To the surprise of few, the American public hasn't flocked to the gay marriage side just because the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. It may surprise some that public approval of same-sex marriage has actually dropped a bit, according to a new Associated Press poll.
A bigger surprise to me: Mainstream media show little curiosity about it.
Sure, they're reposting and reprinting the report, in varying lengths. But are they localizing reactions? Seeking explanations? Not as of this writing.
The poll results are attention-getting enough:
The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.
The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.
Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.
We'll note in passing the "frame game" wording, as tmatt calls it: religious "liberties" versus gay "rights." But in this story, the numbers are more interesting:
According to the poll, 42 percent support same-sex marriage and 40 percent oppose it. The percentage saying they favor legal same-sex marriage in their state was down slightly from the 48 percent who said so in an April poll. In January, 44 percent were in favor.
Asked specifically about the Supreme Court ruling, 39 percent said they approve and 41 percent said they disapprove.
Respondents were also divided over business exemptions; 51 percent said businesses should not be allowed to deny service to gay couples, but 59 percent said yes for "wedding-related businesses with religious objections." That later number compares with 52 percent in April.
The poll reveals some contradictions in attitudes, but thus far, many mainstream media aren't following up. Huffington Post, which has long been open about its gay-biased coverage, simply reran the AP story. So did WAFF, a TV station out of Huntsville, Ala.
ABC News condenses the findings, deleting nearly everything except the numbers. ABC didn't even include a video with the story. The main refinement was four subheads.
Why would approval of same-sex marriage fall in the wake of a historic Supreme Court decision? After all, previous polls have shown a steady rise in public views on same-sex marriage since 2009. Was it some civic equivalent of buyer's remorse? Or is it just one of those temporary downturns, like those in 2005 and 2008? I'll bet someone has a handle on that.
Nor do I see media seeking local reaction to the AP poll, although the report was posted on Monday. AP itself collected a few individual comments: one from Tennessee, one from Washington state, two from Michigan. Why couldn't other media do the same for their readerships and broadcast areas?
They could also have asked local psychologists, sociologists and political scientists. Religious leaders -- conservative, moderate, liberal -- would have been a good choice, too (one that AP didn't consult either, BTW).
Into the vacuum of analysis, partisan media naturally flow. Baptist Press, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, turned out a reaction piece more than 300 words longer than the AP story itself.
BP's story surveys reactions of mainline denominations toward the Supreme Court ruling, noting the longtime embrace of gay rights by the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ. The story also stresses that the leaders are more liberal than laity in the pews.
Predictably, the story is biased toward conservative sources, mirroring the liberal bias of many mainstream media. BP approvingly quotes Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, that the mainliners were "compromising their sexual standards before the country itself compromised its laws on marriage."
BP also gets live quotes from a representative of the American Baptist Churches. All other sources, including those of the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- are quoted from e-mails or press releases. It's evident which side BP favors.
One surprise: accepting the frame game. The article says that "gay affirming denominations are more progressive regarding marriage than the culture." I would not have expected a conservative news agency like BP to use the opposition's labels, like "gay affirming" and "progressive."
The conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee does get a lot of ink, though -- 212 words worth. Interesting perspective, though. The group's president, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, says local mainline churches may get hit with discrimination lawsuits if they decline to host gay marriages.
"None of them will be able to appeal, if challenged, to the 'sincerely held religious belief' of their higher governing body," LaBerge says. She adds that it will be even harder for churches that have hosted weddings of "non-believers and members of other faith traditions."
The more liberal NewNowNext, on the other hand, seeds a negative word or two in nearly every paragraph. It's an "upsetting new poll." It's "disappointing." And it's a "real shocker" (written sarcastically) that Republicans prefer religious "liberties" to gay "rights" (quote marks mine to emphasize the framing), but Democrats prefer the opposite.
Understand, I am not declaring, "Comment! Opinionate! Full speed ahead!" Anyone who has read me in GR knows what I think of newswriters using their stories as editorial space. What I am saying is that they can find informed observers: scholars, activists, civic figures. And Baptist Press demonstrated the range of religious views on gay marriage. Quote some of them.
You don’t have to judge. You also don’t have to parrot the wires. Just work your beat. Show some curiosity.