News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

In 2001, I became an ordained minister. Sort of.

I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman at the time and wrote a column about my experience:

It says so right there on the certificate with the official gold seal: "Reverend Bobby Ross."
My license from the Universal Life Church in Billings, Mont., came with a note that said, "Thank you for your purchase and God bless."
The best part: This high honor cost me only $29.95.
That's about the same amount Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus Christ, as my friend Glover Shipp pointed out.
Perhaps, though, Shipp is looking at this the wrong way. He's assuming that anyone who offers to make you a "LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER in 48 hours!!!!" is a scam artist.
On the other hand, think of all the good I can do now.

Among the good that my ordination allowed me to do: perform weddings. (Sadly, no one ever asked me to provide that service.)

My column noted:

In Texas, your pet hamster can perform a wedding. But before you help someone say "I do" in Oklahoma, you must file credentials with the county clerk.

That piece was written 14 years ago, and I have no idea whether Texas law remains the same. So if you decide to exchange vows in the Lone Star State, you might check with proper government authorities before getting your hamster involved.

I thought about my quickie ordination this week as I read a Reuters editorial — er, news story — on an Oklahoma bill to eliminate government-issued marriage licenses:

The Reuters report, of course, is just the latest national coverage of a legislative proposal that I first highlighted last week. If you missed it, that original post provides some relevant background:

But back to the Reuters story: From the headline to the ending quote, the wire service's skepticism concerning the Oklahoma bill borders on disdain:

(Reuters) - Oklahoma's conservative lawmakers, angered at being ordered by U.S. courts to allow gay marriage in the state, have come up with a new, religious tactic to block same-sex weddings by mandating that clergy conduct almost all ceremonies.
But in a twist, their efforts to restrict who can perform marriages could make it easier for gay couples to wed, and have led to what one activist calls "marriage chaos."
A bill overwhelmingly approved this month in the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives would allow only judges, retired judges and members of the clergy to issue marriage licenses, cutting county clerks out of the business.

Yet as the measure was making its way to the floor, a rush of same-sex marriage supporters applied to become ministers with the intention of registering as clergy authorized to perform weddings in the state.

"I registered so I could marry same-sex couples. I have the confirmation email. The Oklahoma County Courthouse site is very vague about the paperwork necessary to register," said Rose Marie of Oklahoma City, who applied for her minister license online in February after the measure was first introduced.

Keep reading, and the wire service provides one brief quote from the lawmaker — a credentialed Assemblies of God minister — who is pushing the measure:

Republican Representative Todd Russ, the author of the bill, has said he wants to take the state out of marriage and has pledged to "stand for godly values and godly leadership in government."
"Oklahoma's at the point where we have decided we are drawing a line today and sidestepping the government’s overreach," Russ said. 

Otherwise, Reuters notes the objections of atheists, agnostics and gay-rights activists and suggests that unnamed "legal experts" have concerns about the legislation. The wire service quotes a gay-rights activist who says that clergy "work for Jesus, not Oklahoma" and are not happy about filling the duties now performed by county clerks. The story ends with a second opponent who has received a quickie ordination:

Eric Thompson, an Oklahoma real estate agent who supports same-sex marriage, feels the bill is overly intrusive and became an ordained minister because of it.
"If this bill passes, I would put it out there to everyone that I could perform same-sex ceremonies," Thompson said.

But what's lacking from Reuters' story?

Well, to start, it would be nice to seek a response from supporters on the claim that this legislation is a "tactic" that may "backfire." It would be nice to interview some actual clergy members as opposed to, you know, getting that information secondhand from an activist with a dog in the fight. It would be nice to identify the so-called "legal experts," provide some explanation of their arguments and let readers decide whether they are truly "experts."

It would be nice, to put it bluntly, if Reuters told both sides of the story instead of focusing on just one. GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly made the point yesterday that "the most important skill in journalism is the ability to accurately state the views of someone with whom you disagree." 

In Reuters' case, that skill would help move a piece of advocacy into the realm of actual journalism.

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