Associated Press story on Wyoming judge is fair enough, but about that 'anti-gay' headline ...

Pretty nice story, Associated Press.

But the headline? It's less than perfect.

That's my quick assessment of the wire service's coverage of a decision concerning a Wyoming judge who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

The news report itself is clear and concise. The 740-word piece simply reports the facts. It avoids loaded (read: biased) language.

A big chunk of the opening:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A small-town judge who says her religious beliefs prevent her from presiding over same-sex marriages was publicly censured by the Wyoming Supreme Court on Tuesday.
But while the court said her conduct undermines the integrity of the judicial system, it does not warrant removal from the bench. In a 3-2 decision, Justice Kate Fox wrote that Judge Ruth Neely violated judicial conduct code but removing Neely would "unnecessarily circumscribe protected expression."
"Judge Neely shall either perform no marriage ceremonies or she shall perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple's sexual orientation," Fox wrote.
Neely has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage, and Fox said that the case was not about same-sex marriage or the reasonableness of religious beliefs. ...
Neely's case has similarities to legal action against a Kentucky clerk of court jailed briefly in 2015 after refusing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The case against clerk Kim Davis, a conservative Christian, sparked a national debate over the religious freedom of civil servants versus the civil rights of same-sex couples. Davis ultimately agreed to alter the licenses to remove her name and title. ...
(T)he dissenting justices argued that Neely didn't violate any judicial conduct code. "Wyoming law does not require any judge or magistrate to perform any particular marriage, and couples seeking to be married have no right to insist on a particular official as the officiant of their wedding," Justice Keith Kautz wrote in the dissent that was joined by Justice Michael K. Davis.

Keep reading, and AP provides reactions both from Neely's attorney and a gay-rights advocate. Plus, the wire service notes other relevant sources who were contacted but either unavailable or declined to comment. 

I was feeling pretty good about the story, but then I happened to glance at the headline. I somehow missed the headline the first time I clicked the link that someone sent me.

See if you you notice the same thing I did:

Court decides to censure, not remove anti-gay marriage judge

Here's my problem with the headline: It puts a label on the judge and casts her position in a negative light. Is the judge most accurately described as "anti-gay marriage?" Or would she be better characterized as "pro-marriage between one man and one woman as she believes God ordained it?"

Yes, I realize that finite space in the AP's headline field makes that second option difficult. But still, I think the headline could have -- and should have -- been better. Oh, by the way, is "anti-gay," in this case, a reference to expressions of her theological views -- which are at the heart of this debate -- or her actual actions under the laws of her state?

One other note on the AP story: While it refers to Kim Davis, a former Kentucky county clerk who was involved in a similar case, as a conservative Christian, it fails to note Neely's religious affiliation. That would seem to be important information. (For some good background on the Kim Davis case, check out these past GetReligion posts by Terry Mattingly: here and here.)

Back to Neely: She is -- according to a quick Google search -- "a faithful and active member of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Pinedale, Wyoming." That church is affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Her denomination was, by the way, called "repugnant" by officials in one open court debate about her case.

Finally, the Wyoming case brought to mind a story I wrote for The Christian Chronicle in 2013 on a Washington state judge who was admonished for voicing a preference not to perform same-sex marriages. If you're interested, read that story here.

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