Lowest common denominations?

This has been a big day for news, has it not? In Washington, D.C., President Obama nominated (see tmatt's post) a woman who could be the first Hispanic ( which has prompted some debate over why Benjamin Cardozo didn't count) and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

In California, the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage. The Court upheld the legality of the marriages performed between last May (when the same court upheld the legality of same-sex marriage) and November, when the proposition banning it passed. One safe bet -- religious spokespeople on the right and the left will have something to say. How good journalists are in identifying the players remains to be seen.

I have a quibble with a few things about the New York Times referenced above, but I also recognize that it's really the "first edition" of an story that will continue to reverbrate in the media as opponents and proponents react to the ban.

The California Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage today, ratifying a decision made by voters last year that runs counter to a growing trend of states allowing the practice.

The decision, however, preserves the 18,000 marriages performed between the court's decision last May that same-sex marriage was lawful and the passage by voters in November of Proposition 8, which banned it. Supporters of the proposition argued that the marriages should no longer be recognized.

Do three state decisions for gay marriage and three possibles (all except for Iowa in the Northeast) constitute a "growing trend"? Is this the beginning of a tidal wave or a Left and Right Coast phenomenon? A few paragraphs into the story, John Schwartz underscores his "trend" assertion by referring to a recent poll:

At the same time, attitudes of Americans toward same-sex marriage favor liberalization of the practice. In an April CBS/New York Times poll, 42 percent of those surveyed favored same-sex marriage, up from 21 percent at election time in 2004, when it was a wedge issue during the presidential campaign. That poll suggests the trend will continue into the future: 57 percent of the respondents favored legal recognition for same-sex marriage, compared with 31 percent of respondents over the age of 40.

The data he quotes from this one poll suggest not that all Americans favor 'liberalizing' marriage but that support for same-sex marriage has grown, particularly among those under 30. What explains this apparent dramatic surge between 2004 and 2009? The reporter doesn't explain, nor does he indentify the actual questions asked.

More puzzling for those who want to track ongoing developments among California clergy and laypeople is this paragraph from a story on today's Los Angeles Times website.

But gay marriage advocates captured a wide array of support in the case, with civil rights groups, legal scholars and even some churches urging the court to overturn the measure. Supporters of the measure included many churches and religious organizations.

It wouldn't be remarkable if a Unitarian Universalist congregation supported gay marriage -- if a Southern Baptist congregation came out for it, that would be news! What churches is Dolan talking about? Paragraphs like this are safe, because they are so vague, but tell you absolutely nothing.

Of the early stories I've seen, I like the detailed one on the Washington Post website the best. It was posted two or three hours later than the other ones, meaning that the writer had more time to gather quotes and statements. Writer Ashley Surdin pays a lot of attention to the legal reasoning and implications of the ruling. She also has more quotes (as one might expect) from those who are angry about the judgment than those who are please. But she does include a statement from the Mormons and notes that many "conservative" denominations and politicians were involved in support for Proposition 8.

Where is the "religious left"? Perhaps they will be heard from in days to come. In fact, I suspect that religious voices will once again become prominent in the gay marriage debate in California -- as proponents do not, by any measure, consider this a done deal. It's unfair to judge all coverage by what one sees on the first day -- since so many Prop 8 supporters were driven by religious convictions (and possibly many on the other side) that is a story that deserves to continue to be covered.

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