GLOBAL JOURNALIST: Examining gay marriage around the world

Friday, January 15, 2010 | 11:15 a.m. CST; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism: Voters in California a year ago approved a ban on same-sex marriage after the state legislature passed a law allowing it. Now two same-sex couples are challenging the ban in federal court. The trial opened this week and in the first few days, the U.S. Supreme Court became involved. It issued a 5-4 ruling saying the plan to allow televised coverage of the proceedings would hurt those opposed to same-sex marriage. So we have a complex and bitter situation. Six states in the United States permit same-sex marriage. Thirty-one have passed laws declaring it illegal. Portugal, one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world, has a law about to go into effect approving such marriages. The parliament passed it, and now only the president of the country has to sign it and put it into effect. Though a conservative, President Anibal Cavaco Silva is expected to sign the bill into law just two months before a visit to Portugal by Pope Benedict XVI. So now Portugal joins Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Canada and South Africa as countries approving same-sex marriage. The Portuguese law will give same-sex couples all the rights that heterosexual couples have except for one thing. They will not be permitted to adopt children. Just across the border on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain, also devoutly Catholic, does permit such adoption. Let’s start with the California trial.

Joe Garofoli, reporter, San Francisco Chronicle: The big news is the Supreme Court decided to prevent the court from broadcasting the trial or posting video of the trial on YouTube and also broadcasting it to remote courtrooms. The folks who want same-sex marriage were counting on this as kind of a learning experience. This might humanize the issue for them and would also show, in their words, that discrimination lies at the heart of the folks who are opposed to same-sex marriage in California.

Loory: Does that mean that this trial is being looked at not only as a legal proceeding but also as something of a public relations matter?

Garofoli: It is definitely a public relations matter. Both sides feel that this is going to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court no matter what happens in San Francisco.

Loory: Why is that, and what will be the impact?

Garofoli: When the Supreme Court rules on something, it has a national effect. This is truly a high-wire legal act on the part of the folks who want same-sex marriage because taking it to a federal trial was opposed by many in the gay-rights community. They fear that if they lose at a Supreme Court level that could set the move back many years.

Loory: What is the international impact of the trial in California?

Matt Mills, editorial director, Pink Triangle Press and Xtra Magazine; Toronto: The U.S. culture has a profound impact around the world, and if gay marriage is to be desired then it would be most preferable for gay people in the United States to get married. In Canada, gay marriage, frankly, hasn’t been hugely popular among gay people.

Loory: If it’s not very popular, why is so much attention being given to the matter?

Mills: I think it is a reaction from social conservative elements. I think it is also based in homophobia. What effect do gay marriages have on straight relationships or traditional marriages? Certainly in Canada there has been no effect at all. Nevertheless, traditionalists are afraid that somehow gay people getting married is going to be damaging to society somehow.

Loory: Scandinavia — Sweden, Norway and Denmark — was a leader in this movement. What is the impact in Scandinavia, and how is gay marriage generally viewed?

Daniel Nielsen, freelance journalist, Copenhagen, Denmark: Denmark has a long history of liberal socialism. It is not called marriage in Denmark. It is called a registered partnership, which is similar to the civil unions that take place in other parts of the world. It was passed into law in 1989 in Denmark. In the past couple of years, the issues have revolved more around whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt.

Loory: A recent article in The Weekly Standard said that same-sex marriage and registration in Scandinavia is destroying marriage in the Scandinavian countries. Has there been any talk about this?

Nielsen: There have been some very strong comments. For example, when the faction of the liberal party voted for passing legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt, one of the members of the Danish People’s Party actually said that homosexuals are handicapped because they do not fulfill the conditions of a marriage to create a family. There are extreme views, and they would be considered very extreme here in Denmark.

Loory: How did it happen that South Africa became the only country in Africa to recognize same-sex marriage?

Mike Trapido, editor, Richmark Sentinel; Johannesburg, South Africa: It stems from our constitution in 1994. In terms of legislation and allowing gay marriages, basically it is an anomaly and if you look at it in terms of Africa, in terms of public opinion, the polls show that an overwhelming majority felt that there was something wrong with people who were homosexual. Unfortunately, this runs through Africa.

Loory: How did this law come about in such a devoutly Catholic country as Portugal?

Paul Luckman, publisher, Portugal News; Lagoa, Portugal: I don’t think anyone is quite sure. The majority of people I’m speaking to are almost ignoring the event. There have been no great celebrations. These things are private. Being a very Catholic conservative country, it would seem that the gay community is being quite respectful of the people’s feelings.

Loory: How do you think the situation in Portugal will impact what is happening in other countries?

Mills: Anytime gay and lesbian issues come to the forefront, it is very important. But ultimately these are decisions and social changes that happen in separate countries. The more countries that adopt some mechanism to eliminate the kind of discrimination that gay and lesbian people face around the world then the better it is.

Loory: We seem to have a problem in some countries with the issue of adoption. Why has that become a separate issue that is not treated in the same way?

Mills: To be very blunt, I think that it is homophobia. I think that in many places, in many minds, in many societies there is this underlying, deeply offensive misconception that gay men in particular are more apt to be child molesters and that gay and lesbian people are somehow less fit to be parents or can’t provide the kind of child-rearing environment that is good and healthy and respectable for children.

Loory: Is this an issue in California?

Garofoli: It is definitely an issue in this Proposition 8 trial. The people who are defending the ban have said that marriage is a pro-family, pro-child institution. In other words, one of the main reasons for marriage is to have children and have a family.

Loory: Is there the kind of opposition in the three Scandinavian countries involved that could develop into legal action?

Nielsen: There will be some opposition to it, but I am sure that judging by the track record of same-sex relationships in Denmark and in the rest of the North, it is likely that it will happen. And in fact, same-sex couples can adopt in Iceland and Sweden, so Denmark has fallen behind its neighbors a little bit.

Loory: Several countries in Africa outlaw not only same-sex marriages but also homosexuality. Is there much of a move in Africa to overturn those laws in countries like Uganda?

Trapido: In Northern Nigeria, under Muslim law, it is a death penalty offense. In Uganda, it is not a government vote; it is a private vote. What would happen is, in terms of their law, it would be an offense punishable by death if you have gay intercourse with a minor or if you have AIDS at the time intercourse takes place. If you have consensual intercourse between two adults, that would entitle you to life imprisonment. So you have varying degrees of intolerance running riot throughout the continent.

Loory: Discrimination against gays and lesbians has been a part of the culture around the world for centuries, and now the drive to erase it seems to be gaining momentum.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Youn-Joo Park, Angela Potrykus, Melissa Ulbricht, Tim Wall and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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