What's the fuss with same-sex marriage?

GayMarriage 01Last week I criticized a Los Angeles Times story for spinning the results of a poll to make it seem like opposition to same-sex marriage wasn't significant. Though supporters of traditional marriage had a 19-point margin of victory over those who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, the Times referred to that margin as slim, narrow, "a bit" of a bare majority. This week, Times reporter David Savage wrote a piece arguing that people shouldn't worry about the California Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on gay marriage. The poll results were included to support the argument. But this time, they had a completely different spin:

However, recent national polls have shown what the Pew Research Center called a "stable majority" opposed to marriage for gays and lesbians. Last year, it said that among those it surveyed, 55% opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, whereas 36% supported the idea. This was roughly the same result as in 2004, when the Massachusetts court ruled.

It is also similar to the Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll of Californians taken last week. By a 19-point margin, respondents favored a measure targeted for the November ballot that would limit marriage to a man and a woman.

I'm so confused! Can't we get the Times reporters to get their story straight? Numbers are whatever you want them to be, apparently. Anyway, Savage's article nevertheless continues with the advocacy theme we've seen in previous Times stories. He says that the court decision won't have a ripple effect. The headline is "California gay marriage ruling isn't seen as trend":

As the nation's most populous state, California often sets in motion social and political trends that sweep across the country. But legal experts on both sides of the fight over same-sex marriage say that the California Supreme Court's ruling giving gays and lesbians a right to marry is not likely to have a ripple effect.

For more than a decade, conservative activists have erected a series of legal barriers to prevent one state's move toward recognizing gay marriages from setting in motion a national wave. In 1996 they won passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which said that same-sex marriages performed in states that allow them do not have to be honored by the federal government or other states.

And they won laws in 42 states to limit marriage to a man and a woman. In 27 of them, these are constitutional amendments that cannot be overridden by judges or lawmakers.

It's just a strange argument. It's not like "conservative activists" woke up one day deciding on a whim that marriage should be defined legally as a one man, one woman arrangement. Presumably their successful efforts in support of a traditional definition of marriage were in response to something. That "something" they have been responding to is a recent but rapid movement in support of redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships. Is that movement not bolstered by the California Supreme Court ruling? That's what Savage writes:

"While the California ruling is very significant, a lot of states have already taken action on this," said Christine Nelson, an analyst who tracks the issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. She said these states have made it as difficult as possible for judges to give legal recognition to marriages between two men or two women.

For that reason, many experts foresee the move toward same-sex marriage in the United States as taking place over a generation -- if at all -- resulting not from quick and decisive legal victories but from slowly changing attitudes that eventually carry over to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh, so the California Supreme Court ruling has nothing to do with overturning the definition of marriage held by the West for thousands of years -- that's going to be overturned a long time from now . . . like in a generation.

It is hilarious to me that the phrase "over a generation -- if at all" makes it into a story. What does that mean? Either marriage will not be redefined at all, or it will happen pretty darn quickly. I think even people who aren't reporters could have figured that a redefinition of marriage will either happen or not happen.

Then Savage compares opposition to same-sex marriage with opposition to interracial marriage, because we all know that those are completely equivalent and also to make sure that opponents of same-sex marriage are smeared as bigots. Here's the crux of Savage's argument, though:

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the gay rights movement a big victory when it struck down as unconstitutional the anti-sodomy laws that branded gays as "deviants" and said they could be prosecuted for having sex at home. By then, only a few states, including Texas, had such laws on the books.

By contrast, the number of states with laws prohibiting marriage for gay or lesbian couples has been steadily growing this decade, not shrinking. A look at a map of the nation would suggest the gay-marriage movement is blocked, except for beachheads on the two coasts. Most states have amended their constitutions to take the marriage issue away from judges.

samesexmarriage 02Again, though, this movement in support of defining marriage traditionally is a responsive movement. The only reason marriage laws are being written to exclude same-sex partnerships is because the movement to include same-sex partnerships in marriage has had so much success.

The argument -- that the court ruling is inconsequential, is also undermined when Savage quotes someone saying that the California precedent will be enormously influential with the Connecticut court looking at the issue in the coming months.

Anyway, despite promises that the article quotes "legal experts from both sides" of the marriage debate, I only found quotes from one side. For instance, here's the subtle ending to the article:

Nonetheless, gay rights activists and many academics are convinced that a generational shift in attitudes will lead toward the acceptance of same-sex marriage. UCLA law professor Jonathan Varat said the students he encountered tended to favor "equality for same-sex relationship."

"I wonder, as do many of them," he said, "whether a generation from now, people will look back on all this and wonder what all the fuss was about."

Ah yes, what is the fuss about? We have no idea since arguments against redefining marriage are always clumsily written if portrayed at all, of course. There's no retort, for instance, to this question -- posed rhetorically -- about whether we'll all wonder what the fuss was about. Nope, the California court ruling will have no effect, no effect at all -- and yet we'll all look back on those bigots -- who are morally equivalent to racists -- in just a few short years and wonder what was the big deal. At least if the Los Angeles Times has anything to do with it.

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