Is it possible to write an entire cover story on the topic of marriage — a feature article billed as a look at the way “the state of our unions” is “shifting” in America — but not mention same-sex marriage?
Further, what if the issue of same-sex marriage, which includes millions of American GLBT couples desperate to make a legal commitment to each other, is the one very obvious exception to the article’s underlying premise that marriage has an increasingly less prominent position in society, and is becoming seen as less important by society in general?
When an article takes a specific stand on an issue such as this one, isn’t it important to anticipate the objections to that stand and place them in their proper perspective?
And yet, except for a single question included in an accompanying poll, Time Magazine, in their November 29th cover story Marriage: What’s It Good For? by Belinda Luscombe, chose to ignore the issue of same-sex marriage entirely.
Of course, a good case can be made that GLBT couples seeking legal recognition for our existing partnerships is anything but a “radical redefinition” of marriage — that the real redefinition (the latest in a long line of historical “redefinitions” of marriage) came in the 1950s and 60s when marriage came to be seen as basically a relationship between equals, not merely a collection of rigid gender roles to promote the raising of children, and much more about intimacy, satisfaction, and egalitarianism of the adults involved.
Then again, for the last several decades, (almost) the entire conservative movement and most of the country’s major religions have been loudly arguing exactly the opposite — that same-sex marriage is destroying institution of marriage, and that GLBT people deserve a major share of the blame even for the break-down in heterosexual marriage. Since more than half the country currently believes this, you’d think the issue would’ve at least merited a paragraph or two in the article.
AfterElton.com contacted the author of the piece, Belinda Luscombe, who argued that she “obliquely” referenced same-sex marriage in a single passing quote: “We care about marriage so much that one of the fiercest political and legal fights in years is being waged over whom the state permits to get married.”
Oblique is right.
She continued, “More profoundly, I guess, the story we were trying to tell is a different story, one we thought had been less explored than the fight over gay marriage. It’s about how the way we practice marriage now is changing the economics of our society. While the fight over gay marriage is a very big deal, we felt we had told that story pretty well elsewhere, dating back to 2004.” She included a list of four links to Time‘s coverage of the fight for legal recognition of GLBT marriages.
But the fact that Time has previously covered a major news story is beside the point regarding whether the issue is relevant here (though it might be relevant if the publication was the target of a significant reader backlash as a result of those articles).
Luscombe goes on: “I’ve had some readers ask why we didn’t write specifically about black marriage or Asian marriage, which have issues specific to those communities. My answer is the same. We were taking a very high altitude 20,000-ft.in the air view of the institution. From that vantage point, you simply cannot fill in all the detail, but you get other insights, like the financial wedge that trends in marriage and non-marriage are driving through our society, which I think is an equally important story.”
But this is the typical, nonsensical dodge that journalists often give whenever they’re criticized: “If everyone is upset, I must be doing my job right!”
The greater point is that the raging issue of same-sex
marriage is surely not some ground-level “detail,” and on this issue at
least, the GLBT community isn’t some interest group to be assuaged. Her
whole article is an argument that a massive social movement is occurring
in America where the institution of marriage has less value and is
being taken less seriously by members of our society.
But there’s a huge and glaring problem with her premise: there happens to exist a group of millions of Americans who are eager to get married, who yearn to have their partnerships taken more seriously and play a more prominent role in society — but most of society is choosing to deny us that right (ironically and hypocritically, many of the very same people who would deny us that right also decry the current social trend away from marriage that Luscombe writes about in her article).
Who needs marriage? Many GLBT people do — desperately.
Look at it this way: when historians write the story of American marriage in the 00s, what will the essential elements of that history be? Asian American marriages? That seems unlikely. But same-sex marriages? Can you imagine writing about the history of public education in America the 1950s without mentioning African Americans and their fight for equality?
Same-sex marriage is clearly not the only marriage-related issue currently facing the country, and I can even understand the author of a piece such as this acknowledging the huge amount of oxygen being sucked up by the heated debate over GLBT marriage and specifically setting the issue aside for the purposes of this particular article.
But to ignore the issue entirely? That just seems weird. And, frankly, it seems like bad journalism.