Yesterday I complained about a Los Angeles Times story that profiled only one couple -- an Evangelical Christian one -- to represent the 61 percent of California voters who voted to limit marriage to one man and one woman. It was their support of the traditional definition of marriage that was ruled unconstitutional by the California State Supreme Court last week. In a later article, Times reporters Maria La Ganga, Hector Becerra and Rebecca Trounson surveyed leaders of various liberal and conservative congregations about how they feel about the ruling opening marriage to same-sex unions.
Ten sources were quoted or otherwise represented. Two were opposed to the ruling and six were overwhelmingly supportive. Of those opposed to the ruling, one was a conservative congregational Christian pastor and one was a Muslim imam. Two additional sources, who were noncommittal, were the president of an ecumenical seminary and a Baptist pastor. The six other sources or examples were a Unitarian Universalist Church (they played Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" at Sunday services); a rabbi at a Reform Jewish congregation (which offers "outreach to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community"); the politically active All Saints Episcopal Church; the president of a multidenominational, theologically liberal Christian seminary; the rabbi of a Conservative Jewish congregation and the rabbi of another Reform Jewish congregation.
So the two examples of clergy who were opposed were a Muslim imam and a conservative Christian pastor? Way to pound the pavement there, team of three reporters! The story focuses on whether the ruling that there is a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage will affect their marriage policies. It seems like a somewhat weird question. Most religious groups base their doctrine of marriage on laws even higher than the California Supreme Court. Mostly, those religious groups that celebrated same-sex unions will continue to do so and those that don't celebrate same-sex unions won't. Still, the most interesting quotes were from clergy for whom the ruling had an effect:
A mile or so away at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Susan Russell led a between-services forum on the religious, legal and political ramifications of the court's decision.
"The justices have ruled in favor of the sanctity of marriage and against bigotry," Russell declared, as the audience cheered. "This is good news for all Californians."
But even though All Saints has been blessing same-sex unions for more than 15 years, the ruling unleashed a wave of uncertainty.
"At this point in the Episcopal Church, our prayer book still defines marriage between a man and a woman," Russell said in an interview. "There's some question about whether we can, within the canons of our church, extend the sacrament to same-gender couples."
The decision raises questions, too, about what All Saints' blessing ceremonies mean anymore, Russell said. Should couples who have had such ceremonies get married too? Will the civil steps suffice? Or should they go through another church ritual? And what kinds of ceremonies will All Saints provide as it moves forward?
The questions are personal for Russell, who celebrated her union with her partner in an official blessing ceremony two years ago. Russell said she and her partner haven't begun discussing what the new ruling will mean for them. As for her church, she said, "I'm glad we have 30 days to think it through."
The article also quotes a Conservative rabbi who says that he did not celebrate the unions of gay and lesbian couples in his past but will as a result of the decision. And the Rev. William Epps, pastor of historic Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, says that he had given no thought to the ruling. Asked if he would marry a homosexual couple, he said it would be something he'd pray about.
All in all, the article bent over backward to represent the views of religious adherents who support same-sex marriage. Their quotes are interesting, lengthy and help the reader really understand their positions. For instance, much of the division between those who retain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and those who don't is based on differing views of Biblical authority. In that vein, these quotes from Conservative Rabbi Harold Schulweis are fascinating:
Schulweis has been a rabbi for more than half a century and has seen his religion evolve, he said, first allowing women into the full "ritual life of the community," then ordaining them as rabbis and cantors, and eventually embracing homosexuals.
"It's one of the most exciting parts of seeing religion as not static and inflexible but as sensitive to different times and different information and different knowledge," Schulweis said.
"What in the world did people in the biblical time know about homosexuals?"
But the richness of these quotes highlight the great failure of the piece. Where are the equivalent quotes from the many religious adherents who oppose redefining marriage as a union between same-sex couples?
When 75 percent of the people taking a position in an article about the religious response to redefining marriage support the change, that's just ridiculous. California has more Roman Catholics than any other state in the nation. I believe that almost one in three Californians is Catholic. California also has more Latter-day Saint temples than any other state in the union save Utah. The idea that the reporters would highlight three Jewish rabbis (all of whom somehow support redefining marriage as a union between same-sex couples), an Episcopal priest, and a Unitarian Universalist Church but only one Christian clergyman who holds the traditional view of marriage as a union of one man and one woman? It would be laughable if it weren't so offensive and inaccurate.
Back when a Massachusetts court changed the legal definition of marriage to permit same-sex couples to marry, one media critic described the general coverage as "upbeat." Acting like 75 percent of the clergy are embracing a legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions would have to qualify as more of the same.