One of the media templates we see frequently in discussion about whether to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions or other groupings is a supposedly rhetorical question about how such a change in law would ever affect anyone other than gay couples. I've always thought it showed a surprising lack of imagination for reporters to not be able to realize that changing marriage law, whether you support it or oppose it, is radical. It was radical when marriage law was changed to allow married couples to dissolve their unions with ease, for instance. It had massive changes for American society and men and women and children. And it would be radical, of course, to change the law to say that gender or number are unimportant characteristics or limitations on marriage. I sometimes re-read Vaughn Walker's ruling on Proposition 8 and his comments on gender, for instance, are quite fascinating (e.g. "Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage."). And his decision was based in part on his belief that certain religious beliefs, including those I subscribe to as a traditional Christian, harm homosexuals. He calls out dozens of religious leaders and says their statements regarding Scripture are wrong. I can't help but think a reporter might pick up on how a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Walker's decision might have some ramifications for those who confess traditional Christian teachings on sex, particularly as it relates to homosexuality.
Redefining marriage to include same-sex unions would not just be an issue of the law but also of social norms. When the law changes or when the cultural and political elites promulgate a cause, it has an effect on these norms. ("Duh," you say.) And a big issue that is being advanced by the mainstream media is the normalization of homosexual behavior and relationships. This is not just done by, for instance, downplaying stories about how the monogamy norm isn't as much of a norm in homosexual relationships or explaining why that norm is different for people who may procreate. It's not about showing a lack of interest in how changing marriage law might change the educational environment in schools, particularly as it relates to those who uphold traditional Christian teachings. It's also about presenting those opposed to redefining marriage to include same-sex couples in a negative light or failing to simply tell their story with the same care we see with those who propose changing laws and norms.
About the only good thing I can say about the media coverage in this light is that more and more journalists are being honest about their inability or unwillingness to cover this issue fairly. (More on that in days to come, I hope.)
A small example that seems related to this is a story about boxer Manny Pacquiao. Basically what happened is that a blogger interviewed the boxer and Philippine legislator. They talked about same-sex marriage, which Pacquiao opposes.
The blogger -- note, the blogger -- added some passages from Leviticus. Then the USA Today
aggregator reporter Tom Weir took the blog post and redrafted it for his own use. In the process, he got confused about the portions that Pacquiao had said and the portions that the blogger had written. And he made a bit of a mess of it. But here's what he wrote up -- and keep in mind this is not actually an accurate portrayal of the source material:
The boxing champion, who has been outspoken about his religious convictions in recent months, has challenged the president on the issue of same-sex marriage.
In an interview with the National Conservative Examiner, Pacquiao stated his position on the issue:
"God only expects man and woman to be together and to be legally married, only if they are in love with each other.
"It should not be of the same sex so as to adulterate the altar of matrimony, like in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah of Old."
Pacquiao also invoked Old Testament, and recited Leviticus 20:13, saying: "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
I think there were actually better Pacquiao quotes to have highlighted but it's kind of obvious what's going on here -- an attempt to make things as salacious as possible.
It turns out that Pacquiao didn't recite Leviticus or invoke it -- he hasn't even read it (and if not for my Bible as Literature course in college or the interminable Bible Study we did on it last year at church -- Hi, Pastor! -- I may not have either). So the USA Today blogger -- who still hasn't corrected his piece despite Pacquiao himself calling him out on it -- was wrong. There's not much more to say about it except that it fits the template that the media seem to follow of having no interest in learning anything substantive about why people oppose same-sex marriage, whether on religious grounds or otherwise.
As bad as the lazy USA Today piece was, it was much better than the LA Weekly story which misinformed under the headline "Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be ‘Put to Death'":
Manny Pacquiao, who lives and trains in Los Angeles, is probably in deep shit in this liberal city of brotherly love.
That’s because the boxing champion said that gay men “must be put to death.”
Or not really. Whatever. The man quoted as saying that, in fact, didn't say that.
What's really important is that these issues be handled as clumsily as possible. Their attempts to CYA while correcting can be seen here.
Cut to the fall-out over the story, though, and I thought that this Los Angeles Times story did a great job of handling it. It clarified the issue -- although it was somewhat confusing if you didn't know the actual story. (A KTLA news clip here is actually just inaccurate on what actually went down.) The story itself is about the rather shocking news that Pacquiao has been banned from a shopping mall in Los Angeles because the owner of the mall opposes Pacquiao's religious beliefs. The Los Angeles Times story included this passage which would be hilarious if not so sad:
On Monday night, the Grove, owned by shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso, posted a statement on Twitter saying Pacquiao is not allowed on the premises.
The tweet reads: "Boxer Manny Pacquiao is not welcome at @TheGroveLA. @TheGroveLA is a gathering place for all Angelenos, not a place for intolerance."
Pacquiao was scheduled to be interviewed Wednesday at the Grove for the TV show "Extra."
Pacquiao, a devout Catholic, is a congressman in his homeland of the Philippines, where he has a record of voting along conservative lines.
Sounds like intolerance is doing just fine at the Grove LA, eh? Anyway, the Los Angeles Times just played it straight and kept to the facts and ended up having a much more worthwhile and accurate blog post than anyone else in this story.
I know it's all politics all the time these days in American media, but surely we can shoehorn in a few stories exploring whether tolerance in our society will extend to those who agree with what Jesus said about marriage being a one-flesh union between male and female, right? And I don't mean to shortchange all the other religious groups who believe the same. Or the people who oppose changing marriage law on non-religious grounds. But I'd like to see some stories about what it means for people outside American newsrooms if tolerance doesn't extend that far.
Maybe it doesn't deserve the non-stop coverage we're seeing over President Obama announcing he supports redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. Maybe it deserves much more. But certainly things seem a tad out of whack right now. And that's not good for society at large or for the future of American media.