The Supreme Court’s sharply divided ruling (5 to 4) striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as an unconstitutional act of animus and malice (that is, hate) will undoubtedly make it more difficult for religious believers to express publicly their beliefs about the purpose and meaning of marriage and family. In the face of this growing bias, people of faith should understand its anti-religious roots, recognize the need for greater education about the role of religion in the public square, and, while engaging in public dialogue, remember that charity never faileth.

Biased Media Coverage


It should be a surprise to no one that recent news coverage has conveyed a strong bias in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, even though public opinion remains sharply divided on the subject. A recent study by the Pew Research Center confirms what is obvious to even casual news observers in the weeks before and after the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and DOMA.


“Stories with more statements supporting same-sex marriage outweighed those with more statements opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1,” according to the report by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.[i] Pew studied more than 500 news stories from March 18 (a week prior to the Supreme Court hearings) through May 12. This news media bias “held true whether the stories were reported news articles or opinion pieces, and was also the case across nearly all media sectors studied.”[ii] Even Fox News-typically associated with more conservative views-had more stories with significantly more supportive statements than opposing.


At the same time, the public remains sharply divided on the issue. Pew reports that, currently, 50% of the public supports legalizing same-sex marriage versus 43% opposed.[iii] But it was not until 2011 that more of the public supported than opposed same-sex marriage.[iv] And most of the recent change is attributable to a single demographic-voters under the age of 30.[v]


Anti-Religion Bias


What explains that strong bias when the public remains so divided? Is it merely “liberal” media bias? The answer is actually much deeper, and even more troubling. A candid article in the Washington Post earlier this year reveals what is really at issue. Under the heading, “Is the Post pro-gay’?,” the newspaper reprinted the following email exchange between one of its readers and a reporter:


[Reader] The overlooked “other side” on the gay issue is quite legitimate, and includes the Pope, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, evangelist Billy Graham, scholars such as Robert George of Princeton, and the millions of Americans who believe in traditional marriage and oppose redefining marriage into nothingness. . . . Is there no room in The Post for those who support the male-female, procreative model of marriage?


[Reporter] The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the “view of the world” that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.


[Reader] Contrary to what you say, the mission of journalism is not justice. Defining justice is a political matter, not journalistic. Journalism should be about accuracy and fairness. Good journalism also means not demeaning conservatives as “haters.”


[Reporter] As for accuracy, should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn’t marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn’t be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right? Of course I have a bias. I have a bias toward fairness. . . . The true conservative would have the same bias. The true conservative would want the government out of people’s bedrooms, and religion out of government.[vi]


The Post‘s “ombudsman” reprinted the above. His official role was “to critique the newspaper’s journalism and field readers’ questions.”[vii] Was he-as an independent and neutral referee between the newspaper’s journalists and its readers-troubled by the above exchange? Here’s how he began:


Most journalists believe that through writing about life as it is, showing people’s struggles and contradictions, we get closer to the truth. The democracy, being more fully informed, then makes better decisions, and perhaps people’s lives improve as a result.


Alongside that do-gooder instinct is a strong desire for fairness because, being out in the world, reporters encounter a great deal of unfairness. We want to expose that and even rub your noses in it. In a way, we’re shouting, through our stories: “This is unfair! Somebody do something!” Conservative and liberal journalists alike feel this way.[viii]


But does “writing about life as it is” in order to “get closer to the truth,” not to mention “fairness,” include balanced reporting about the beliefs of those opposed to redefining marriage? Including their deeply held religious beliefs about the meaning of marriage and family? He continued:


And because our profession lives and dies on the First Amendment – one of the libertarian cornerstones of the Constitution – most journalists have a problem with religionists telling people what they can and cannot do. We want to write words, read books, watch movies, listen to music, and have sex and babies pretty much when, where and how we choose.

. . . .


That’s why many journalists have a hard time giving much voice to those opposed to gay marriage. They see people opposed to gay rights today as cousins, perhaps distant cousins, of people in the 1950s and 1960s who, citing God and the Bible, opposed black people sitting in the bus seat, or dining at the lunch counter, of their choosing.



