Media Follow Gay Script on Marriage Ruling

The TV news networks and other major media followed the typical gay script in reporting the California Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling Thursday striking down the voter-approved marriage law and presumably creating “gay marriage” in the Golden State.

ABC, NBC and CBS all featured clips of happy homosexual activists, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, and very brief comments from a pro-family spokesman. Only CBS identified Newsome as a Democrat, while CBS and NBC identified Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Republican and ABC described him as a McCain supporter.

CBS gave traditional marriage defender Andy Pugno, Chief Counsel for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, only 13 words on camera, allowing him to say the court had “overstepped its bounds.”

The networks ignored the California court majority's contempt for clearly expressed public will, and its illustration of the threat posed by activist judges to the sovereignty of the people.  Proposition 22, a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by California voters in 2000, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The networks also ignored the issue of a branch of government placing its imprimatur on behavior held by most people to be immoral, as well as the strongly worded dissents by the court's minority.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos was the only evening network analyst to discuss the possible impact on the presidential race, which he said might be minimal.

The Washington Post featured two happy lesbians on the front page, and managed to include a quote from the ruling comparing the approval of “gay marriage” to the end to “interracial marriage” in 1948. The Wall Street Journal lead story featured a color photo of two happy lesbians, but also a graph showing a survey indicating that “Most Americans still opposed legalizing same-sex marriage.”  The New York Times featured a crowd of hugging same-sex couples, with a male couple in the foreground.

None of the networks mentioned that California voters had approved the marriage law with a 61.4 percent vote in 2000. Only NBC's Pete Williams noted that “opponents” have collected more than 1 million signatures for a state constitutional marriage amendment for the November ballot that would define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.  In the network segments, people defending the traditional definition of marriage were cast negatively as “opponents” or “the opposition.”

Misleading “Ban” Spin

In announcing the decision, ABC's Charles Gibson said:

Today's 4-3 ruling by the California Supreme Court is clear and it is historic. Gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California. There's been a ban on same-sex marriage in that state. The court today said that ban violates the “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.”

The court actually said that the law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman was “unconstitutional.” By spinning same-sex marriage as a constitutional “right,” Gibson gave the impression that the “ban on same-sex marriage” was an injustice that needed overcoming, and not the legal reflection of the norm for all major religions and the deeply rooted tradition in the United States since before its founding. Thus, a law defining the obvious requirements of marriage is reduced to a “ban.” The New York Times headline, for instance, was “California Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban.” By this reasoning, any law that confers status of any kind to anyone (a law license?) is really just a “ban” on those who don't qualify.

Similarly biased coverage of the marriage ruling could be found on the on-line news sites immediately following the decision, including MSNBC, which reported only pro-homosexual spokesmen and excerpts of the court's 4-3 majority decision. The MSNBC article ended with this terse bummer: “An initiative is under way in California to change the state constitution to restrict marriage to members of the opposite sex.”

The media script for gay rulings or votes is simple: 1) Report the outcome, often in a triumphant or scolding tone 2); interview happy or sad gay proponents, depending on whether they've won; 3) expand on the outcome; 4) include a speed bump comment with an “opponent”—but only on procedure, nothing that might get people excited; 5) return to triumphal gay spokesperson; 6) speculate on next move. The Washington Post, for example, concluded its front-page story with a quote by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, who dismissed any possible political importance of the decision by reducing it to one of several “social wedge issues.”  A wedge issue is not a valid issue but a debate contrived for political purposes.

Here are the transcripts of the three major networks' coverage of the ruling on May 15.

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric

KATIE COURIC: Good evening, everyone. The hot-button issue of same-sex marriage is front and center again in this country and in the middle of a presidential election campaign. California's highest court put it there today by striking down the state's ban on gay marriage. The 4-3 ruling clears the way for California to now join Massachusetts as the only states where it is legal for members of same gender to marry. Four others permit civilians, but 26 states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. John Blackstone is in San Francisco and was at the court when the California ruling was handed down. (Cheers)

BLACKSTONE:  With shouts and tears, those who fought to win the right to marry celebrated on the steps of California's Supreme Court.


RIZZO:  I can't wait to marry my partner. It's just a beautiful day.

BLACKSTONE: Four years ago, Jeanne Rizzo and her partner Pauli Cooper joined the flood of gay couples getting married at San Francisco's city hall, but they were in line when the state Supreme Court ordered the ceremonies to stop. Today, Rizzo phoned her partner of 19 years from the courthouse steps.

RIZZO: I don't know the details of the ruling, but I think we're getting married pretty soon.

STUART GAFFNEY (SHOWN WITH PARTNER): Marriage is the right to marry the person that you love, and I'm here with the person that I love.

BLACKSTONE:  The news spread quickly to San Francisco's predominantly gay Castro neighborhood.

TIM OVIATT, SAN FRANCISCO RESIDENT:  I've got goose bumps. I'm crying. This is a moment I waited for all my life.

BLACKSTONE:  At City Hall, where the mayor opened the doors to gay marriages four years ago, today's victory was sweet.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D) SAN FRANCISCO: What a day in San Francisco! (cheers and applause) What a day in California! What a day for America!

BLACKSTONE: But opponents of gay marriage are already working to overturn the decision with a ballot initiative in November. What's wrong with legalizing gay marriage in California?

ANDREW PUGNO, PROTECTMARRIAGE.COM: Well, the main problem here is that the court has overstepped its bounds.

BLACKSTONE:  Still, a rush of gay weddings is expected as soon as the ruling takes effect in 30 days. And these marriages will be unquestionably legal.

