David Fontana, of George Washington University, noted a shift from moral logic being employed by opponents of same-sex marriage to its use by proponents. “Marriage equality is a claim about what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “In 1996, when Congress passed [doma], it said, explicitly, that this is meant as moral condemnation. If you watched the oral arguments in the Supreme Court in March, the lawyer defending [DOMA]—he’s defending it because we need equality in federal law, because the sociological evidence is still unresolved.”

Embarrassed opponents

The shift toward overwhelming support of same-sex marriage in the US has left those who oppose it reluctant to air their views, panelists said. “There are a lot of people who have changed positions on the issue and are embarrassed about their past statements,” said Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed. He later added that, “We had staff looking for statements from members of Congress supporting DOMA or supporting Prop 8. Literally, I think we found three out of 535 members of Congress.”

Graff, meanwhile, noted that the moralistic tone of the debate has prevented journalists from understanding all sides. “In the media, there is a complete lack of understanding of what the opposition might be,” she said. “I do feel that people are having trouble stepping back and seeing another frame.”

To Petrow, however, the moral weight of the issue is too powerful to resist. He read a statement from Thomas Roberts of msnbc that defends public activism by journalists: “I don’t believe it is biased to support equality. I think it’s an American value.”

Petrow amplified Roberts’ point: “I think with that statement you get someone who, like me, is defining [same-sex marriage] as a civil right and not a political issue.”


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Christopher Massie is an intern at CJR.