Pod people: Same-sex marriage on the march

Pod people: Same-sex marriage on the march December 9, 2012

On this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discussed Dave Brubeck’s sacred music and religious life — and how substantive discussion of same were missing from many obituaries about the jazz great. We also discussed the general cheerleading of coverage dealing with same-sex marriage.

The hook for that was the stories leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision about whether to hear the rulings related to California’s Proposition 8 decision. On Friday, as tmatt noted, the court announced it would take up that case, as well as the one related to federal benefits for same-sex couples.

In a post about this tenor of coverage from last week, I wrote

I can’t help but think that the same media that has written for approaching a full decade on one U.S. Senator’s thoughts on a gay-related court case might have a tad more interest in the particulars of an important court ruling with implications for religious exercise, gender roles and kinship. But maybe that’s just me.

There’s still time for the court to say it’s going to take up one of the cases. Let us know if you see any coverage that deviates from the expected narrative.

Reader The Old Bill responded:

Yes, Mollie, it’s you. You think a reporter should report on what is happening, not what he feels should be happening. The press treats a complete change in what marriage has always been as something that has but one side. Anyone who might question this is, as the judge said, irrational and “on the wrong side of history.”

What is reported depends a lot on what is assumed.

I saw no deviation from that standard narrative this weekend in the early reports on the SCOTUS decision. The terminology of one side of the debate has been more or less adopted by the mainstream media. It’s not uncommon to see the phrase “marriage equality” used — outside of quotes, much less scare quotes — in mainstream reports. While those opposed to changes in marriage law say that “same-sex marriage” is an ontological impossibility — akin to saying “square circles” and calling for “shape equality” — the media usually fail to mention this perspective or put it at the end of a story in quotes from the token opposition.

There just hasn’t been any coverage of the substance of arguments against changing marriage law, much less a discussion of the consequences of same, outside of some one-sided enthusiasm. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know if you follow this, no matter your personal views on marriage law. So in the New York Times article announcing the SCOTUS decision, we learn in the fourth paragraph:

The court’s move comes against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. After the elections last month, the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage increased by half, to nine.

This paragraph comes right after a paragraph saying that the court is to decide whether one of the cases is constitutional, an interesting juxtaposition of popularity and principle. In the 15th paragraph, we get this brief, anodyne quote from someone opposed to changing marriage law:

Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, said the court should address the broader question but say no. “What’s at stake,” he said, “is whether the Constitution demands a redefinition of marriage and whether states can even vote on this issue.”

Just interesting.

Also interesting was that the only other next-day story from the New York Times was reported by five reporters and was outspokenly only about one side of the debate. The headline is “Worry Tempers Joy Over Gay Marriage’s Moment in Court.”

The entire article is just quote after quote after quote after quote of  people who, like those in the New York Times newsroom, all think the same thing about what the definition of marriage should be. And that’s fine, I guess, but isn’t it weird to not have an article about those people on the other side of the debate?

Do they have worry and joy, too? Do their views matter at all? Why can’t we talk about them in news articles? Why the complete lock-down on just talking to them and hearing from them and learning what they think about this step?

If you have five reporters covering that story, maybe you could peel one or two off to talk to a real-live supporter of traditional marriage laws. Or is it, as the Times public editor put it in her column criticizing the paper for failing to cover the Bradley Manning hearings, “Such decisions seem to say: ‘It’s news when we say it’s news.'”

That’s a lot of power for a paper to hold, but it should be used wisely. There’s nothing to fear from simply hearing from multiple sides of a given issue. Perhaps there’s even much to gain from such a journalistic approach.

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  • FW Ken

    the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage increased by half, to nine.

    That sentence might have read “for the first time, same-sex marriage by popular vote”. With one possible exception (Washington D.C.?), ssm was passed by legislation or judicial fiat.

