Big news report card: Oklahoma same-sex marriage ruling

Give the New York Times an F for its sketchy coverage of an appeals court striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Times managed to report on Friday’s court decision affecting “conservative-leaning” Oklahoma — as the Times described my home state — without quoting a single source who supports the traditional view of marriage.

On the other hand, The Associated Press deserves an A for its solid news report that quoted sources on both sides of the issue — as fair, unbiased journalism is supposed to do:

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Oklahoma must allow gay couples to wed, prompting a fast, angry response from leaders of a state that has vehemently fought policy changes brought on from outside its borders.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a federal judge’s ruling striking down Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban, which had been approved by more than 75 percent of voters in 2004. Friday’s decision marks the second time the federal appeals court has found the U.S. Constitution protects same-sex marriage.

The court put its 2-1 ruling on hold pending an appeal, meaning same-sex couples won’t be allowed to marry in Oklahoma for now.

“Today’s ruling is another instance of federal courts ignoring the will of the people and trampling on the right of states to govern themselves,” Gov. Mary Fallin said. “In this case, two judges have acted to overturn a law supported by Oklahomans.”

Later, the AP story quoted Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, a lesbian couple who challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban, as well as a senior attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the ban, and the leader of The Equality Network, which supports gave marriage:

“We are so grateful that the 10th Circuit understands what more and more people across this country are beginning to realize — that gay and lesbian people are citizens who should enjoy the same rights as straight people under the law,” Baldwin and Bishop said in a statement.

Other grades:

Los Angeles Times: C.

A few details, a bit of analysis and not much real depth made this an average report, at best.

The Oklahoman: A.

The Oklahoma City newspaper provided the crucial facts and quoted both sides. As a bonus, Religion Editor Carla Hinton reported the reactions of key religious leaders.

Tulsa World: A.

Like the AP and The Oklahoman, the World presented the key facts and allowed voices on both sides to be heard. To its credit, the Tulsa newspaper also disclosed high up (once again) that Bishop is a World editor and Baldwin a former editor for the newspaper.

USA Today: B.

I loved that the national newspaper quoted the judges involved in the decision — on both sides:

As was the case with Utah’s appeal, the panel split 2-1, with Judges Carlos Lucero and Jerome Holmes voting to strike down the ban and Judge Paul Kelly dissenting.

“Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage sweeps too broadly in that it denies a fundamental right to all same-sex couples who seek to marry or to have their marriages recognized regardless of their child-rearing ambitions,” Lucero, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, wrote. “As with opposite-sex couples, members of same-sex couples have a constitutional right to choose against procreation.”

In his dissent, Kelly — named to the bench by President George H.W. Bush — said “any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.” He is the first federal judge to oppose same-sex marriage in any case since the Supreme Court ruled last June that the federal government must recognize such marriages.

“At a time when vigorous public debate is defining policies concerning sexual orientation, this court has intervened with a view of marriage ostensibly driven by the Constitution,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, this approach short-circuits the healthy political processes leading to a rough consensus on matters of sexual autonomy, and marginalizes those of good faith who draw the line short of same-gender marriage.”

USA Today also quoted an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who criticized the decision.

But the newspaper failed to quote the winning plaintiffs — Baldwin and Bishop — which prevents me from giving it the top grade.

Washington Post: D.

Nothing to see here. Move along, folks. The Post offered a skeleton of a news story.

What other coverage did you see and what grades would you give?

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.

  • fredx2

    It is interesting that the flagship papers of the nation (NYT, WaPo) consistently have the worst coverage.

    However, I think almost every story misses the critical point about the Oklahoma decision. The same 10th circuit ruled on the UTAH case,(Utah and Okalahoma are both in the 10th circuit); therefore the 10th circuit was bound by its own precedent. It had to decide the Oklahama case the same way as the Utah case. So the Oklahama decision really adds little.

    However, for those who want to give the impression of a snowballing effect, they would omit that point,and give the impression that yet another court has approved gay marriage.

    In fact, that is the curious part. Why didn’t the 10th circuit, after the Utah case, remand the Oklahoma case back to the District Court? Maybe I am missing something, but that is what is usually done.

    I assume these reporters talked to lawyers, who most likely would have told them that the Oklahoma decision adds little.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X