A human decision

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Photo by Danny Johnston, AP.

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Photo by Danny Johnston, AP.

Thank you, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.

I may curse you in a few days, but your decision Friday was, I believe, the right—and human—one.

Piazza, who like other judges across the country struck down a ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, stated in his 13-page ruling in Wright v. State:

… in Amendment 83 they singled out same-sex couples for the purpose of disparate treatment. This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality. The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent.

From an editor’s point of view, such a controversial decision means lots of copy to fill the pages, even—and especially—when we as people don’t agree with the gist of it.

For the Voices page, it means many letters debating the effects and/or benefits of the decision, more than a few overheated, especially when it comes to the front-page photo this paper printed on Sunday. The photo of Kristin Seaton and Jennifer Rambo of Fort Smith kissing while waiting to get their marriage license has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest.

Kristin Seaton, left, and Jennifer Rambo, kiss while waiting for their marriage license Saturday at the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs. The Fort Smith couple were first in line and were later married outside the courthouse. Photo by Alexander Reyes, NWA Media.

Kristin Seaton, left, and Jennifer Rambo, kiss while waiting for their marriage license Saturday at the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs. The Fort Smith couple were first in line and were later married outside the courthouse. Photo by Anthony Reyes, NWA Media.

Whether you agree with the publication of the picture, or with the judge’s decision that led to it, one matter should be remembered. As Piazza noted in the ruling, the issuance of a marriage license is a civil matter, not a religious one.

A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution.

Elsewhere in the decision, citing West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Piazza also notes, in answer to claims that a 75% vote on the Arkansas gay-marriage ban in 2004 is a legitimate defense for keeping it:

The Constitution guarantees that all citizens have certain fundamental rights. These rights vest in every person over whom the Constitution has authority and, because they are so important, an individual’s fundamental rights “may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

(Along the same lines, does the opposition really want to open that can of worms about judges overturning the votes of the citizens? Anyone remember who won the popular vote in 2000?)

As I read it, applying the 14th Amendment and the lessons learned from cases such as Dred Scott and Loving v. Virginia is rational and more than fair. Few of us know no one who is gay, and on the whole, they want what we all want: to be happy, loved and part of humanity because, after all, they’re human too.

And hey, they have a sense of humor too! Image via HappyPlace.com.

And hey, they have a sense of humor too! Image via HappyPlace.com.

This case is not dead, of course, nor is the debate.

Some legislators and ordinary citizens are calling for Piazza’s impeachment, an idea the more rational among our politicians agree is misguided and would set a dangerous precedent, and this case and others are sure to wind their way to higher courts as well as the court of public opinion.

But please, read the full ruling in Wright before you try to argue it with others.

You’ll do everyone a favor if you gather the facts and attack the argument rather than the person.

Gay pride supporters gather at the Statehouse in downtown Boise for the annual Boise Gay Pride Rally. A federal judge on Tuesday overturned Idaho's same-sex marriage ban, but the state's governor vows to appeal.  Photo by Jerry Manter, KBOI2.com web producer/\.

Gay pride supporters gather at the Statehouse in downtown Boise for the annual Boise Gay Pride Rally. A federal judge on Tuesday overturned Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban, but the state’s governor vows to appeal.
Photo by Jerry Manter, KBOI2.com web producer.

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Recent missteps have thrust Secretary of State John Kerry into the glare of partisan scrutiny yet again, which means, yep, Swift Boating—replete with battling patriotic narratives—is back.

Please, contain your enthusiasm.

As I’ve said many times before, editing is not an exact science, as a few letters last week proved, and I should have been more vigilant in making sure opinion and facts were clear.

John Kerry (far right) with some of his crew aboard a "swift boat" on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. Image from KRT.

John Kerry (far right) with some of his crew aboard a “swift boat” on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. Image from KRT.

However, the debate goes far beyond what really happened in Vietnam on those Swift Boat patrols. Regardless of how much or how little truth is contained in these sorts of smears, all that matters is making the other guy look dirtier.

Late in the 2004 presidential campaign, several news organizations finally decided to start checking claims in political ads, which, to be quite honest, have never really been all that forthright, but the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads struck a chord with a lot of people.

Washington Post correspondent Dana Milbank said at the time that though there seemed to be more policing, there was also more “nonsense” from the campaigns. “I think they’ve reached a point where they feel you can say anything, and by the time the press catches up with it, it’ll be days if not weeks later.” And by that time, the message has sunk in.

That means that despite conflicting stories both before and after the ads from several of the people in them (only one of whom actually served with Kerry on the boat) and military records from the time of the incidents in question, as well as audits of the awarding of Kerry’s medals, some still believe nothing from the ads was ever disproved, when the bulk of the claims were debunked by the records.

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Which brings me to another matter in fact-checking that amuses and annoys me. I’ve said before that the sites I most trust include links to original documents so readers can check them out themselves rather than letting someone else do their thinking. That doesn’t stop bias accusations, though, or hypocrisy.

In December, Alex Seitz-Wald of the National Journal reported:

… it’s more than a bit ironic to see conservatives touting PolitiFact as a trusted arbiter of truth considering they’ve spent the past four years trying to discredit the site as untrustworthy and biased, investigated its reporters and editors, and more often than not found their own ‘pants on fire.’

In 2009 and 2010, it was the GOP who earned the ‘Lie of the Year’ prize for claims related to Obamacare—‘Death panels’ and ‘a government takeover of health care’—and [in 2012], Mitt Romney earned the dishonor for an ad about the auto industry. For that and other crimes—a study based on PolitiFact data suggested that Republicans lie three times more often than Democrats—conservatives declared war on the site.

It comes down to this: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say a fact-checker is biased when it disagrees with you, then turn around and tout it when it agrees.

Unless, of course, you like being called a hypocrite.

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