Report both sides of the story, unless you're HuffPost

A bill dealing with gay weddings is being hotly debated in Kansas, but not in a Huffington Post article about it. The clumsily titled "Being Gay Ain't Okay in Kansas" would fit well in a journalism textbook chapter on one-sided reporting.

The article, summarizing a HuffPost Live video, loads the first paragraph with the warning that the bill, if passed, "would allow discrimination against same-sex couples on the basis of religious beliefs." It then quotes legislator Emily Perry, interviewed in the video, and doesn't go much beyond that point for the next 200 words or so.

The three-page bill itself seems pretty straightforward. Its main point is that:

[N]o individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement …

The HuffPost story links to the bill but doesn't quote it directly. Instead, it helps Perry raise red flags about a host of civil wrongs:

"To me it really talks to the fact that an employer or even a governmental entity … could not provide services," Perry said on HuffPost Live. She raised an example of a police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic violence complaint involving a gay couple. "We don't want these public servants to be able to arrive at the scene of the crime, and decide that because of their religious beliefs, they don't want to offer services," she said.

The piece says that Gov. Sam Brownback hasn't read the bill but "is a well-known supporter of religious liberty." It's apparently drawing from a Kansas City Star piece to which it links:

“Religious liberty issues are ones that I’ve been around for a long time. … I’ve fought for religious liberty in many countries and with many different faiths,” Brownback said. “It’s basic in the Bill of Rights.”

But we can't blame the reporter terribly for accurately reporting the 15-minute video interview, which trots out three other opponents of the law besides Perry.

After Perry's arguments about legitimizing the prejudice of police officers, HuffPost's Zach Carter eggs her on with a comparison of racial laws that used to allow restaurateurs to turn blacks away. He later chatters about how religious groups used to champion social movements: "It just strikes me as very odd in contemporary American politics when religion is sort of deployed politically, it is not in these high-profile ways to liberate people or to bring new rights or bestow new rights on people, but actually to restrict them from people."

The video appears to throw a bone to proponents of the law reading from a story on the issue in the Wichita Eagle, flashing excerpts on screen. But it's only for Carter to suggest that the bill, because it mentions "sex or gender," could be used to deny service to women. Not surprisingly, Emily Perry enthusiastically agrees.

The other talking heads in the video, however, all oppose the bill. They include Rose Sachs, an LGBT specialist with the ACLU; Jimmy LaSalvia, founder of the pro-gay organization GOProud; and the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, HuffPost's senior religion editor.

Raushenbush asks a what-if about some "pagan cake maker" declining to make a cake with a cross on it. He adds that Christian attitudes toward gays are changing fast and predicts that Kansas-type laws will seem "a liability on those who promoted them."

Sachs raises the specters of hospitals and car insurers denying equal treatment to gays. Carter himself adds a case of "deep-seated religious beliefs that tell me that adulterers must be stoned to death in the street."

Someone needs to remind these guys of the adage: "Hard cases make bad law."

Incredibly, Carter ends by voicing a hope that the bill will die, then says with bemusement, "There I am, actively advocating for the demise of a bill as a nonpartisan, independent journalist."


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