In a move surprising precisely no one who followed his handling of the case, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned California's Proposition 8. Something tells me we'll be looking at media coverage of this story for a while. I'm reading the 138-page ruling now but it will take me a while to get through. Imagine being a reporter on deadline who needs to get a story up as quickly as possible. I may have never said this before when it comes to coverage of Proposition 8 but the Los Angeles Times actually got a lot done in a short period of time, I think. That may be because they had to keep the analysis to a minimum and just get a quick take on the facts out:
A federal judge declared California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional Wednesday, saying that no legitimate state interest justified treating gay and lesbian couples differently from others and that "moral disapproval" was not enough to save the voter-passed Proposition 8.
California "has no interest in differentiating between same-sex and opposite-sex unions," U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said in his 136-page ruling.
That line about morality piqued my interest and, thankfully, reporters Maura Dolan and Carol J. Williams went back to the issue repeatedly. While much of the piece looks forward to the appeals process, they quoted some parts of the ruling, including this one:
The jurist, a Republican appointee who is gay, cited extensive evidence from the trial to support his finding that there was not a rational basis for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. In particular, he rejected the argument advanced by supporters of Proposition 8 that children of opposite-sex couples fare better than children of same-sex couples, saying that expert testimony in the trial provided no support for that argument.
"The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples," Walker wrote.
Immediately I wondered whether the judge thinks that the belief that same-sex couples aren't different from heterosexual couples might also be a moral judgment. Normally when questions like this arise while I'm reading an article, they just hang there. But sure enough, the reporters talked to someone who made a point about that line:
Edward E. (Ned) Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said he believed the judge's ruling was both legally and morally wrong.
"All public law and public policy is developed from some moral perspective, the morality that society judges is important," he said. To say that society shouldn't base its laws on moral views is "hard to even comprehend," he said.
Now certainly it might have been nice to get a quote from someone defending the judge but the piece is pretty long as is. There will be time to hash these things out.
And in general there is much more to be said about this ruling. I can't wait for the first stories to look at his ruling asserting his view that gender is unimportant to marriage.
For those who've read the ruling, I'd be curious to find out what angles you think should be covered by the media. Or what non-judicial angles do you think should be explored. I imagine that this decision will animate some voters come November, for instance. Please let us know if you find any particularly good or loathsome examples of media coverage.
NB: Despite the headline, the comments section is not a place to debate your views on marriage or marriage law. Keep focused on the journalism issues and go fight it out on the other blogs that welcome such fights.