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gender & sexuality

F.A.I.R. Action Alert: Amendment Deception Needs Media Clarity

Backers of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage have
created a misleading impression of their legislative plan-- a deception
that some media outlets have not properly explained to readers and
viewers.
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

The dispute centers on the fact that some advocates claim that the
proposed Federal Marriage Amendment would permit states to allow civil
unions for gays and lesbians. On February 11, ABC World News Tonight
correspondent Terry Moran explained that the amendment "would define
marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but allow states to
establish civil unions for gay couples." Moran continued by saying that
"some conservatives are unhappy that the proposed amendment would allow
civil unions for gay couples."

But the language of the amendment introduced by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave
(R-Colo.) suggests otherwise: "Marriage in the United States shall consist
only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the
constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to
require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred
upon unmarried couples or groups."

Some legal scholars point out that the "nor state or federal law" clause
would make it difficult for states to pass any civil unions legislation
for gay couples. Unfortunately, some media outlets have failed to clarify
the issue by offering only what amendment supporters are saying. The New
York Times, for example, explained (2/8/04) that "the proposed amendment
would allow state legislatures to recognize gay civil unions, a provision
that had alienated many conservatives." The Times wrote that some on the
right "considered it far too permissive" because they believe the
amendment would allow for civil unions.

Other papers have managed to convey the legal dispute. The Washington Post
(2/14/04) devoted a whole article to the topic, reporting that "the
amendment's possible interpretations are a matter of furious debate among
constitutional scholars and political activists, with some contending that
it would allow Vermont-style civil unions and others saying it would not."
The Post noted that two of the amendment's authors "contend that the
opening sentence also would forbid some kinds of civil unions," though
others aren't so sure.

The federal marriage amendment could be a key issue in the 2004
presidential campaign-- as ABC's Moran put it, "White House advisors say
it is just a matter of when, not if, the president comes out in favor of
amending the Constitution." Considering that political reality,
journalists should set the record straight on its potential consequences.

ACTION:
Write to the New York Times and ABC World News Tonight and encourage them
to accurately report what the federal marriage amendment might mean for
same-sex civil unions.

CONTACT:
New York Times
Daniel Okrent, Ombudsman
mailto: public@nytimes.com
Phone: (212) 556-7652

ABC News
World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040
mailto: PeterJennings@abcnews.com

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if
you maintain a polite tone. Please cc  fair@fair.org with your
correspondence.


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