Reporting on gay marriage in Spain

Laying out the front page of the November 7 issue presented a few problems for the Madrid daily El País. Journalists at Spain's largest circulation newspaper (345,000) began a walk out this week after management announced that it was cutting 139 of the paper's 460 posts. Those who still had jobs would see their pay cut by 13 per cent. Management has had to fill in to keep the paper going and Wednesday presented them with two major stories: the U.S. presidential election and the decision by the country's constitutional court upholding the country's gay marriage laws.

Under the headline "El matrimonio gay es constitucional" El País reported that on 6 Nov 2012 eight of the Constitutional Court's 11 judges rejected a legal challenge to Spain's gay marriage law introduced in 2005 by the Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The law had been challenged by the People's Party (PP), which recently took power under its leader Mariano Rajoy.

The article reported that 11 of the court’s 12 justices took part in the decision, and that support for gay marriage was voiced by the 7 liberal judges and 1 of the 5 conservatives – one conservative judge recused himself.

The first few paragraphs of the story are fairly straight forward, recounting the legislative background to the case and summarizing the legal arguments. Paragraphs that indicates the newspaper’s view of the issue round out the story.

El PP prefería amparar legalmente la unión de parejas homosexuales sin darle el nombre de matrimonio para “no generar confrontación social”. Pero la única confrontación social conocida hasta ahora, la única protesta masiva que ha habido en la calle desde la aprobación de la Ley por el Gobierno socialista en 2005 ha sido la de miles de ciudadanos que protestaron contra el recurso del PP y exigieron a Rajoy que lo retirara.

The PP had preferred a law that would give legal protections to gay couples without giving it the name of marriage so as to "not generate social confrontation." However, the only social confrontation known so far, the only mass protest that has been on the street since the adoption of the Act by the Socialist government in 2005 has been the thousands of protestors who have called upon the PP and Rajoy to withdraw their legal challenge.

The article also has a side bar that discusses the Popular Party’s reactions. However, it does not quote Rajoy or supporters of traditional marriage, but the minority within the PP who support gay marriage. An American analogy would be having a discussion of the Republican Party's reactions to the gay marriage vote in Maryland through quotes from the Log Cabin Republicans.

What also is missing is any reaction or comment from the Catholic Church – the primary opponent of the gay marriage law.  The following day El Pais ran a story that summarized the comments of the bishop of San Sebastián, José Ignacio Munilla on behalf of the Spanish Episcopal Conference – but that was it. There was no attempt in the main story to speak to the objective moral truth claims made by the church about the nature and value of marriage that lay behind the PP's challenge to the 2005 law.

I should say that such an omission would be deadly for an newspaper article written in the classic liberal style, but El País is not that sort of paper. It follows the European advocacy model -- in this case its news is written, unashamedly, from a a left-liberal point of view which espouses the European anti-clerical line.

Religion has no business in the public square, El Pais and most European newspapers believe. This argument is not unknown in the U.S. also. In the Proposition 8 case in California, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker invalidated the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Judge Walker held the "moral and religious views" behind Proposition 8 were not “rational,” hence it was unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama, a former law professor, has argued that “What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.”

While the secularist demands this, democracy does not – nor should journalism. Ignoring the religious arguments in public policy disputes, or dismissing them out of hand is an attack on freedom – religious freedom and democratic freedoms. It is also poor journalism as it omits one of the essential elements of the story.

The solution to this problem in Europe is to take more then one newspaper -- El Pais is left liberal and you know what you are getting when you hand over your Euro. ABC and El Mundo  are Madrid's two other quality papers. ABC is conservative and El Mundo center-left. Taken as a job lot a reader gets all sides of the story. Unfortunately in the U.S. newspaper market few if any newspapers acknowledge their biases, and two newspaper towns are few and far between.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is it fair to say that the American press has adopted the European advocacy style -- but without admitting its bias? Is El Pais without ABC America's future?

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