With passage of a law legalizing same-sex marriage in New York, we are beginning to see “second day” stories about the decision and its impact. One of the more curious arguments being hashed out in the media is whether wedding vendors who are opposed to same-sex marriage should be able to discriminate in providing services. In short, should caterers have a conscience rule that protects them if they don’t want to provide pigs-in-a-blanket at a wedding between two women.
USA Today’s Cathy Grossman does a nice job in her Faith and Reason column looking at the coverage and suggesting some shortcomings in how the issue is being examined.
The Boston Globe, looking at the battle in New York last week as the religious exemption was hashed out, talked to New Yorkers in the wedding and marriage services industry and found some nervous people:
Bill Banuchi, who provides Christian marriage and family counseling and seminars through his Marriage and Family Savers Institute in Newburgh, N.Y., said he wouldn’t be protected by any religious exemptions because his business is considered a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational charity, not a religious institution.
“We have certain principles and ethical guidelines we’d have to compromise,” Banuchi said Wednesday. “We would be in violation of the law and open to being sued for discrimination, and we could lose our tax-exempt status if we refused to counsel couples according to their value system. Our value system is that the only authentic marriage is between a male and a female.”
But the Globe hit a point that seems to have been lost in all of this discussion. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is already against the law in New York., says Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization.
Grossman hits on an important point that is essential for journalists to keep in mind in exploring these arguments. There is already an existing set of laws–the predate same-sex marriage–and those laws already deal with discrimination and a possible religious exemption. Interviewing experts on religious liberty who can talk about the law in this area, and not just talking-point, is a helpful approach to looking at the issue.
In her piece, Grossman highlighted a critique at the conservative media watchdog website GetReligion where pundit Mollie Hemingway said the press had failed to explain how individual believers are effected by the changes and will be forced to comply with non-discrimination laws. Here’s what she said in the comments to her post.
And there is so much epistemic closure among adherents of this view, that these media figures would probably come off like idiots if they even tried to broach the topic. Which, for the most part, they’ve avoided simply by not broaching the topic.
I’m shocked at how unable many reporters are to consider unintended consequences of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, or, you know, just when I ask them to define marriage and ask some probing questions about their definition.
It’s unbelievable how uninformed and unthoughtful many reporters are when it comes to these things. And it shows in their coverage. And I say that as someone who doesn’t even believe the marriage can or should define or redefine marriage! Imagine how actual proponents of traditional marriage laws might feel about the coverage.
There’s no question that orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians (not to mention those freethinkers who simply recognize marriage as a heterosexual institution) will be treated like racists when it comes to same-sex marriage. I had a reporter who covers this issue at one of the largest papers in the country tell me that this is what they are just this past week.
I’d agree that the press hasn’t done a good job covering this issue–and Grossman’s column and the AP story are a good start–and a good place to start would be examining talking-points like this and helping readers, viewers, and listeners understand the law and how it balances competing rights. High-octane rhetoric like this needs to be put into context and grounded in the law and policy.