The US Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday and Wednesday on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association would like to remind journalists, bloggers, columnists and media analysts of the important role they play in giving citizens the information needed to understand the full impact these cases will have in their communities. NLGJA offers these guidelines:

Proper framing of stories is essential when considering potential sourcing. Marriage of same-sex couples remains controversial. Many opinions may be individually valid, but less appropriate when played against one another. For example, legal and theological expertise should be differentiated.

Journalists should consider diversity of opinion when bringing these stories to readers, viewers and listeners. Look beyond preconceived ideas regarding “pro” and “con” sides. Not all LGBT community members are in favor of marriage for same-sex couples; not all members of communities of faith are opposed.

Reporters should note the differences between marriage law and the legal designation of civil unions. Civil unions are presumed to extend many marriage benefits and protections; however, they do not include the federal protections and benefits available to married couples.

As NLGJA has previously noted, the oft-used term “gay marriage” is both inaccurate and misleading. “Gay marriage” implies the creation of a new set of legal standards and guidelines as opposed to what is being sought by most advocates – the extension of currently existing benefits and responsibilities to include same-sex couples. More appropriate terminology in discussing such legislation would be “marriage rights for same-sex couples.” Or, in those instances where a briefer description is necessary, “same-sex marriage” as “same-sex” is a more accurate and inclusive description than “gay.”

NLGJA offers resources and guides for journalists reporting on LGBT people and issues, including our Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology and Tip Sheets on LGBT Coverage.