A poor outing from Religion News Service this week in its article about the passage of the British government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. While it is a wire service story and cannot be held to the same standards of depth of reporting as a story prepared in house by a newspaper, it nonetheless should strive for accuracy and provide context -- and refrain from cheer leading in support of one side of the story. The version that appeared in the Washington Post under the title "Queen approves same-sex marriage bill in England, Wales" appears to be in trouble from the start. The Queen in the person of Elizabeth did not approve the bill -- the Crown or the Sovereign did. This is a small thing, but it signals the direction of the story. It begins:
England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill. Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.
The article walks back the headline, but what does RNS mean by saying England and Wales are two countries? Is this an eruption of Welsh nationalism on the part of RNS? Parliament in Westminster passed the bill -- not the Welsh Assembly. While Wales has a cultural and linguistic identity and a devolved legislature that addresses some issues, it is not a country.
The article continues by quoting the government minister responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament and her political allies. It then states:
The bill’s passage saw many angry exchanges. It had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the consternation of many in his own Conservative Party. The leaders of two other main parties, the Liberal Democrats and New Labour, also backed it. But some political commentators predict Cameron’s gay-friendly attitudes will cost him at the next election in 2015.
Without seeking comments from opponents of the bill the article then moves to a negative response from the Catholic Church -- glossing over the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs voted against the bill. The facile comment about "gay-friendly attitudes" distorts the political facts. It fails to identify who believes the Conservatives will take a drubbing at the next election nor does it say why -- other than alluding to hostility to homosexuals. The Coalition for Marriage -- one group that fought the bill predicts Cameron will pay a political price for pushing gay marriage -- but it is not likely to recognize its views being presented by this article.
The Telegraph and BBC were able to find political opponents of the bill -- not just religious ones -- to speak out. Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth was cited by the BBC as having told Parliament it was "astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted, has been bulldozed through both Houses".
Its all there in Hansard for anyone to find -- even his warning to the prime minister over his political folly. "I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it."
The RNS article also offers this:
But to the delight — and relief — of most people in the United Kingdom, the bill was passed by landslide votes in both houses of Parliament.
How does RNS know this? It could perhaps have made reference to polling data, but does not. The "delight" and "relief" quip appears to speak to RNS's views -- not the facts.
Little things are missing from the story -- for example, when will the first gay weddings take place? (Answer: next Spring). The article tells us the Church of England does not permit same-sex weddings and the Roman Catholic Church is opposed -- but are there faiths or denominations that support gay marriage? (Answer: Yes. Unitarians, Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and some liberal Protestant groups). Are they banned too from offering church or synagogue weddings? No. They may opt in and offer gay weddings.
In sum, this article fails to present both sides of the story, contains inaccuracies and exaggerations, lacks context and important facts and engages in cheer leading in favor of gay marriage -- confusing its own views with what it imagines to be popular sentiment. This is junk journalism.
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