Champagne glasses might well have been clinking at the Heritage Foundation on April 15. That's when the Washington Post ran a massive, 2,250-word profile on the foundation's rising young star, Ryan T. Anderson -- in largely favorable terms.
Anderson, a research fellow at Heritage, cuts against the stereotype of a white-haired conservative repeating stale arguments. The 33-year-old scholar is making a bright, deep mark in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. And the Post is unsparing in its compliments:
His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.
Also in his favor: He’s telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.
Brisk-reading despite its length, the article follows Anderson to a debate at the University of Colorado’s law school. It tells how Piers Morgan and Suze Orman ganged up on him. And it reports how MSNBC's Ed Schultz had Anderson's mike cut off in frustration.
WaPo also scans Anderson's arguments for traditional marriage: some of them garden-variety conservative, such as "sexual complementarity" and the state's interest in caring for children; some of them more novel, such as the assertion that "my definition of marriage is allowed in the Constitution":
“We argue that marriage really exists to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife to then be mother and father to any children that that union creates,” Anderson says to the voice on the other end of the line.
“This is based on anthropological truths that men and women are distinct and complementary. It’s based on a biological fact that reproduction requires both a man and a woman. It’s based on a social reality that children deserve a mom and a dad.”
He barely needs a breath. “Our argument is that this is what gets the government in the marriage business,” he says. “It’s not because the state cares about consenting adult romance.”
The Post's interest in Anderson as a person is signaled by an amazing 11 paragraphs of bio material: his upbringing with four brothers, his studies at a Quaker school in Baltimore, his talent in percussion instruments like marimba and hammer dulcimer. The story also notes a paradox: This champion of traditional marriage is still single.
The paper hints at his nimble style in warning about future challenges to marriage, such as five-year marriage "contracts" and "the same-sex throuple" -- a three-person partnership. More than once, Anderson seems to catch listeners and opponents off guard.
If anything, the Post leans too far in favor of Anderson. In a debate with a liberal professor in Colorado, the story gives him a whopping 13 paragraphs, but keeps his opponent to a paltry four. And whenever she makes a point, WaPo quotes his comeback. Granted, the profile is about him, but still.
Not that the newspaper lets everything Anderson says go unanswered. "I don’t think allowing gay people to marry is going to cause more fathers to leave," Melissa Hart, his debating opponent at Colorado, says drily. Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign gives Anderson props for style but says his side is destined to lose as more people see gays marry.
"At the end of the day, he's on the wrong side of history," Sainz says of Anderson. Adds the Post:
Other opponents criticize Anderson for muddy logic and say he cherry-picks social science to his advantage. They say his articulate arguments boil down to no more than circular reasoning: Marriage should not be extended to same-sex couples because his definition of marriage is open only to a man and a woman.
Veteran GetReligion readers will no doubt notice what we haven't discussed yet: religious content. There's almost none of it in this lengthy story, although it has obvious connections to marriage, family and sexuality. The most we get is the sliver of Catholic background you’ve already read about, and for the reason you read: Anderson believes it's a losing battle to defend traditional marriage by religion or morality.
The Post profile ends on a note that others might consider pessimistic, but Anderson seems to take in stride. The newspaper appears to agree with Sainz about the "wrong" side of history, in recounting the march of court decisions that have overturned laws for traditional marriage.
"The tides are against Anderson," the Post says, one argument he doesn't contest. He predicts that the traditional-marriage movement may go the way of the pro-life movement, trying to limit the practice in one way or another.
At the very least, Anderson hopes, people will understand his views, even if they still disagree -- not reflexively call them evil or bigoted. He's already succeeded with the Washington Post. And the newspaper deserves praise for helping us understand as well.
Photo courtesy of Ryan T. Anderson.