OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage.
Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern.
Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write?
As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks.
But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.
The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:
“The battlefield shifts to religious freedom,” said Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary. Mr. Land said the form that battle takes will largely depend on supporters of gay marriage.
“Will the progressive, totalitarian and intolerant left weaponize the government and attempt to force or compel people to affirm same-sex behavior and relationships? Or will they respect the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution?” he said.
Gay rights advocates celebrating the ruling said Friday that religious conservatives opposing gay marriage were largely overreacting to perceived threats. The ruling, they said, wouldn’t impact how churches operate, or the daily lives of religious people who don’t support gay marriage.
“Questions I’ve heard about ‘Are we still going to be able to decide who we marry?’ Well, of course they are,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberty Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “The constitution protects that fundamental liberty.”
Mr. Esseks noted that in the 37 states where gay marriage was already legal before the ruling, conflicts have been minimal.
Sarah Warbelow, of the Human Rights Campaign, said “nobody is seeking to force clergy to marry same-sex couples.” Ms. Warbelow said there will be “debates and questions around when a religious organization is operating in the public sphere accepting taxpayer dollars. There will be an expectation that those organizations provide equal treatment to LGBT people.”
Warbelow's comment must be one of the day's bigger understatements. Other reporters who tried to think ahead included one from Crux who wrote about pending battles:
Brian Burch, the head of CatholicVote, told Crux in an interview Friday that he expects religious liberty fights to continue as a result of the decision.
“I think there will be a growing pressure for the Church to host or bless same sex unions, and it will come in the form of various types of pressure and penalties if they refuse to participate,” he said. Those pressures, he said, could include threats to take away the Church’s tax-exempt status or the loss of government grants for Catholic aid organizations.
The writers at the Washington Post got some fresh material from University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who’s been a quote machine this week. A sample:
“The gay rights side keeps escalating its demands and public opinion keeps shifting in their favor,” Laycock said. “Conservative believers are their own worst enemies and lead people to think they are hateful morons, so they’re not getting much sympathy. . . . I think they’ll be faced with a choice: Either hire employees who openly flout [the organization’s] religious teaching, or give up government contracts.”
Both sides would suffer, Laycock said. “It’s a huge problem for religious organizations, who rely on funding, but it’s a problem for the government, too,” he said, noting the enormous share of social services provided by faith-based groups.
Then there was the Jerusalem Post, which put the giddy reaction by more liberal Jewish leaders at the top of their piece before adding a short and subdued reaction by an Orthodox group near the bottom. They mentioned those favoring the ruling as quoting Genesis 1:27 to back their cause. Not surprisingly, the story left out Leviticus 20:13.
It's hard, on the first day, to come up with much more than what-ifs and press statements, but here's hoping religion reporters will dig deeper. Like, maybe interview the folks who've already gone to court -- or may be going -- because their religious beliefs forbade them to supply pizza, photos or wedding cakes for gay weddings. What did they think about the court's ruling?
Or do what Politico did: Now that gay marriage is a done deal, what's to prevent polygamy?