Last month, Mollie criticized reporters for marginalizing opponents of same-sex marriage. Rather than presenting marriage traditionalists in full, journalists portrayed them as fringe types. That was more than two weeks ago. How are journalists doing now? Based on three recent stories, I am afraid to say that coverage has improved only slightly.
The Los Angeles Times' story today gives a flavor of the coverage:
Opponents of gay marriage made a pointed effort today to keep a low profile on the first full day of same-sex ceremonies in California.
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, wrote in an e-mail to supporters that they will battle in November with a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.
Prentice had a cautionary message for those protesting Tuesday's ceremonies. Media outlets, he warned, "would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. . . . We must not fall into this trap."
There were only a scattering of isolated protests around the state.
A few people carried placards at the county facilities in Norwalk and Santa Ana. In San Diego, a lone protester stood on the sidewalk and cried out a message against same-sex marriage.
"It's just not right for a man to marry a man; it's just not normal," said the protester, Dennis Agajanian, a member of Bikers for Christ.
It's fair for reporters Cara Mia DeMass and Jessica Garrison to focus on the tactics of traditional-marriage supporters. But their definition of these leaders and activists is awfully constricted: It's limited to political and civic types.
While the reporters mention that churches belong to the ProtectMarriage.com coalition, they don't quote any church leaders. That's an oversight. Church leaders played a key role in approving the state's gay marriage ban in 2000. And they are likely to play a similarly influential role this fall. Check out the number of churches mentioned in the coalition's website.
George Orwell once wrote that in times of revolution or crisis, it's necessary to restate the obvious. In that spirit, I give one cheer to the San Francisco Chronicle. In a profile of same-sex marriage opponents in rural California, reporter Cecilia M. Vega quoted from one woman whose objections to gay marriage are religious:
Like many of her neighbors in Orland, religious beliefs are at the heart of 76-year-old Rae Whitaker's opposition to same-sex marriage.
She lives with her husband, who was a bomber pilot in World War II, behind their son's dentist office. The entryway wall is covered in photos of her seven children, 24 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren plus one large photo of former President Ronald Reagan, who Whitaker says is "just about my favorite person after Jesus Christ and my husband." On her coffee table, she has framed photos of Nancy and Ronald Reagan and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.
In 2000, she rallied local support for Prop. 22, and she says that if her health is good, she has every intention this fall of working for a measure to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
"Can they produce children?" Whitaker asked about gay and lesbian couples. "The husband and wife are basic to the family ... God ordained the family. He set up the family as woman and man."
Reporter Vega did not ignore or marginalize religious Californians. Yet her portrait of them is reminiscent of that famous photo of Goldwater's supporters -- the unsmiling, elderly couple sitting down and waving a wan banner. Every single one the gay-marriage opponents quoted in the story is not only old, but also an octogenarian or nonagenarian. Younger opponents, the reader presumes, are either Republicans or fuddy duddies.
This narrow portrait serves the ideological purposes of the gay-rights cause. Only old folks and religious fundamentalists oppose us. But it does not serve the interests of journalism. When the state voted in 2000 on a gay-marriage initiative, 61 percent of voters approved the ban. One-third of registered Democrats voted for the measure, while three-fifths of Catholics did. Where are the voices of these people in the Chronicle's story?
Father Jon Magoulias of Modesto's Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation said:
"Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. ...
"As the coming kingdom is concerned, there is 'neither male nor female.' But the kingdom has not yet come, and the male and female roles must remain distinct, especially in regard to what we understand family to be. Each has a specific role to fulfill. Obviously, there is overlapping in many areas. But for the male to replace the female or vice versa has never been in God's plan.
"A good example is marriage between two males or two females. This can never be acceptable because it makes marriage as instituted by God an abomination."
Magoulias also pointed out that Paul, writer of many of the New Testament letters, uses marriage to describe the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and humanity, his bride.
"In this regard, Saint Paul tells a man and a woman entering marriage that the icon of Christ and his church should be their role model."
I liked the fact that Bee reporter Sue Nowicki let the priest speak at length. She also quoted the local Catholic bishop and a former homosexual man. Compared to her big-city counterparts, Nowicki is practically an apostle of religious diversity.
Yet Nowicki isn't of course. She is a reporter, not an advocate. (Photo by user Philocrites used under a Creative Commons license.)