The Sun-Times piece, strongly written by staff reporter Kara Spak, is careful to make that civil-religious distinction through the voice of longtime gay activist and Catholic Rick Garcia. He has been a go-to source for many gay rights stories for years—usually it’s better to find someone with a fresher perspective, but in this case, Garcia’s quote suits perfectly, responding to George’s letter and laying out the gay rights perspective in three brisk sentences.
Spak fairly summarizes the cardinal’s argument and notes his mention of a Catholic organization, sanctioned by the church, that welcomes gays and lesbians and invites them to lead chaste lives. I wish she had also mentioned, as Brachear does, that shortly before George’s letter was issued, 260 Illinois clergy released a separate letter supporting gay marriage legislation. That would have been a welcome addition, since media coverage often gives the impression that religious figures and denominations universally oppose gay marriage and gay rights, which is far from the case.
Spak also adds some startling background that was new to me: “In 2011, during a television interview, George compared the gay rights movement to the Klu Klux Klan.” She explains the cardinal was protesting the new route of the annual Gay Pride parade, scheduled to pass a Catholic Church during Mass. Later, he apologized.
This is important information, because it shows that George is perhaps not as warm toward the gay community as he claims in his letter (“Does this mean that the Church is anti-gay? No, for the Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God’s ways … .”). However, I wish the revelation wasn’t placed at the end of Spak’s story without a response. It packs a punch there, but it also makes the piece feel like it is leaning left. Why? Because it seems like the writer is trying to make a point: George is homophobic. That sort of claim certainly deserves a response from George or at least the church. I’d rather have seen that information earlier, as a direct counterpoint to George’s claim that the church reaches out to gay people, so that it doesn’t come across as opinion.
The gay movement is advancing rapidly—sometimes so rapidly that it’s tough for reporters who don’t follow it closely not to get caught up in the snarls of language and mired in the subtleties of both sides’ arguments. Those complexities mean that the Tribune story conveys a slight anti-gay stance that it may not mean and that the Sun-Times seems more pro-gay marriage than perhaps is its intent. It may be impossible to ever be completely objective, but if we pay attention to pitfalls regularly associated with these stories, we can get closer.