In a recent post looking at how the media cover the debate surrounding same-sex marriage, commenter Michael had some intriguing thoughts about why the mainstream media struggle to cover opposition to same-sex marriage. he said that the press needs to do a better job of explaining opponents' view that society would suffer if same-sex marriage were to be sanctioned.
Ths argument is not easy, however, to cover. It's based on speculation and slippery slopes and "may, mights, and coulds." Those are not easy stories to cover, because the answer from the other side is "prove it" and well, the anti-SSM can't. But it doesn't mean the story shouldn't be told.
The pro-SSM forces has have been successful at painting opponents as bigots and--while it is true there are plenty of bigots who oppose SSM because they just don't like gay people--the press needs to do better at allowing anti-SSM advocates to give voice to their non-animus based fears and let the public decide on their own whether those fears are good enough reason to deny legal and civil rights.
Journalists like underdogs, and the pro-SSM advocates are the underdogs in this story. The media has played a key role in giving voice to other civil rights struggles and therefore sees a similar role here. But that doesn't mean that the other side should be ignored. I think those stories will come in time, but they are hard to write.
The anti-SSM side is also hindered by a lack of advocates who are good at articulating the position. It's an abstract, philosophical argument that needs people who can make it without coming off as a little unhinged. The movement pundits are awful spokespeople on this issue, although someone like David Blankenhorn comes to mind as someone who hasn't been coopted and can explain the argument reasonably.
I agree with much of Michael's commentary. It's really easy to tell a story about two people of the same sex wanting to get married. It's really difficult to tell an abstract story about why society may want to be cautious about redefining the concept and practice of marriage. So I waited a day to see how the media would cover a major statement against same-sex marriage from a group of Catholic bishops. Surprisingly, I haven't seen anything about it. I was tipped off to the statement by religion reporter Gary Stern of the Journal News but he only mentioned it on his blog (which I read every day).
The statement from New York's eight bishops is lengthy and puts forth a Natural Law argument against the state redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. A few readers had asked to be pointed to arguments such as these and they should definitely read the whole thing. The bishops say that while there are numerous theological and religious arguments against same-sex marriage, religious values are not the sole source of opposition to the plan:
To be clear, the state's historic recognition of marriage is based on the biological fact that the physical union of a man and a woman tends to lead to children. Common sense and empirical evidence tell us that children's welfare is best served in most cases by their being reared in a stable home with their mother and father. This fact has been recognized and intuited by societies for millennia. Encouraging marriage between a man and a woman, therefore, serves the state's interests, as well-reared children who live with their mother and father are much more likely to grow to be good citizens, thereby, creating wealth, stability and security for the members of the society.
On the other hand, there is no compelling state interest in granting legal recognition to same-sex relationships. The simple fact that two people have a committed relationship is not a reason for the state to confer upon it the status of marriage. If affection and commitment were the only prerequisites for a marital relationship, then it is conceivable that any two or more individuals could claim the right to a civil union, no matter what their relationship.
Recognizing same sex unions will only serve to devalue marriage even more than what has already occurred in recent years. Numerous scholars have written extensively of the negative impact on children and society resulting from our nation's growing rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births over the last four decades.
Societal acceptance of casual divorce and single parenting was initially viewed by many as the natural progression of an enlightened society, just as "same-sex marriage" is viewed by some today. . . .
But what about the argument of proponents of "same-sex marriage" that traditional marriage is a form of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons? This is not the case, as marriage by definition is a union of physically and emotionally complementary male and female partners. However, it is true that homosexual persons sometimes face unjust discrimination in certain areas. This is wrong and must be opposed by everyone. But the state need not ignore the realities of natural law or discard thousands of years of human tradition to address such issues.
The bishops emphasize the consequences of family breakdown, the importance of a mother and father and the consensus among sociologists that children suffer from divorce and single parenting. They say that marriage has worked well throughout history and that same-sex marriage furthers the disconnect between procreation and marriage while promoting the notion that non-traditional families serve children as well as traditional ones.
This natural law argument is not exactly unheard of. Reporters may need to bone up on it to properly include it in their reporting. But Catholic bishops, among others, can -- and should -- certainly be interviewed for stories on the matter. If they want to personalize the natural law argument, simply showing the benefits of children having both a mother and father should suffice. Natural law offers, of course, a systematic approach to the family. Just because it is complex doesn't mean that reporters can't include its adherents in discussions about same-sex marriage rather than ignoring the debate.