Media Needs to Accurately Describe the Ban

By now you well know that there are two sentences to the proposed constitutional ban. You know that the first sentence would make the denial of marriage for gay and lesbian couples permanent, and that the second would deny anything “substantially similar” to marriage. So, you know that this means civil unions would be forever outlawed. You also know about some of the far-reaching impacts of the ban, including the threat to domestic violence cases and the potential loss of health care benefits already in place.

Unfortunately, because the media often leaves off the second sentence when describing the ban, most in Wisconsin don't know everything you do.

Our neighbors in Minnesota are fighting a similar constitutional ban and a similar problem.

Kate Parry, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Reader Representative, recently addressed her paper's inaccurate coverage and had this to say about how media should report on the ban:
It's the job of journalists to sniff out spin and do their best to expose it and neutralize the language. That's why the Star Tribune, and most newspapers, don't use the phrases "prochoice" and "prolife" in news stories describing sides in the abortion debate. The paper's style is to use the more neutral "abortion-rights supporters" and "abortion opponents."

But the Star Tribune has done poorly so far this session neutralizing spin on legislation to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and "its legal equivalent" on the fall ballot.


The phrases "same-sex marriage" or "gay marriage" have shown up regularly in coverage. But the equally important phrase "its legal equivalent" was scarce until about a week ago, after the newsroom's style committee raised concerns that the description of the bill being used was incomplete.

Now some stories have referred to "same-sex marriage or civil unions," but still have not explained the potential scope of "its legal equivalent."
Parry goes on to say that the paper’s style committee has begun circulating language to more fully describe the ban “as often as practical.” But, says Parry:
I think that's not quite far enough: The fuller description "to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions" should be included on first references in all news stories, whether it's convenient or not. I'm having trouble seeing what's inconvenient about it. Also, in most stories, the issue is worth at least a paragraph explaining in more detail the potential impact of the "legal equivalent" language on same-sex couples and their families.
And boy, do I agree. Whether or not a majority of Wisconsinites are in favor of marriage equality, we know that a majority are in favor of providing gay and lesbian couples some of the protections that marriage provides.

Moreover, when reporters call this the "gay marriage amendment," they make it sound like a referendum on whether "gay marriage" should be legal--an error that very well may cause voters on both sides of the issue to cast their ballots the wrong way.

Failing to give the full scope of the ban is not fair journalism, and it is not fair to the voters of this state.

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