebrate the rite of marriage in the parish church, not a right.

    Further, even baptism can be problematic. I’ve seen new parents shocked, shocked I say, to be told that since they aren’t Catholic they cannot have their darling newborn baptised in the local parsh. They will protest that some beloved deceased relative was Catholic and Junior was named after said relative. Even after they eventually admit that they have no intention of raising the poor and unaware infant in the Catholic faith; even when they agree that they, the parents, do not belong to, nor even regularly attend, any particular church, they don’t see why the pastor won’t allow the baptism in that parish. Mostly, they think of a baptism as a kind of formal naming ceremony.

    Just imagine the story the New York Times could write about churches that don’t offer rites on demand! They could really blast Catholics and Orthodox churches. This is a consumer society, after all! Now uninformed as I am, I’d benefit from an article that would tell me what rules other denominations have about non-members receiving “services.” (Can’t call them “sacraments” in a Protestant church, can I?)

    Maybe the reporter could pull a sting of some kind. You know, have a “standard” couple visit several churches and inquire about a wedding, a baptism, etc.Then see what develops and slant the article to suit. (He said with a snark.)

    • Julia B

      I, too, would like to see that article or even a series. I’m curious about how other religious groups deal with non-members wanting various “ceremonies”.

      Just today I heard from a friend who is all upset b/c the parish next to the one wherein they reside (where it’s known they don’t attend Mass) won’t baptize their baby. It’s a second marriage without an annulment, the Catholic father never goes to Mass and the mother is a formerly-Lutheran convert. The pastor was trying to compromise by agreeing to the Baptism if they would get a letter from the intended godfather’s home parish that he was in good standing and have that godfather take the classes meant for the parents. That really blew their minds because the godfather is a college student who can’t make the classes – so the baby will be baptized Lutheran. Probably better for the baby to be raised Lutheran by a church-going Mom than baptized Catholic just to please the dad’s parents.

      Bottom – are same sex marriages being treated differently than other irregular situations? In England there have been intimations that church will be required to perform same sex marriages. Are UK churches allowed to turn down other people? Good question I’ve never seen addressed.

      • Julia B

        Woops! of course that should be “Bottom line”.


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