Washington Post story on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is long on emotion, short on religious insight

Since I live in Oklahoma, this Washington Post headline caught my attention:

Deeply conservative Oklahoma adjusts to sudden arrival of same-sex marriage

I'm not sure what I expected when I clicked the link. 

I guess I hoped the Post would go below the surface and not rely on easy stereotypes to characterize the beliefs and attitudes of my fellow Oklahomans.

To a certain extent, this in-depth piece — produced by a Style section writer — does that, focusing on one lesbian couple's decision to marry and the reactions they receive from friends and family.

A top newspaper reporter here in Oklahoma tweeted the link and called it a "great story." My reaction is more mixed. On the one hand, the Post does a pretty nice job of highlighting the emotional experience of the couple featured. On the other hand, the newspaper avoids any meaningful exploration of religion, an obviously key factor at play in this state — and in this story — but one that the Post relegates to a cameo role.

The opening scene:

The “polite gays,” was how Tracy and Kathryn described themselves. Not political or loud, not obvious or overt, but understated, in keeping with their Oklahoma surroundings. Never asking anyone to think too hard or talk too much about the fact that they were gay at all. Except now they were about to ask everyone they knew to think about it, because they’d decided to have a wedding.

“Okay, here are our wedding plans, right here,” Tracy Curtis said, opening her notebook at the Hideaway Pizza and scanning the friends she and her partner, Kathryn Frazier, had invited to their inaugural planning session. “If you’ll notice, this notebook’s empty. We need help.”

“Tracy, I don’t know.” Across the table, one friend half-raised her hand. “I just haven’t been to many gay weddings. And I’m gay. We’re in kind of uncharted territory.”

They were at this restaurant because in October the Supreme Court decided to let several lower court marriage rulings stand, which made same-sex unions legal in some of the country’s reddest states, including theirs. The next day, Tracy and Kathryn picked up a marriage license on the advice of a lawyer friend who told them to hurry before this suddenly opened window closed. But after a two-minute ceremony, Kathryn, 39, went to work and Tracy, 44, went to a doctor’s appointment, and then went home and cried because what they’d just experienced felt like checking something off a list, not like getting married.

And so now, in November, they were at the Hideaway to plan an actual wedding, to take place in a state where 62 percent of people in a recent poll said they didn’t approve of same-sex marriage — and 52 percent said they felt that way strongly.

I'm not sure if the lede's reference to the Hideaway is designed to make it sound mysterious or if I just have a weird sense of humor (probably that), but Hideaway is a popular pizza chain here in Oklahoma with locations in every direction from my house. (And suddenly, I'm starving.)

Why do a majority of Oklahomans oppose same-sex marriage?

As the Post indicates, religion might have something to do with it:

Oklahoma. This was a place where Kathryn’s workplace had a cussing jar, a quarter per swear, and the words written on it, “Let Go and Let God.” Here, Christianity was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and Oklahoma football was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and people could be decent and kind and judgmental, sometimes all at once, which was why, when Tracy told some Rotary Club friends that she and Kathryn were getting married, she kept her eyes planted above their heads so she wouldn’t have to look at their faces.

Later, as the couple reflects on who might attend the wedding, the Post puts a face on Oklahoma's disapproval of same-sex marriage:

What about Kathryn’s boss, Tim? He and Kathryn talked all the time about homosexuality and the Bible, and his wife, Kelly, was the leader of Tracy’s Bible study. The two couples had eaten dinners at each other’s homes and been friends for more than a decade — but would Tim and Kelly come to the wedding?

Eventually, readers learn that Tim and Kelly won't attend the wedding because they consider marriage "holy and biblical, something whose definition shouldn't be changed."

Near the end of the story, there's a final reference to religion:

“There is no deeper question that they can have about me that I haven’t had about myself,” Kathryn said. “I’m a gay Christian in Oklahoma — there is no greater cosmic joke than for me to be a gay Christian.”

But here's the problem with the story: The religion angle remains vague and unexplored. If Tim and Kathryn talk "all the time" about homosexuality and the Bible, what do they say? If Kelly leads Tracy's Bible study, what do they study? What — and who — does the study involve? The Post reporter apparently tags along to the pizza place, the workplace and the dress place. Was she not invited to the Bible study?

The Post provides no information on where — if anywhere — the main characters worship or what precisely they believe. The story is 3,400-plus words long. Amazingly, not one of those words is "church."

If you like cotton-candy journalism, you'll enjoy this piece.

Looking for something meatier? Take my advice and try the Hideaway.

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