It appears that the Religion Newswriters Association has no members who live and work in the state of Nebraska right now. This might be a good time for a newspaper or two there to try hiring a pro on this beat.
Why do I bring this up?
Well, what he have here is another one of those all-to-common stories that's becoming so prevalent on the LGBT side of the religion beat these days. It's a classic example of the template currently being used over and over in mainstream newsrooms. This time, we're in Nebraska.
Start here: A gay teacher in a Catholic school is losing his job if he marries his partner. Supporters of the teacher are outraged. Articulate defenders of Catholic doctrine are either silent, absent or ignored (it's often hard to tell).
The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star report is pretty predictable:
Students, parents and alumni of an Omaha Catholic high school have rallied behind a teacher who was told his contract would not be renewed if he marries his same-sex partner.
Supporters of Matthew Eledge, an English teacher and speech coach, took to social media Tuesday and thousands of people signed online petitions asking Skutt Catholic High School to reverse its decision.
Eledge and Elliot Dougherty were engaged in December, according to Kacie Hughes, a petition organizer and Eledge’s assistant speech coach.
When Eledge told school administrators about his marriage plans, Hughes said, Eledge was told he would not be invited back to teach in the fall, and if he told students he would be fired immediately. Eledge asked about the possibility of postponing the wedding so he could continue teaching but was told he would have to end the relationship, Hughes said.
Reached Tuesday, Eledge declined comment, as did the school and the Omaha Diocese.
Nebraska is not alone in this debate, as a similar story is playing out in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
A bit of history here. On March 2, a U.S. district judge struck down Nebraska’s law -- approved by 70 percent of the state’s voters in 2000 — banning same-sex marriage.
The newspaper then ran this piece about gay couples desperately wanting to marry. And this piece about the hardship faced by homosexual couples if they don’t get to marry. There was this piece about Nebraska’s three Catholic bishops asking followers to fast and pray against the judge’s decision, but it was all of five paragraphs and only had a quote from a press release.
Then there’s this piece about the Eighth Court of Appeals granting Nebraska’s motion for an emergency stay, blocking same-sex marriages from starting on May 9. The appeals court is expected to take up the case May 12.
Then there’s this piece about a lesbian couple that, after the district judge’s ruling, had ordered wedding dresses, rings and even set a wedding date. Then the ruling was blocked and the couple is heartbroken as is their son, the ring bearer. One of the women is so upset, she can only cry. The wedding decorations will be put in storage. This tearjerker is somewhat balanced by a piece by the Journal-Star in late March quoting the Nebraska attorney general on why the district judge's ruling is a legal mess.
But in all the other pieces, there is almost nothing from Nebraskans who approve the ban, who are beyond fed up that one judge can overthrow a decision made by 70 percent of the state’s voters not that long ago.
Weren’t there any Catholics to be found who were fasting about this matter?
Back to the Catholic school teacher. If the courts force the state to allow same-sex marriage, Matthew Eledge will presumably tie the knot before the school year starts next fall and be out of a job. And, why is this news? What are the valid news hooks here?
Mr. Eledge must have known when he applied to teach at this school that certain behaviors would be required of him. The key question, as always, is whether the school had any kind of written covenant signed by teachers as they accepted jobs at what is clearly a Catholic school that, to some degree or another, is under the authority of Catholic teachings.
This is a no-brainer, folks. When I taught for a year at a Baptist university, I was asked to sign a statement agreeing to live a moral lifestyle and not drink alcohol, even in the privacy of my home. Brigham Young University requires applicants for teaching positions to adhere to Mormon teachings forbidding the consumption of coffee. Eledge may have been a poor choice for a tearjerker piece in that no one is forcing him to teach at a Catholic school plus there are options for him at public schools.
True, it’s idiotic for the Omaha diocese to refuse to comment. With them being ripped apart in social media, putting one’s head in the sand is not the way to go. But couldn’t the reporter have tried a bit harder to find a valid voice that could be used to accurately insert Catholic teaching on this issue? Was there no one who could comment about a Catholic school needing its staff to adhere to Catholic teachings?
There are three quotes from pro-same-sex marriage people and none from the opposing side. At newspapers where I’ve worked, this piece would not have seen the light of day without a balancing quote. Plus, all the photos I've spotted are of happy gay couples whose lives will apparently be wrecked if the state doesn't allow them to marry. How about a photo of a Catholic bearing a sign -- or holding a vigil -- supporting the church's stance?