With no apparent appreciation for the irony, he then wrote in conclusion, “Still . . . The Post should do a better job of understanding and conveying to readers, with detachment and objectivity, the beliefs and fears of social conservatives.”[x] This begrudging conclusion showed a theoretical understanding of the need for objective journalism. But all that preceded it betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of-and perhaps unwillingness to understand-the significant and valuable role of religion in the public square.


After all, it was, in fact, “religionists” such as Martin Luther King, Jr. who, “citing God and the Bible,” were largely responsible for ending segregation. In the words of noted civil rights leader John Lewis, the 1960s movement “was built upon deep-seated religious convictions” and, without such faith, “would have been like a bird without wings.”[xi]


There can be little question that a significant number of journalists have a bias against religion and its influence on public policy. The same is no doubt true for other media gatekeepers, including the powerful and influential Hollywood establishment. Underlying this bias is a fundamental misunderstanding of the significant role of religion in shaping American institutions and achieving moral advancements, including the end of slavery and racial segregation. Because this “media industrial complex” has such a profound influence upon how society perceives reality, this anti-religion bias is a deeply disturbing and troubling threat to religious freedom.


The Need for Better Education


The challenge for religious believers is to overcome false perceptions about the role of religion in the past in order to show its continued relevance to moral problems today.


Indeed, if journalists were not predisposed against religion, they might shed light on the following reality captured in a recent Editorial by the Deseret News:


Ours is a morally complex and pluralistic world, where some priests, whose theology only contemplates marriage as between a man and a woman, also seek to eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians; where some ministers who feel enjoined by conscience to teach a scriptural standard of sexual rectitude also actively work, pray and counsel with homosexuals in their communities; and where some LGBT activists acknowledge that there is something unique and special about an intact biological family.[xii]


In other words, religious believers can be for marriage without being against gays and lesbians.[xiii] And even some gays and lesbians are troubled about redefining marriage away from its historical role of uniting children to both biological parents.[xiv] Unfortunately, these realities will continue to be obscured until there is a greater understanding of the true role of religion in shaping America’s history on moral issues-from ending slavery and segregation in the past to challenging unrestricted abortion and the decline of marriage today.  


Greater understanding will require greater efforts at education. In his recent speech upon accepting the Canterbury Medal, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged: “The problem of educating the public, and especially the rising generation, needs to be addressed on a front wider than preaching, lobbying, and litigating. We must employ education to broaden the base of citizens who understand and are committed to defending religious freedom. This will require better information for our religious believers and also the enlistment of other groups.”[xv]


Many Latter-day Saints (and other religious believers) may wonder what they can do. “We should never undervalue the work that we do in our own homes, gathered around dinner tables and kitchen countertops. As we seek for, live, and teach our children the truth about marriage and family, we are entitled to Heaven’s blessing.”[xvi]


Charity Never Faileth


Of course, beyond the walls of our homes, our efforts will be met with greater resistance. But that reality must not discourage us.


Two weeks before Californians voted on Proposition 8, supporters organized a rally that stretched across Orange County, gathering crowds of friendly sign wavers-more than 1,500-at every major intersection along the popular Pacific Coast Highway. One motorist from out of state stopped and asked me what all the commotion was about. He had just driven up the Coast Highway and said that he “saw nothing but yellow”-the color of “Yes on 8” signs.


But readers of the Orange County Register-the county’s largest newspaper-got a much different description of the event. Its coverage began by noting that supporters “planned to gather more than 1,000 people to wave the campaign’s yellow signs” along the Coast Highway, but then quickly added, “That didn’t appear to happen.”[xvii] Even worse, the article then devoted two-thirds of its column space to three rallies by opponents of Proposition 8, even though each rally had no more than 20 supporters. Of the ten people quoted for comment in this article, eight opposed Proposition 8.


As an organizer of the rally, I was extremely upset and sent video of the event to the newspaper and complained about biased reporting. That led to several phone conversations and email exchanges with the paper’s Politics Editor. I asked her to print a correction about the rally and to consider publishing an Op-Ed about media bias. It read in part:


Opponents of Prop 8 are quick to accuse it of being discriminatory, and then to label Prop 8 supporters as intolerant bigots. That affects people’s perceptions, even otherwise objective journalists. Few journalists would want to provide a platform to groups that promote discrimination, bigotry, and hatred. Accordingly, some may limit the depth of their coverage-perhaps subconsciously-for “Yes on 8” events. . . . Practically speaking, that’s discriminatory.


