ABC Touts ‘Sea Change’ in Support for Gay Marriage; NBC Profiles Gay Marriage Supreme Court Plaintiffs

All three of the network evening newscasts offered coverage on Tuesday of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments regarding the gay marriage that was proclaimed to be a “landmark case” that was certain to produce “a watershed ruling” on “marriage equality.”

On ABC’s World News Tonight, anchor David Muir began the show’s coverage by declaring the “landmark case” will answer whether or not “gay couples have the constitutional right to marry in all 50 states” while using ABC News polling data to tout “a sea change” for gay marriage compared to a decade ago.

Reporting from the Supreme Court, chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl brought up the “cacophony of voices” outside the Court “[w]hile inside, the justices debate whether to make marriage equality the law of the land.”

At the end of his segment, Karl observed that “the Court seemed deeply divided with Justice [Anthony] Kennedy right in the middle.”

Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News interim anchor Lester Holt declared the case to be “a cliffhanger” with Justice correspondent Pete Williams referring to whatever decision may be as already “a watershed ruling.” Moments later, Williams took time to profile one of the gay couples serving as plaintiffs in the case: 

One that's deeply personal to people like Thomas Kostura. He decided to get married four years ago in New York to Army Sergeant Ijpe Dekoe, about to deploy to Afghanistan. When the Army ordered them to move, Tennessee refused to consider them married.

Following separate clips from Kostura and Dekoe, Williams played two soundbites from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia in support of traditional marriage but three from other justices expressing doubt for that argument. Williams then concluded: 

The arguments was briefly interrupted by the shouts of an opponent of same-sex marriage as Court Police rushed in to hustle him out. Justice Kennedy came back to that dignity point a couple of times suggesting there's a bare 5-to-4 majority in favor over same-sex marriage, no sign of a sixth vote with the Chief Justice joining. That was something many people we wondering about, but, of course, we won't know the answer to any of this until the Court’s decision comes out in late June. 

After describing gay marriage as “the civil rights issue of our time” on Tuesday’s CBS This Morning, chief Justice correspondent Jan Crawford refrained from using the phrase during the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. However, she aired three soundbites from justice for gay marriage compared to just two in favor of traditional marriage.

The relevant portions of the transcript from ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on April 28 can be found below.

ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
April 28, 2015
6:42 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Landmark Case]

DAVID MUIR: We're going to turn now to that landmark case before the Supreme Court tonight. The nine justices poised to rule on same sex marriage once and for all. The central question: Do gay couples have the constitutional right to marry in all 50 states? Same-sex marriage now legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C. The majority of Americans, 81 percent, 61 percent – I should say, now support it. That's a sea change, by the way, since 2004 when nearly the same percentage opposed it.

(....)

JONATHAN KARL: Outside the Supreme Court today, a cacophony of voices. While inside, the justices debate whether to make marriage equality the law of the land. At stake, two big questions. Do same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry? And if not, must states that ban gay marriage have to recognize same sex marriage licenses from other states?

(....)

KARL: David, over two-and-a-half hours of arguments, the Court seemed deeply divided with Justice Kennedy right in the middle. We'll know his decision and the Court's decision, by June 30th.

A partial transcript from the segment on April 28's NBC Nightly News is provided below.

NBC Nightly News
April 28, 2015
7:14 p.m. [TEASE]

LESTER HOLT: Also, same-sex marriage returns to the Supreme Court. It's a cliffhanger case that could make it legal in all 50 states.

(....)

7:17 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Same-Sex Marriage]

HOLT: Tonight, the arguments are over in the case that could bring same-sex marriage to all 50 states is now in the hands of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Our Justice correspondent Pete Williams was in the courtroom today. Pete, set the scene for us.

PETE WILLIAMS: The Court is on the verge of a watershed ruling, but it isn't obvious how it will rule. Even so, the Justice who has written the Court's three pro-gay rulings in the past may be about to do it again. Outside the Court, boisterous crowds on both sides of the issue. One that's deeply personal to people like Thomas Kostura. He decided to get married four years ago in New York to Army Sergeant Ijpe Dekoe, about to deploy to Afghanistan. When the Army ordered them to move, Tennessee refused to consider them married. 

IJPE DEKOE: Being in the military, you can't really say ‘I don't want to go there.’ 

THOMAS KOSTURA: When two people love each other, they make commitments to each other and those commitments should be respected and should travel from state to state. 

WILLIAMS: 36 states now permit couples to marry, but states that impose bans say it should be up to the people, not the federal courts and the Supreme Court’s conservatives today seemed to agree.

(....)

WILLIAMS: And states that ban gay marriage say keeping the traditional definition encourages opposite-sex couples to get married and have children, but the Court's liberals didn't think much of that. 

(....)

WILLIAMS: The Court seemed split 4-4 with Justice Anthony Kennedy likely the deciding vote and thou he said the traditional definition has been around for millennia, he also said allowing gay couples to marry gives them respect. 

(.....)

WILLIAMS: The arguments was briefly interrupted by the shouts of an opponent of same-sex marriage as Court Police rushed in to hustle him out. Justice Kennedy came back to that dignity point a couple of times suggesting there's a bare 5-to-4 majority in favor over same-sex marriage, no sign of a sixth vote with the Chief Justice joining. That was something many people we wondering about, but, of course, we won't know the answer to any of this until the Court’s decision comes out in late June.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center