So as I was scanning the headlines on the Pew Research Center's "Religion in the News" page (one of my favorite bookmarks), this one caught my attention:
AP: Gay rights fight comes to Texas, despite ban
A native Texan, I clicked on the story link, curious if the story would conform to the new normal or actually quote key voices on all sides of the reported fight.
Let's start at the top:
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One couple wants to get married, while the other just wants theirs recognized. A third couple wants a divorce, while the fourth wants theirs finalized. If all win their lawsuits, they could overturn the Texas ban on same-sex marriage.
A federal court in San Antonio will hear arguments next month from the attorneys representing the couples who want to live lawfully wedded. The Texas Supreme Court is considering the cases of the couples who want their out-of-state marriages legally dissolved.
They are challenging a constitutional ban on gay and lesbian marriages approved by 1.7 million Texas voters in 2005. At the time, only Massachusetts allowed gay marriage and conservatives hoped to pass a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Eight years later, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages, and New Mexico is allowing marriages pending a decision by that state's Supreme Court later this year. The U.S. Supreme Court has also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying federal authorities cannot deny the rights of couples legally married under state law.
Well, four paragraphs in, the story really hasn't quoted anyone.
I kept reading, and the entire story — all 660 words of it — reads more like a boring research paper than an actual enlightening piece of journalism.
The couples who sued are never identified. The only actual humans named are U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. But the story — if you want to call it that — contains not a single comment inside quote marks, pro or con.
Attribution — by which quality journalism identifies the source of its information — is just as lacking.
For example, consider this paragraph:
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken tiny steps in their same-sex marriage decisions, recognizing that the majority of states still outlaw the practice, 29 through constitutional amendments and four through state law. That leaves lower courts without clear guidance on how to proceed, and raising the potential for different judges reach different conclusions.
A quick aside: The Supreme Court is an "it," not a "they."
But back to the statement that lower courts lack clear guidance: Am I the only reader who'd love an actual source (or sources) to be identified and quoted there? And here:
Also, if one more state legalizes same-sex marriage, it becomes almost impossible to pass a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. At that point, the U.S. Supreme Court may feel freed to sort out whether one state can deny the legality of a marriage performed in another. Justices in the past have frowned on citizens having different civil rights in different states.
The story ends with more broad statements with no named sources:
Meanwhile, gay rights advocates are mobilizing campaigns in Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Nevada to expand same-sex marriage. No such campaign is planned for Texas, a Republican-controlled state known for Christian conservatism.
Conservative activists in Texas are fighting same-sex marriage by declaring it a violation of state's rights and religious freedom. All of the major Republican candidates oppose same-sex marriage.
As a result, any change will likely come from the courts, and the fight in that arena will intensify in the year to come.
Perhaps this report is intended as an "Analysis," although I see no such label on the version that I read on the Houston Chronicle website. In any case, it's one of those stories that make you go hmmmmm ...
Has the gay rights fight really come to Texas? How big and significant a battle is being waged? Who are the key players? What do they say about the political, moral and religious issues and doctrines involved?
I'd really love to read a story that actually delves into such questions and highlights voices beyond that of the reporter.