More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

"Of course we retain the right to think what we want and say what we want and preach what we want about marriage," he said.
"But the free exercise of religion means we have the right," he continued, "to operate our ministries and to live our lives according to the truth about marriage without fear of being silenced or penalized or losing our tax exemption or losing our ability to serve the common good."

Lori's point is something missing in the Supreme Court decision, as Justice Roberts said in his dissenting opinion. It was also missing in the earlier Times story. So it's good to see that hole plugged up.

And yes, there are others besides Catholics. As the Times points out, they include Muslims, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Southern Baptists and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Most media, if they mention anyone besides "fundamentalists," just name Catholics and Baptists.

But I also liked this "balance" paragraph; it's crisper than any I saw in competing media:

Gay rights advocates argue that religious institutions are already well protected by the First Amendment; no church can be forced to hire a gay pastor and no pastor can be forced to preside at a same-sex wedding. But they balk at permitting discrimination against gay people or couples by businesses that serve the public or by government-funded entities like foster care agencies.

The Times also repeats Thursday's report on a Congressional bill called the First Amendment Defense Act. It would protect schools, people, businesses and charities from prosecution for actions based on a traditional view of marriage. "Sure to be strongly opposed by civil rights groups and most Democrats," the newspaper says, without asking anyone about it.

As I said, the competition is still puffing to keep up with the Times. The New York Daily News ran a mere five paragraphs on governors Jindal's and Abbott's resistance to gay marriage. The main new detail is that court clerks in Louisiana are delaying marriage licenses for the 25-day rehearing period on the Supreme Court decision.

CNN closely paralleled the Times story, though it gave more space to evangelicals -- which it noted constitute 25 percent of Americans. However, it mainly referenced Baptists, who made up most of the signers of a joint statement on marriage.

The CNN story does have a lucid summary of the dissenting justices' arguments:

Religious rights (and rites) aren't limited to preaching and teaching, they argued. They also entail individuals' and organizations' "free exercise" of faith, a wide swath of activities that run from sacred ceremonies to performing charitable works and running businesses according to religious principles.
"Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally," Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissent, "and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice."

Crux was surprisingly lackluster on this story, despite its specialty in Catholic-interest news. It offers soundbites from Lori, Roberts and Kennedy, plus Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

Crux does include a scathing criticism by Justice Antonin Scalia on the narrow demographics of his fellow justices: six Catholics, three Jews, nearly all of them either from the east or west coast. No evangelicals or even mainline Protestants, he points out.

The article also cites the worries of activist Brian Burch that churches will be pressured to host or bless same sex unions. "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," Crux reports.

Nor are conservatives and Catholic bishops the only ones warning of reprisals on the religious. Religion freelancer Mark Oppenheimer, writing for Time, uses the Supreme Court decision to argue for killing tax exemptions on all churches -- plus other nonprofits like Yale University and Planned Parenthood.

Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.

Oppenheimer's column ran in Time online at 11:16 a.m. yesterday -- during church hour. Ironically -- not by design, is it? -- that’s the church hour for many people.

The big surprise for me is World, a strongly evangelical newsmagazine. Its 1,800-word article is totally devoid of rants and demands for a fix. It consists entirely of excerpts from the dissenting justices' opinions.

I found especially interesting where Chief Justice Roberts says that the majority opinion doesn't define what constitutes marriage -- and that the opinion could even be used to defend polygamy:

"Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world."

Roberts isn't just spitballing, you know. The idea of a "throuple" -- an alleged wedding of three people -- has already been noised about in news media for months. And the debate over "plural marriage" has revived just over the weekend, epitomized by a Politico column tellingly titled "It's Time to Legalize Polygamy."

At least one thing is certain: The fallout on same-sex marriage will remain radioactive for a long time.

Picture: Nuclear fallout graphic, via Shutterstock.

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