Today’s same-sex marriage headline on CNN.com read, “Judge to declare Ohio’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional“. Based on that alone, I was thrilled, and ready to celebrate that Ohio had joined the list of states allowing same-sex marriage.
Except that’s not what happened, and the headline is grossly misleading.
The statement from the Judge Timothy Black said, “I intend to issue a written decision and order by April 14 striking down as unconstitutional under all circumstances Ohio’s ban on recognizing legal same-sex marriages from other states.”
That’s it — recognizing same-sex marriages from states in which they are legal. A great step, and solid progress, because every judicial decision supporting same-sex marriage (whether in that state or from another one) helps lay the groundwork for solid precedent and drives the inevitability of legal same-sex marriage in all fifty states. But the decision is not as sweeping as the headline suggests.
In the fourth paragraph, the article actually does clarify an important point: “The decision for now does not apply to homosexual couples who seek to marry in Ohio.” But you’d have to actually read the whole article, not just the headline or the introductory sentence that previews on Facebook and such. (That sentence, by the way, misleadingly reads, “Ohio will soon join the list of states that have current bans on same-sex marriage tossed out, after a federal judge on Friday signaled he will declare the current law unconstitutional.”)
The Associated Press was arguably slightly more accurate with their headline: “Judge to end Ohio ban on recognizing gay marriage“. If you didn’t catch the nuance of “recognizing” marriage, meaning recognizing marriages from other states, you might still be misled… But it’s still better than CNN’s headline on the subject.
This isn’t the first time the news has joyously trumpeted a victory that hadn’t yet occurred. Remember the infamous “DOMA OVERTURNED!” announcements of 2013? I threw a public fit (and earned myself no small amount of chiding from friends and colleagues over it) when headline after headline proclaimed that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was dead, was unconstitutional, etc.
Even professional advocates for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage equality used this kind of language, suggesting that it was over. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t; the only thing that changed in that ruling was that the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages that were issued in a state in which they are legal.
You can rightfully make the argument that it was an important step, and that the precedent has had huge ramifications since then, and I agree — but major portions of DOMA are still legal to this day. The fight is not yet over.
These examples frustrate the hell out of me. I think it’s important to recognize each and every positive step on the road to equality, and we should be celebrating every bit of progress. But it’s irresponsible to give the impression that broad and major changes have taken place, when in reality the success is much more narrow in scope. We shouldn’t let people think that the war has been won when we are still fighting one incremental battle at a time.
Having said that, it’s nice to know that very soon I’ll have the option of moving to Ohio and having my August wedding from NYC recognized by the state. That’s more than I can say for my home state of Florida.