ANDREW COHEN, CBS NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: But as a practical matter, once you give same-sex couples the right to marry and they marry, undoing those marriages is a headache.

BLACKSTONE:  Certainly, the fighting over this hasn't ended yet. But California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says he'll uphold the court ruling and oppose the ballot measure to overturn it. Katie.

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams


BRIAN WILLIAMS: Also freedom to marry, a big story on the West Coast tonight, big victory for gay couples, how big an impact will this have nationwide?

Third story: (Bush's speech took top priority)

BRIAN WILLIAMS:  We mentioned this at the top of the broadcast, in California, a big ruling on gay rights, the state Supreme Court ruled that the laws banning marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. Now this means California today became the second state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. But what's the impact of this and will this ruling stick? We get more from our justice correspondent Pete Williams.

PETE WILLIAMS: Today's ruling is a huge victory for advocates of gay rights.

UNIDENTIFIED GAY COUPLE: We're going to be newlyweds after 21 years together. We just couldn't be happier.

P. WILLIAMS:  It overturned California laws banning same-sex marriage ending a legal battle that began four years ago when San Francisco's mayor granted marriage licenses to thousands of gay couples. Today he praised the outcome.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAN FRANCISCO: It's about human dignity. It's about civil rights. It's about time.

P. WILLIAMS: In defending its law, the state said California provided the same legal rights as marriage to registered domestic partners but the 15 couples who sued said that wasn't enough

RACHEL LEDERMAN, GAY PARENT:  Marriage is something that everyone understands. So it has a unique social status when you tell people that you're married.

P. WILLIAMS:  And today by a vote of 4-3 the state Supreme Court agreed. “Providing a separate designation for same-sex couples,” the court said, “perpetuates the premise that gay individuals are second-class citizens who can treated less favorably.” Opponents of same-sex marriage said the court overstepped its bounds.

GLEN LAVY, GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENT: Marriage has always been about men and women coming together, having children and raising them in the context of a legally recognized marriage.

P. WILLIAMS: Opposition groups say they have gathered more than 1 million signatures to get a measure on the November ballot that would wipe out today's decision by changing the state constitution to say that marriage can only exist between men and women. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he would oppose such a move. California now joins Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage, but advocates hope the decision will have a more powerful effect nationwide.  That would be tested soon with cases now pending in Connecticut and Iowa and after that, the battle shifts to state legislatures. Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

ABC World News with Charles Gibson


CHARLES GIBSON: Welcome to World News. Tonight, the California Supreme Court says gay marriage is constitutional in that state. What's the implication for the rest of the nation?


GIBSON: Good evening, today's 4-3 ruling by the California Supreme Court is clear and it is historic. Gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California. There's been a ban on same-sex marriage in that state. The court today said that ban violates the “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.” And so, California, for now, becomes the second state to allow same-sex marriage. Massachusetts the other. But the battle over this issue in California will go on. We begin tonight with ABC's Brian Rooney.

ROONEY: A cheer went up outside the courthouse as the decision was announced. It was an emotional moment for same-sex couples who have waited years to be legally married.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's an amazing feeling to know that our government is recognizing our relationship and our union.

ROONEY: It was the marriages of same-sex couples in San Francisco's city hall back in 2004 that set California on course for today's decision. The marriages were stopped and a statewide referendum later defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman. It's that law that was overturned today. The court said that continuing the ban would perpetuate the premise, "that gay individuals and same-sex couples are, in some respects, second-class citizens." Opponents, who have argued that this destroys traditional marriage, vowed to fight on.

ANDREW PUGNO, ATTORNEY FOR PROP 22 DEFENSE FUND: The court has exceeded its bounds of what courts do, and they have tried to make social policy rather than interpret the law.

ROONEY: In recent years, 26 states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. So, even while California's same-sex marriages may not be recognized by many other states, proponents hope this decision is a trend-setter.

KATE KENDALL, NATIONAL CENTER FOR LESBIAN RIGHTS: The state supreme court of the largest state in the country, with more lesbian and gay people than any other state, the biggest population of voters and Americans of any state, what it signals is that this is a new day.

ROONEY: San Francisco's mayor, who started all this by declaring same-sex marriage legal in his city, presided over a loud celebration at City Hall.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: And by the way, as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

ROONEY: Now the marriages could begin after about 30 days, but this does not end the conflict. A constitutional amendment that could end up on the November ballot, Charlie, and if it passes, it would overrule the courts and the legislature and marriage only between man and a woman would be the law of the state.

GIBSON: Brian Rooney, reporting tonight from San Francisco.  Thanks. Well, this issue might impact the presidential campaign so George Stephanopoulos is joining us. It did impact the presidential election in 2004, and that's when, as Brian mentioned, San Francisco was recognizing same-sex marriage.  And it rallied conservatives to George Bush then. Is it likely to impact now?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEW CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's likely to have some impact, Charlie, but not the kind of game-changing issue you might expect, in part because so many states have already banned gay marriages. Now this initiative will likely be on the ballot in California. That could energize conservatives. It's also likely to be on the ballot in Florida and could do the same there.  On the other hand, Sen. McCain wants to reach out to independents, to moderate Republicans, who won't necessarily be energized by this issue. So I don't think he's going to talk about it all that much. And his top supporter in the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is against the initiative. So you might end up having something of a conspiracy of silence on the issue with neither candidate wanting to talk about it all that much and it could lead to a political wash. In fact, Sen. McCain gave a major speech laying out his first term agenda today and he didn't mention either gay marriage or abortion.