Between an inmate receiving 41 percent of the vote in the West Virginia primary over President Barack Obama and six-term Indiana Senator Richard Luger’s ousting by a Tea Party darling, gay marriage remains the topic du jour after last week’s saucy mix of politics, pundits and an electorate who got the last word on the subject in North Carolina.
North Carolinians became the thirty-second state to amend their constitution to keep the timeless definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Even though it passed by a 22 point margin, pollsters persist that Americans are really in favor of gay marriage. The New York Times cited nine surveys saying that 50 percent of American’s are for gay marriage. Apparently that memo didn’t make it to the Tar Heel State. It is understandable however, that when media serves up marriage as simply a social concoction of two parts "civil rights," one part "equality," and a pinch of “compassion,” they cultivate a new political taste amongst the masses. But also in the mix is a recipe of seismic social change at the hands of media cooks trolling for answers to fit their worldview.
If he who defines the terms wins the argument, then he who phrases the questions grades the test. In other words, the answer all depends on how you ask it. According to Greg Scott, director of national media relations at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) “the fact that the questions are asked in the way they are, the pollsters know they’re going to get a certain result. It’s called acquiescence bias.”
Surveys cited in the New York Times used phraseology such as “allowing” gays to access certain “rights” or making marriage between homosexuals "legal." Using such terminology in the questioning will garner a different response than: "Is marriage between one man and one woman for life?" When asked that way, 62 percent of the respondents said yes according to Scott. In fact, that number is corroborated by the average by which voters in all 32 states have approved constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
While public opinion on gay marriage has yet to be proven to be changing, the way the major media reports the news is. Call it their “evolution” toward advocacy journalism—which is often partisan and non-objective. A prime example is how the press covered President Obama’s "evolution" on gay marriage last week. He told ABC’s Robin Roberts. "The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president."
Roberts got "chills" from the interview while President Obama got a free pass from the press when it came to whether he was "imposing his religion" —a disqualifier if not an epithet often hurled at social conservatives who invoke God and Biblical beliefs as a basis for their positions. Politicians of any party shouldn’t be demonized for referencing God but the media should play fair with both sides of the aisle, lest they fall into the trap of looking down on anyone as Neanderthal for failing to "evolve" to their views.
To be sure, good measures of civility and respect are as necessary to this debate as are a transcendent and moral foundation. For the latter, social conservatives can thank President Obama for appealing to a higher authority for what constitutes the most basic of human relationships, however much they might disagree with his theological interpretations. In times when politicians from both parties do some collective soul-searching, seeking the Creator isn’t a bad place to start. In fact when it comes to marriage, God must be in the mix. Of course, answers are arrived at more readily when the media and their poll-tracking-brethren pursue truth and objectivity first and foremost.
*This op-ed first appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/05/18/2192105/richard-nelson-gay-marriage-ok.html