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Miami Herald ombudsman: Newspaper’s coverage a reflection of gay-tolerant community

By EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS, ombudsman@MiamiHerald.com

``I am writing regarding The Herald's extremely one-sided coverage of gay rights issues,'' wrote reader Jerome Hurtak, ``that is, issues such as gay marriage, gay adoption, gays in the military, etc.

``It seems that almost once a month The Herald's editorial pages contain an opinion piece presenting an argument in favor of one or more gay causes. I have never seen a contrary view. Regardless of your particular view on gay rights, don't you think the community would benefit from a thoughtful presentation of opposing views?''

Yes, I agree that the subject of gay rights deserves discussion from all sides, and so I reviewed The Herald's editorial pages myself. I found that since June, the paper ran seven op-ed columns supporting various gay rights, versus two that opposed. News columnist Daniel Shoer Roth, who is openly gay, wrote three more in the news pages that were sympathetic to gay causes.

The pro views, for the most part, supported gay adoption of children, gay service in the military and gay marriage. The anti ones, both by Cal Thomas, rejected having gays in the military, gay marriage and the ordination of gay Episcopal bishops.

Add to this two editorials in which The Herald editorial board endorsed allowing gay adoption and ending the military's don't ask/don't tell policy and the balance on the pages clearly favored expanding gay rights. Is this wrong? I don't think so.

I agree with Editorial Page Editor Myriam Marquez when she told me: ``What we run is pretty much a reflection of what this community is. It is very gay tolerant.''

While state laws and regulations are among the least gay friendly in the nation, local ordinances in Dade and Broward Counties are the opposite, supporting inheritance benefits for same-sex partners, for example.

This not to say that the newspaper should only run popular opinions. The Herald has a duty to expose readers to responsible arguments from all sides of difficult issues. They might cause opinions to change.

What's popular, moreover, has nothing to do with what's right. Columnist Michael Gerson -- in a thoughtful piece that I didn't count because it opposed gay rights only in passing -- cites Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel in noting that justice is not just a matter of freedom and happiness, but also of morality.

But in another insightful piece, Sandy Bohrer, a local activist on children's issues who has done legal work for The Herald, noted that for much of our history, many states banned inter-racial marriage because it was seen as immoral and in opposition to God's will. Would anyone argue that today?

In recent years, most of us have come to accept the scientific view that sexual orientation is not a life choice, but a matter of genetics that defines a person as much as race. It is opposition to gay rights that is the life choice.

If morality is important in guiding the newspaper -- and I think it is -- then this means that the newspaper is morally obliged to be more concerned about its impact on gays in our community than on those whose life choice is to restrict them.

To be sure, the opposition to gay rights must be respected. These readers' views are rooted in religion (though religious interpretations are changing) and in strong social and family traditions, particularly among older generations. A newspaper that is too far in front of its community will lose that community. Change is often best nudged to avoid violent cleavage, which is itself a moral imperative.

Polls, however, show that young people overwhelmingly approve of expanding gay rights. We as a society may now be reaching a tipping point. If so, what most of us define as moral -- as the right thing to do -- will take another turn. We will abhor any thought of restricting someone because of their sexual orientation.

To some readers, this might all sound like parsing angels on a pinhead.

In another partly anti column I didn't count, Armando Valladares, the former Cuban political prisoner and onetime U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, demanded that politicians and voters act with strong moral convictions.

I suspect that future readers who look back on today will agree with his sentiment but not his anti gay-rights views. They will condemn the newspaper (and me) for not having banished the anti columns altogether.

But I stand by the social wisdom of muddling for now. Two- or three-to-one may be the right balance of op-ed columns representing community views in favor and against an expansion of gay rights. The newspaper editorial board can and has taken a separate definite stand of its own in editorials. The news pages, of course, are separate and must maintain their objectivity.

``I think that there is a legitimate debate that should be had,'' Marquez said. ``I would never . . . go in the other direction and support the forcing of a church, synagogue or mosque to embrace gay marriages that they oppose as a matter of faith. At the same time, I think that the government should be neutral and not impose these legal bans to what amounts to a civil-rights issue.''

Amen.

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