Proposition 8, however, is not.

Individuals have a fundamental right to marry, but society has a fundamental interest in defining marriage. Preserving the traditional definition of marriage is not an attempt to favor one group of adults over another group; rather, it is primarily about prioritizing first the needs of children. Children deserve, as much as possible, to be raised by a married mother and father. Some may disagree with that viewpoint, but Prop 8 supporters have a right to express it.[xviii]

At first, the anger and frustration that I felt invited a defensive reaction from the Politics Editor. But gradually, the tone of our conversation changed. At one point, she asked me whether I knew of any election night parties being planned, so she could send a reporter. There were some, but I hadn’t planned on attending. After reflection, I responded in an email:


I don’t feel that a party atmosphere is really appropriate. I will be very grateful if Prop 8 passes because I believe that society should encourage that every child be raised, as much as possible, by his/her married mother and father. But I appreciate how painfully Prop 8 will affect some gay and lesbian couples. If Prop 8 passes, there will be many who feel that their relationships are not respected, or that they are not valued as individuals. It will be very disappointing to many, perhaps frightening too. Though I believe it’s the right decision for society, I don’t want to pour salt in any wounds. For me, it will be a quiet, respectful moment.[xix]


The next day, the Politics Editor wrote about our exchange online. She began by explaining,  


I don’t usually use this blog to rehash conversations or disagreements our readers sometimes have with us. As politics editor, I get a lot of calls all the time questioning our perceived biases and intentions, but never have I gotten so many as I have on Proposition 8.[xx]


Then she described our conversations and quoted my email acknowledging the pain and fear that gay and lesbian couples might feel if Proposition 8 became law. She also printed my Op-Ed arguing that allegations of discrimination and bigotry led to media bias. I marveled at the change from our initial conversation.


Media coverage about Proposition 8 supporters often focuses on religious condemnation against gays and lesbians. Tragically, some organizations and individuals have eagerly obliged that popular portrayal with hateful and indefensible rhetoric. But the vast majority traditional marriage supporters that I know are loving and kind. For the most part, they express their deep convictions about the meaning of marriage and family without animosity toward any group that believes differently. Many even express great love for those who disagree with them. Sadly, that reality is often obscured.


My experience with the Orange County Register taught me that if others genuinely feel that religious believers are also deeply committed to the principle that “God loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11:17)-all of his children-they will be more open and willing to learn about the real motivations behind religious support for marriage and family. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)


It will not be easy, but for religious believers, it may be our only hope of being heard in the public square.


[i] Paul Hitlin, Amy Mitchell, and Mark Jurkowitz, “News Coverage Conveys Strong Momentum for Same-Sex Marriage,” June 17, 2013, report for Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Pew Research Center, “Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage,” June 2013.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Patrick B. Pexton, “Is the Post pro-gay’?,” Washington Post (online), Feb. 23, 2013.

[vii] Paul Farhi, “Post Ombudsman will be replaced by reader representative,” Washington Post (online), Mar. 1, 2013.

[viii] Patrick B. Pexton, “Is the Post pro-gay‘?,” Washington Post (online), Feb. 23, 2013.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] John Lewis, PBS interview by Kim Lawton, January 16, 2004, a transcript of which is available.

[xii] “In Our Opinion: Ruling in DOMA case needless, thoughtless, and damaging,” Deseret News, June 30, 2013.

[xiii] See, e.g.,

[xiv] See, e.g., Robert Oscar Lopez, “Same-Sex Parenting: Child Abuse?,” Public Discourse, July 8, 2013.

[xv] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Strengthening the Free Exercise of Religion,” May 16, 2013, a transcript of which is available.

[xvi] Jenet Erickson, “Restoring Faith in Marriage and Family,” Speech at Celebration of Marriage, South Towne Exposition Center, June 26, 2013.

[xvii] Michael Mello and Rachanee Srisavasdi, “Prop. 8 brings people to the streets,” Orange County Register, October 25, 2008.

[xviii] Julie Gallego, “A Complaint about Prop 8 coverage,” Orange County Register, October 31, 2008.

[xix] Email from Michael Erickson to The Orange County Register, October 30, 2008.

[xx] Julie Gallego, “A Complaint about Prop 8 coverage,” Orange County Register, October 31, 2008.