Apparently I wasn't the only Washington Post reader who thought the paper's coverage of same-sex marriage last week was a bit lopsided. I noticed one of the reader questions posed in an on-line chat to the Post's Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli mentioned it as well:
Alexandria, VA: In the week after gay marriage was legal, the Post devoted 543 column inches to gay issues. Those stories quoted gay marriage advocates 67 times compared to opponents just 6 times. How can you defend how the Post has handled this story, especially since for all your push for home rule, this decision never even went to the voters who likely would have rejected it.
Marcus Brauchli: The polls don't necessarily support your view that gay marriage would have been rejected by voters (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/06/AR2010020602300.html). But, in any case, the issue of gay marriage crosses a lot of important terrain--civil liberties, religion, local economics, national politics and, yes, home rule. I don't know how you're counting quotes. We quoted many people who were able to marry because of the legal change; it's hard to see how you'd cover a change of this magnitude without talking to the people most affected by the change. I can assure you, though, that we were just as intent on reflecting the views of those who opposed the ideas as we were those who favored it.
Yikes! One gets the idea that the editor has trouble even considering how coverage could be improved.
But in the non-stop and over-the-top coverage of the new law, here's a Washington Post story about the District's new same-sex marriage law that is well written and does a nice job of showing how groups of people don't always think exactly the same about a given issue. Written by Tara Bahrampour and Monica Hesse, it ran on the front page of the local news section:
On the first day same-sex weddings were held in the District, Dustin Rhodes could barely stomach the outpouring of matrimonial enthusiasm: the joyful couples exchanging vows in front of family, friends and colleagues, with all the flowers, cake and flash photography that come with the show.
"It's so personally revolting to me," said Rhodes, 36, who has been in a committed relationship with a man for 13 years.
"I'd rather see marriage abolished than see me married," he said as he ate lunch in a Columbia Heights cafe with his partner, Bray Creech. "The materialism of it, what I perceive as kind of a narcissism. Like all the money and decoration. . . . I have no interest in having a performance, which to me is what weddings are."
Creech, 33, got a faraway look on his face. "I would do it," he said, with a little smile of resignation that comes with years of losing the same argument. "You get all those gifts; that would be so nice. I have no problem with the performance part of it."
Many same-sex couples who rushed to make history this week by marrying in the District cited reasons such as spousal benefits, inheritance and hospital visitation rights, and greater societal legitimacy. But for some couples, the option to legally marry has raised a thorny issue -- to wed or not -- that had long remained safely in the realm of the hypothetical. For those who can't agree on whether to tie the knot, the new horizons have stirred up old conflicts.
The reporters talk to a number of individuals who have conflicted feelings about whether to marry their same-sex partner. A lesbian from Maryland discussed how getting married wasn't an option, then it became an option for those who could travel to Denmark, then for those who could get to Vermont. Now that the option is even closer, she's giving it more thought.
The article introduces us to couples who aren't ready to make a marriage commitment, to those who won't marry if other same-sex couples in the country can't, and to those who want federal benefits included in the deal. Others oppose the idea of marriage as an institution.
One of the things that annoys me about media coverage in general is an inability to treat members of minority groups as individuals who might have views that are different from others in the group. So I am really glad to see the Post digging down here. I have gay friends who plan to wed and I have gay friends who say that they think marriage is a hetero-normative institution that they abhor. That's because each individual person is allowed to have different ideas about marriage. This should not be shocking anymore than it is shocking that straight individuals have different ideas about marriage. This article covers a wide variety of perspectives and reasons for and against couples deciding to marry.
But I was hoping for even more diversity. What about gay individuals who won't marry for religious reasons? They're nowhere to be found in this article. I was really surprised that we didn't see even a cursory discussion of religion, particularly because the article spends a bit of time discussing the importance of "social approval" for same-sex relationships. For some people, what the state sanctions is secondary in their decision making to what the church sanctions. Are there any gay folks in the District whose decisions on marriage are unchanged by the legal change because they care more about church teachings? I don't know, but it would have been interesting to find out.
Still, a good piece with an interesting angle.