On February 16, a FAIR action alert called on ABC World News Tonight and the New York Times to offer a more nuanced explanation of the possible effects of a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. While some proponents of the amendment claim it would allow states to offer same-sex civil union arrangements, some legal experts suggest that the vague language of the amendment could actually ban civil unions.
In response to emails from FAIR activists, New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent wrote on his web journal: “I urge the Times to report on it more fully — not just on what the amendment really means, but also on the debate over what it really means.” On February 25, the Times did just that, offering a short piece on the legal debate over the amendment: “Some conservative scholars who oppose gay unions and some gay scholars who oppose the amendment are arguing that it might effectively block any marital benefits for same-sex couples , no matter what name is used.”
The piece did tilt in favor of the amendment’s proponents, offering two responses to a single comment from a critic of the amendment. The Times story is also unfortunately framed to suggest that criticism of the amendment’s language is relegated to just two small groups of legal scholars– “a handful of conservatives” who oppose gay unions, and “a few gay legal advocates” who oppose the amendment.
In their February 24 broadcast, ABC World News Tonight also changed the way they reported the amendment. Correspondent Terry Moran ended his report with this: “The president says he supports states deciding for themselves whether they want to establish so-called civil unions for same-sex couples, though gay rights advocates say the constitutional amendment he is backing might ban even those arrangements.” This explanation is an improvement over Moran’s earlier description of the amendment, which he said “would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but allow states to establish civil unions for gay couples.”
FAIR’s criticism was taken seriously by ABC and the Times thanks to the efforts of activists who contacted the outlets in response to the alert.