On threesomes and marriage

triplearch22The mainstream media really hasn't done a very good job covering the heated debate over whether to extend the institution of marriage to same-sex couples. It's been a problem for years and the coverage has been so amazingly one-sided that it's surprising that all 30 states that have asked voters to define marriage as a heterosexual institution have done so. Part of it is that the mainstream media has long been an elite institution with views on homosexuality somewhat out-of-step with the general populace. Five years ago, for instance, Pew found that journalists were more than twice as likely to self identify as liberals than conservatives and that 88 percent of journalists felt society should accept homosexuality compared with 51 percent of the general public. That same poll found that nearly half said that journalists' ideological views color their work. Probably none of this is surprising to any media observer. But it means we get a number of emotional puff pieces about same-sex marriage with hardly any -- if any -- seriously engaging the concerns that the majority of voters in the majority of states have registered about making changes to how society has viewed marriage since its inception.

A few years ago, Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote (in a column I can no longer find online) that "critics who say the paper has had few, if any, features portraying opponents of this social change in a positive or even neutral light have a point. The overall picture, it seems to me, could use more balance."

Okay. It took five years but the Post found one -- and only one, the reporter repeatedly reminds us -- supporter of traditional marriage who it can portray in a "positive or even neutral light." It doesn't go deep in describing his arguments and it throws pretty much every other traditional marriage supporter under the bus in doing so -- but it's not actively hostile (toward him -- and only him) like so many other pieces about traditional marriage activists are. Here's how it opens:

The nightmares of gay marriage supporters are the Pat Robertsons of the world. The James Dobsons, the John Hagees -- the people who specialize in whipping crowds into frothy frenzies, who say things like Katrina was caused by the gays.

The gay marriage supporters have not met Brian Brown. They should. He might be more worth knowing about.

That's a pretty weaselly introduction, there. I'm sure the Post newsroom doesn't feel the same affection for James Dobson as it does for Vice President Joe Biden but a few things here. Maybe they all look alike from the cozy confines of the newsroom but not every evangelical or charismatic Christian believes the same thing. It's unfair to describe them as "whipping crowds into frothy frenzies" and while it's a butchering of the actual statement regarding hurricanes being acts of God, be careful who you ascribe it to. Thanks Snopes!

Anyway, you get the basic device reporter Monica Hesse is using: Most traditional marriage supporters are crazed bigots but there's this one guy who is not vomiting while his head is spinning around. His name is Brian Brown.

But apart from the misrepresentation of what a lot of people believe, the device is probably the only way you're going to get a feature profile of someone with his views in the paper. And within its own logic, it works. Brown is the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which works to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Hesse characterizes the aforementioned Christian-types as "fringes" who appeal to the far wings:

But this country is not made up of people in the far wings, right or left. This country is made up of a movable middle, reasonable people looking for reasonable arguments to assure them that their feelings have a rational basis.

Brian Brown speaks to these people. He has a master's degree from Oxford, and completed course work for a doctorate in history from UCLA. He shoulders the accusations of bigotry; it's horrible when people say that your life's mission is actually just prejudice. He tries to help people see that opposing gay marriage does not make them bigots, that the argument should have nothing to do with hate or fear, and everything to do with history and tradition.

The reason Brian Brown is so effective is that he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.

You mean you can be sane and support traditional marriage? It's a testament to the one-sided nature of the media treatment of this issue that this line could be published in a national newspaper. And yet, while it's not news to many voters throughout the country that the arguments in support of traditional marriage could be considered sane, it probably is news to many media elite and their readers. And so we get this curious profile that treats Brown remarkably charitably. I mean, it quotes a critics but one saying relatively nice things about him.

These features are sort of a staple of the Post's Style section. They are usually very light and breezy and hardly critical of the subject of the profile. Brown's is no exception. (For another puffy profile in last week's Washington Post, you simply must read this one of 'The It Girl of a New Generation Of Lobbyists', Heather Podesta. The description of why she decided to take her third husband's last name will make you laugh or cry. Or both.)

Here's the portion that discusses Brown's faith and a bit of his beliefs:

Brown is Catholic. He converted at Oxford, where he studied after a BA at Whittier College (he grew up surfing in California). He liked Catholicism's traditions of social justice and work for the poor. Along the way, he met Sue, also a devout Catholic. After UCLA he accepted a position with the Family Institute of Connecticut, and worked to prevent the distribution of condoms in schools. "People would ask, 'What does your husband do?' " Sue says. "It was embarrassing to say he worked on condoms. But it was nothing compared to this."

His faith is important to him, but in his arguments he is ever the PhD candidate, addressing questions and dismissing counterarguments with fascination.

"I have gay people who are friends and family," he says. "We can disagree on all sorts of things and still care about each other." And later, "Of course, I have to take their arguments seriously. This issue is important. Ideas have consequences."

He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling. His arguments are based on his understandings of history, not on messages from God that gays caused Hurricane Katrina.

In short: The institution of marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Yes, there have been homosexual relationships. But no society that he knows of, in the history of the world, has ever condoned same-sex marriage. "Do they always agree on the number of partners? Do they always agree on the form of monogamy? No," Brown says, but they've all agreed on the gender issue. It's what's best for families, he says. It's the union that can biologically produce children, he says. It's all about the way things have always been done. He chose his new church, St. Catherine of Siena, because it still offers a Latin Mass. Other noted conservatives have been parishioners there; Antonin Scalia has worshiped at St. Catherine's.

I hear even some people who don't choose Latin Mass Catholic parishes have these same views on the institution of marriage! But it's a start. It shouldn't be shocking to see some of these simple and straightforward positions of traditional marriage advocates in a newspaper but it is. Threesome What I'd really like to see is a deeper exploration of those views and the various other arguments against same-sex marriage and some actual back and forth of the arguments for and against changing marriage laws. I'm sure advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage would love to see the same. We've had eleventy billion puff pieces -- usually in favor of same-sex marriage -- and we have this piece that is an uncritical look at one proponent of traditional marriage. But how about we move Brown and his arguments off of the Style pages and into the news pages where they can compete in the public policy marketplace.

Oh, one last quibble with the piece:

NOM's campaigns have had missteps. "Gathering Storm," with its melodramatic dialogue and fake lightning, prompted parodies as much as panic; one New York Times columnist called it " 'Village of the Damned' meets 'A Chorus Line' " for its instant camp value. Two Million for Marriage, the organization's push to rally online activists around the country, was similarly unfortunate: Apparently no one at NOM had realized that 2M4M, the hip-sounding tag they'd chosen for the initiative, is also the abbreviation favored by gay couples looking for a threesome.

Okay, obviously it's a bit dramatic and emotional of Hesse herself to claim that the purpose of the ad was panic. And while gay activists and the media may have disliked it, that doesn't say much about its effectiveness. I'm always amazed at how stories fail to mention how successful traditional marriage activists are politically.

But more than anything, I wonder whose side it hurts more to learn that 2M4M is the favored abbreviation used by gay couples looking for a threesome.

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