  • northcoast

    Actually the Washington State had passed such legislation, and it was challenged by the citizen’s petition which led to the ballot initiative. I hope that nobody was confused by the irony that the initiative was so worded that those of us who signed the petition for the initiative would find ourselves voting NO.

  • Kodos

    Mainstream journalists ought to be hanging their heads in shame; the bias to be seen in current reporting on homosexual issues is obvious and inexcusable from a traditional American journalistic perspective (the tradition of yellow journalism aside). Fair minded readers can see this bias in the language and terminology used in the reports, the photographs attached to the stories, the narrative angle of the reports, the number and substance of interviews that are included, and the amount of coverage give over to these topics.

    But where we find ourselves today was all predicted (or advocated) by two gay activists over 20 years ago. In the late 1980’s Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote an essay entitled “The Overhauling of Straight America” and a book entitled “After the Ball” that encouraged gay activists to “flood” the mainstream media with gay-themed advertising and entertainment. But this was to be a carefully directed and controlled flood of images and ideas.

    First, Kirk and Madsen urged the media to feature “unexceptional” (their term) gays and lesbians in advertising and entertainment programming (leathermen, NAMBLA members, promiscuous gays, and other potentially offensive homosexuals were to be avoided), and these boringly average LGBT people were to be placed within a “victim” narrative designed to elicit sympathy from heterosexuals.

    Kirk and Madsen also advised gay activists to “muddy the moral waters” (again, their term) by trumpeting the opinions of theological liberals and scientists (especially in the social sciences) who support homosexuality as “ethical” or “Christian” or “normal” or “healthy”. This would be paired with a campaign to play on the patriotic sensibilities of Americans by appealing to concepts like civil rights and equality when discussing homosexuality.

    And finally, Kirk and Madsen felt that opponents of homosexuality should be openly stereotyped and mocked as being slack-jawed yokels at best, vicious homophobes at worst.

    It’s amazing to see how the MSM have completely adopted Kirk and Madsen’s framework. So much so that it doesn’t occur to those in the media – and to increasing numbers of media consumers – that there are other ways of seeing these issues.

    Just one example: when (if ever) have the MSM discussed the “transgressive” sexual relationships gay intellectuals and activists have advocated privately and in the gay press as a means of destroying the “heterosexist” culture of America? These discussions are out there and have been going on for years, so why the disinterest from the MSM? Where are the investigative reporters tackling the less savory sides of gay culture? It’s there and it’s pretty open (care to join me for a day out at the Folsom Street Fair, anyone?) and journalists who normally salivate at the chance to do an expose on a religious sex scandal suddenly get prudish when it comes to reporting the more proudly transgressive elements within mainstream LBGT culture.

  • Will

    ” (leathermen, NAMBLA members, promiscuous gays, and other potentially offensive homosexuals were to be avoided),”
    …and probably, category traitors such as members of the Log Cabin Club and the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Of course you almost never see in the media that the homophilia culture sweeping parts of the western world- and especially parts of America–is a cultural creation and artifact. Kodos certainly reveals a lot of info buried very deeply by the mass media.
    There is also an article on the internet (Atlantic Monthly) by Alice Dreger on the research of anthropologists Barry and Bonnie Hewlet of Washington State University. It is titled: “Where Masturbation and Homosexuality Do NOT Exist.” It is the result of research into the sexual cultures of a number of central African peoples. But very few in the media want to look at anything that might puncture holes in the movement to homosexualize America.

  • Gina

    Oh yes, there is something to fear. By showing multiple sides, they might have to admit that opponents of same-sex marriage are actual people with actual reasons for their point of view, instead of cartoonish bigoted one-dimensional villains. And that is too scary a possibility for them to face.

  • bob

    The first day of same sex marriage in Washington was Sunday. King County opened the courthouse on a Sunday (!?) For the first of such weddings to occur the day it went into effect. Not one word in any media suggested this might be unusual or a little biased. It feels a little odd to go to bed one night and wake up to discover the world around you now thinks you’re a Nazi.