At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. I was an early skeptic of the war, back when that was a somewhat lonely place to be. Journalists who engaged in more cheerleading than skepticism toward that war have been spending the week issuing mea culpas for their failure to consider unintended consequences. In fact, so many people have been writing their "I was wrong" pieces that the contrarian in me wonders whether I should change my mind and now support the war. Anyway, some of their regrets overstate how bad their coverage was -- many media outlets provided at least some balance and gave skeptics a chance to say their piece.

But if we're going to talk about journalistic failures, the pre-Iraq War coverage was Woodward and Bernstein compared to how journalists have handled the debates about whether to change marriage law to include same-sex couples.

There has been extremely little coverage of opponents and no skepticism present in the coverage. There has been very little that amounts to meaningful coverage beyond cheerleading. There has been no exploration of short- or long-term consequences -- particularly those that might be unintended -- to changing marriage law. And opponents have been derided with utter contempt on the very pages and programs that claim they're devoted to news and not opinion.

Perhaps in 10 years we'll see some mea culpas.

But here are two stories (admittedly, yes, out of the eleventy billion that have been published on this matter) that cover skeptics and their arguments. Who knew such a thing was even possible?

The first comes from the New York Times and it does what should have been done years ago and repeatedly since then -- mentions the people and arguments in support of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution. Yes, there are lots of qualifiers in the piece but it manages to mention some of the actual arguments -- imagine that! -- of traditional marriage supporters by looking at a group of young scholars working on the topic. For example:

Last week, the Heritage Foundation released a report by Ryan T. Anderson, 31, in defense of traditional marriage, “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It.” Mr. Anderson, a Heritage Foundation fellow, has also held briefings for members of Congress, their staff members and others to explain his arguments against same-sex marriage, and he and two co-authors released a book last year laying out their case in depth...

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have done a fantastic job of telling the story of same-sex marriage through music and television and film,” said Eric Teetsel, 29, the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, which describes itself as a movement of Christians for life, marriage and religious freedom. “I think it’s really a case where once they hear the other side of the issue, and really think about it deeply, we’re going to win a lot of those folks back.”

And the other side of the issue — the case for what proponents call traditional marriage — is simple, they say.

“In redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, what you’re doing is you’re excluding the norm of sexual complementarity,” said Mr. Anderson, the Heritage Foundation fellow. “Once you exclude that norm, the three other norms — which are monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanency — become optional as well.”

The result, proponents of traditional marriage say, would be further rises in divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births.

Critics are also quoted. The piece makes it look so easy that it's just scandalous that it took until March 2013 to get a story like this.

The other piece comes from the Associated Press and it begins:

WASHINGTON - They are moms and dads, authors and activists, a former police officer and a former single mom. They're black and white and Hispanic. One's a Roman Catholic archbishop, another an evangelical minister. Many have large families - including gay members.

They are among the leading opponents of gay marriage, or as they prefer to be called, defenders of traditional marriage. And they're trying to stop an increasingly popular movement as it approaches two dates with history next week at the Supreme Court.

At times, it can seem a lonely battle. Outspent and lately out-hustled by highly organized gay rights organizations, opponents have struggled to get their story out. They're portrayed as bigots, likened to the racists and sexists of yesteryear. Some have been compared with hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

For men of the cloth such as Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, nothing could be further from the truth.

"Those who believe what every human society since the beginning of the human race has believed about marriage, and is clearly the case from nature itself, will be regarded, and treated, as the next class of bigots," he says. "That's untrue, and it's not kind, and it doesn't seem to lead to a 'live and let live' pluralism."

Two stories that cover the skeptics of changing marriage law as well as their arguments? How to explain this? In some ways, it's disorienting, no?

The reader who sent in the last story remarked:

A piece that takes opponents of same-sex "marriage" seriously. No name-calling, no derisive attitudes, no taking sides -- just straight reportage. One wonders, though, if this is just a one-off in order to get critics off their back or if this will display a new, more positive -- or at least neutral -- attitude toward those who stand against redefining marriage.

I have no idea what happened here but I'll be curious if other reporters begin to think that covering both sides -- and both sides fairly -- might not be such a bad idea after all.

Photo of reporter via Shutterstock.

Please respect our Commenting Policy