A same-sex marriage story that makes you go hmmmmm …

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Here at GetReligion, we’ve repeatedly highlighted the apparent new normal on mainstream media coverage of same-sex marriage.

I’ve complained (more than once or twice) that The Associated Press seems to have decided to quote only same-sex marriage proponents — and not opponents — in its stories.

So as I was scanning the headlines on the Pew Research Center’s “Religion in the News” page (one of my favorite bookmarks), this one caught my attention:

AP: Gay rights fight comes to Texas, despite ban

A native Texan, I clicked on the story link, curious if the story would conform to the new normal or actually quote key voices on all sides of the reported fight.

Let’s start at the top:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One couple wants to get married, while the other just wants theirs recognized. A third couple wants a divorce, while the fourth wants theirs finalized. If all win their lawsuits, they could overturn the Texas ban on same-sex marriage.

A federal court in San Antonio will hear arguments next month from the attorneys representing the couples who want to live lawfully wedded. The Texas Supreme Court is considering the cases of the couples who want their out-of-state marriages legally dissolved.

They are challenging a constitutional ban on gay and lesbian marriages approved by 1.7 million Texas voters in 2005. At the time, only Massachusetts allowed gay marriage and conservatives hoped to pass a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Eight years later, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages, and New Mexico is allowing marriages pending a decision by that state’s Supreme Court later this year. The U.S. Supreme Court has also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying federal authorities cannot deny the rights of couples legally married under state law.

Well, four paragraphs in, the story really hasn’t quoted anyone.

I kept reading, and the entire story — all 660 words of it — reads more like a boring research paper than an actual enlightening piece of journalism.

The couples who sued are never identified. The only actual humans named are U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. But the story — if you want to call it that — contains not a single comment inside quote marks, pro or con.

Yawn.

Attribution — by which quality journalism identifies the source of its information — is just as lacking.

For example, consider this paragraph:

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Where’s the other side in atheist lawsuit story?

Religion News Service had an interesting story recently about atheists challenging Uncle Sam over nonprofit financial reporting.

It’s a pretty straightforward account:

Nonbelievers are challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s special exemptions for religious organizations in a federal court in Kentucky, saying churches and other religious groups should have the same financial rules as other nonprofit groups.

If they prevail, it will change the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious organizations, and require the same transparency of donors, salaries and other expenditures that secular nonprofits must currently meet.

So far, so good.

Then comes this quote:

“This is a very strong case,” said Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, a national advocacy group and lead plaintiff in the case. “It seems to be straight-up discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Wow, the public relations director and lead plaintiff thinks it’s “a very strong case.” I’m sorry, but that made me chuckle. He’s not exactly an unbiased source.

I kept reading:

The case centers around who must file IRS Form 990, an annual reporting statement that provides information on a group’s mission, programs and finances.

Current tax law requires all tax-exempt organizations to file a Form 990 financial report — except churches and church-related organizations. A few state, political and educational organizations are exempt as well if their annual revenues fall below certain amounts.

This means the IRS treats religious organizations differently than it does all other organizations, the suit holds. It claims the IRS policy is a violation of the First Amendment and the due process promised under the Fifth Amendment.

The deeper I got into the story, the more I wondered if RNS would quote anyone besides the atheists.

The answer: Not really.

Perhaps RNS felt like it satisfied its journalistic responsibility with this note:

IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

But given the broad complaints made about churches and church-related organizations, why not quote a religious source?

Earlier this year, Bob Smietana wrote a piece for USA Today about the federal government trying to give a tax break to Annie Laurie Gaylor, head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

From that story:

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