As more states permit gay couples to marry or form civil unions, wedding professionals in at least six states have run headlong into state antidiscrimination laws after refusing for religious reasons to bake cakes, arrange flowers or perform other services for same-sex couples.
Now comes Reuters with what its headline characterizes as a "new twist" in the same-sex marriage debates.
The top of that wire story:
(Reuters) - Oregon voters will likely face two questions about gay marriage when they go to the ballot this year: whether to become the 18th state to let same-sex couples wed, and whether the state should be the first to allow florists, cake makers and others to refuse to participate in these weddings on religious grounds.
The ballot initiatives set up what some activists have said is the next frontier in the marriage debate — as more states move to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, those who object on religious grounds want a legal right to opt out.
"This is not a sideshow issue," said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to the Oregon ballot initiative and the coming debate over religious exemption. "This is going to be the issue that we fight about for the next ten years, at least, in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement."
The next frontier in the marriage debates? Perhaps.
A new twist? Maybe, although two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a story for Christianity Today with this headline:
Should the Marriage Battleground Shift to Religious Freedom?
But back to the Reuters story: What to make of the journalism?
Here's my take: It's a straightforward piece that presents the facts and quotes folks on both sides. (It's written in inverted-pyramid style, but I don't think it falls into the "suitcase lead" trap, to borrow a phrase I came across on Poynter.org this week.)
Among Reuters' sources, we hear from an advocate for the proposed religious exemption:
Teresa Harke, whose group Friends of Religious Freedom proposed Oregon's religious exemption referendum, said that as the marriage debate continues, guarantees are needed to ensure those on both sides of the issue are treated fairly.
"We wanted to make sure that, no matter which way marriage is defined in Oregon, that folks who hold a view based on their faith that marriage is between one man and one woman are not going to be discriminated against or be silenced for declining to participate in same-sex weddings," she said.
And later, there's this back and forth:
"They want a special privilege and a special license to discriminate against gay people in business," said Esseks. He called religious exemptions a "Plan B" strategy to "carve out a space where gay people's equality does not affect the way these other folks live their daily lives."
But Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Elane Photography, said the First Amendment protects the right of people not to endorse messages with which they disagree.
"The right of conscience protects all Americans," he said.
It seems like a fair, important news story.
Nice job, Reuters.