The major media are soft-selling the New Jersey Supreme Court's Wednesday decision ordering "gay marriage" or its equivalent, lest the ruling become a fire bell in the night for social conservatives two weeks before the election.
CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric gave the story 21 seconds, talking about "committed same-sex couples" over footage of a cute lesbian couple with cute children, and two distinguished-looking older men standing on a woodsy balcony.
Important questions were left unasked: What gives the court the authority to order legislators to change the law? What if the legislators don't do so? And, what about those recent court decisions upholding marriage laws in New York, California, Washington and Georgia? NBC Nightly News devoted all of 26 seconds, deep into the broadcast. Brian Williams ceded the judges' apparent authoritarian power, saying: "The court ruled that same-sex couples in the state must be given all of the same legal protections that heterosexual couples get, and now it is up to the state legislature to make that happen, either by changing marriage laws or by creating another system like civil unions."
ABC Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford Greenberg openly lamented that the court did not go far enough, but concluded that "it's up to the legislature to decide. The state can take one of two tracks."
Greenberg explained: "Well, the court really split the difference here. Proponents had argued from the beginning that this case was about one thing – the right to marry, and they fell short of that. Instead, they got the rights and benefits of marriage, and opponents said they shouldn't get even that."
Note the phrase "even that." This implies that people who believe that real marriage should be uniquely protected in the law are heartless. Her tone was of sad resignation that some could be so cruel.
ABC's World News, which led with a story on the "landmark" ruling, was the only network news show to offer fuller coverage, devoting 4 minutes, 30 seconds. Anchor Charles Gibson and political analyst George Stephanopoulos noted that the decision could affect key Senate races in New Jersey, Tennessee and especially Virginia. The latter two states have marriage amendments on the Nov. 7 ballot.
In an extraordinary seven stories, the New York Times devoted only a few sentences referencing the earlier string of court decisions, including even the one by the New York Court of Appeals in July stating that courts have no authority to compel the legislature to create gay marriage. But they did find space for a feel-good feature on how ex-New Jersey Gov. Jim ("I'm a gay American") McGreevey said he would eventually probably "marry" his male partner of one year. At the end of the piece, writer David Chen noted that McGreevey's friends point out that "Mr. McGreevey would have to be legally divorced from Dina Matos, his second wife."
The Times editorial page predictably praised the ruling, including the timing, which "makes it hard for anti-gay forces in the state to mobilize against the decision."
The Washington Post's lead editorial, "New Jersey's Step Forward," praised the ruling, saying, "For those, like us, who support same-sex marriage, such steps are welcome." The editorial notes that "in requiring that state law grant the same benefits to same-sex couples that it gives to married couples, the New Jersey Supreme Court has given the Garden State a nudge down a road it was already traveling."
Later, the editorial contradicts itself: "The New Jersey legislature has not – as was the legislature in Massachusetts after its court acted in 2003—been denied the democratic prerogative of deciding state policy on this question." Guess it all depends on what the meaning of the word "requiring" is.
In the Post's eyes, getting to name this new, judicially created institution is real legislative freedom. The correct parallel to another state, by the way, is Vermont, where the Supreme Court ordered the legislature to create "gay marriage" or civil unions, and legislators chose the latter.
Has anyone in the media wondered how the courts would react to a law passed by legislators that ordered judges to rule a certain way, perhaps giving them a couple of suggested verdicts?
Finally, another media sleight of hand on the marriage issue is apples-and-oranges phrasing. The common drumbeat was that the court ruled that "same-sex couples" have the same rights as "heterosexual couples."
The first description applies to the simple fact of two people of the same sex. The second ignores the "opposite-sex" parallel description and instead uses a "sexual orientation" term. This reinforces the idea that human sexuality is not marked by biological differences between the sexes but rather by "orientation." Yet marriage laws are silent on orientation, requiring only that a man and a woman be present in a marriage. The transfer from biological fact to "what's going on in their heads" is no accident. It is part of the left-wing drive to make "sexual orientation" more important than biological reality and thus achieve moral parity for homosexuality and transgenderism.
On this morning's Good Morning America, ABC's Diane Sawyer employed the strategy:
"The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual ones. Now it's up to state lawmakers to define what this will mean -- civil unions, marriage?"
My prediction: Having done their best to downplay or misreport the story, major media now will drop it because it might energize "values voters," especially those in the eight states with marriage amendments on the ballot – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Stay home! There's nothing to see here!
Robert Knight is director of the Culture & Media Institute at the Media Research Center, www.MRC.org.