06 May, 2008

Senator Santorum gets the history of marriage law wrong

One of my Gather.com buddies pointed out this article to me and straight away I noticed a glaring error. I tried to find a forum to post a comment to the article, and instead could only find a general e-mail address to the web site; I couldn't even find a link to e-mail the individual interviewer/research fellow.

I appreciate that this web site is providing both sides of the story; however, I hold firm the belief that it is a journalist's responsibility to do their fact-checking and point out any errors or omissions in the facts contained in their publication.

Here's the e-mail that I sent to Pew Research:

Hi I couldn't find a way to comment on your articles. I write specifically in reference to your article entitled "Two perspectives on gay marriage."

There is a factual error in Senator Santorum's argument. He states,

See, I think that's the foundational flaw with this whole debate. The law is as it has been for 200-plus years, and so the burden is on them to make the persuasive case as to why they should be married, not just for their benefit but for what the impact is on society and marriage as a whole, and on children.

In reality, the laws regarding marriage are not as they have been for 200-plus years. The most glaring example of this is the recent modification of marriage law when the United State Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws to be illegal in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). Additionally, the Loving case affirmed and upheld the fact that marriage is a fundamental right, so the burden is not on "them to make the persuasive case as to why they should be married" but rather the burden is on the government to prove a compelling interest as to why same-sex couples should not be married (e.g., any restrictions upon marriage are subject to a strict scrutiny standard of legal review).

The rest of Senator Santorum's interview is opinion and therefore I cannot comment as to the veracity of his statements. However, I do believe it would be a great disservice to your readers were you not to point out the factual inaccuracies in Senator Santorum's statements, and either include an editor's note or allow the Senator a chance to correct his mistakes.

Please note that I will include a copy of this e-mail, in part, on my blog.

Thank you for your time,
-Peter C. Frank

As many of you who have been reading my blog for quite some time know, same-sex marriage is an issue I've written about on other occasions, and I believe it to be of great importance to the gay rights movement, of which I consider myself a minuscule part.

The fact that Senator Santorum, a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law, would make such a glaring error leave one to wonder whether the error was intentional, as one would imagine that Senator Santorum would have done at least preliminary research on this issue before speaking publicly about the subject, and certainly his omission would have appeared in any preliminary research on marriage law. In fact, a search using the Google search engine returns the Loving case when searching under "marriage law" within the top 50 results.

And lest we not forget the importance of Loving to the matter of same-sex marriage, religious and social views were held to be the main reasons as to why Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws were upheld by the lower courts. Sound familiar?

But my point here isn't to argue the same-sex marriage issue; rather, it's to point out that marriage has not always been defined as between a man and a woman. Rather, it used to be defined as between a white man and a white woman, or a black man and a black woman, or what not. And before that, I'm certain there were other definitions. And the laws with respect to marriage have evolved over the past 200 plus years. For instance, in many states, polygamy was legal.

So as society evolves, so do the laws that govern society. Shame on you, Senator Santorum, for attempting to trick your audience into thinking anything to the contrary!