With Fox News Sitting Out Gay Marriage Fight, Social Conservatives Lose Their Loudest Voice

Homophobia Still Common At Fox, But Marriage Issue Mostly Ignored

On Monday when the Supreme Court let stand appeals court rulings that allowed for same-sex marriage in five additional states, the right-wing media outbursts were predictably swift. Radio talker Mark Levin blasted the ruling as “judicial tyranny,” while Breitbart's Ben Shapiro attacked the ruling and suggested the Court was wrong to have previously struck down laws decriminalizing gay sex.

Politically, RNC chairman Reince Priebus suggested marriage equality represented a threat to American's economy and national security. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee released a statement calling the court's decision “cowardly,” while likely presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the court's move as “tragic and indefensible.” He vowed introduce a constitutional amendment to ban the government or the courts from overturning marriage laws passed by states.

The court's decision on Monday means that “nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples in the United States will soon live in states where they can marry,” according to the New York Times. That's a long way from 2004 when Republicans successfully used the issue of marriage equality as an election year wedge issue against Democrats.

Back then, Fox News served as a home base for the conservative offensive against marriage equality. “What do you say to when three people want to marry and four people want to marry and other situations? Are you accepting of that?” Sean Hannity demanded of a guest in 2004. That same year, Bill O'Reilly warned Americans that if marriage equality proceeded, “this is gonna be a totally different country than it is right now. Laws that you think are in stone -- they're gonna evaporate, man. You'll be able to marry a goat -- you mark my words!”

On Monday though, it was mostly crickets from Fox News. Not only were angry denunciations absent, but the Supreme Court action was barely mentioned all day and was virtually ignored during the evening programs. The story was newsworthy of course; it received detailed coverage on all three of the network newscasts Monday night. (It wasn't until Wednesday night that O'Reilly addressed the ruling, doling out a mild rebuke of the Supreme Court's actions.)

The look-away coverage continued a trend that Media Matters noted in June: Fox News simply doesn't cover marriage equality much any more. Not in any real sense. There's very little news coverage and there seems to be even less commentary about the social issue. It's as if there's been a Fox News edict issued from above: Ignore marriage equality. (In the wake of a major Supreme Court ruling, host Jenna Lee once opened a discussion by instructing her guests not to “start a conversation on the merits of same-sex marriage.”)

A check of Nexis transcripts shows that during 2004, Hannity and O'Reilly hosted nearly 80 segments about “gay marriage.” This year, the duo has hosted less than ten. Note that by 2009, O'Reilly announced he didn't “feel that strongly” about the issue of marriage equality. Last year, O'Reilly conceded, “The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals.” 

It's true that Fox B-leaguers like Keith Ablow, Todd Starnes and Mike Huckabee continue to use their media platform to lash out at gay marriage. But overall, Fox pays so little attention to the issue that even movement conservatives have voiced frustration at the channel.

By all indications, Fox's older, conservative viewership remain deeply opposed to marriage equality. Yet Fox has essentially walked away from the fight. What's curious is that elsewhere, Fox, unfortunately, remains committed to fostering all kinds of anti-gay bigotry within its programming. Fox News has by no means 'gone soft' or somehow made amends for its previous gay-baiting, gay-bashing transgressions. Indeed, by some sad measure the channel is even more dedicated to pitting gays against the rest of society, and portraying their fights for equality as intrusive and offensive, especially to supposed Christian victims.

Yet the specific issue of marriage equality, a cornerstone of the social conservative movement, has almost vanished into the ether at Fox News.

The channel's noted indifference takes place against the backdrop of the unfolding debate within the conservative movement over what to do about marriage equality; whether it's time to admit defeat and move on politically, or if it's more important than ever for social conservative leaders to forge ahead and secure pledges from Republicans (to give presidential hopefuls a "litmus test") that they'll eternally battle in the name of “traditional marriage.” In other words, try to salvage a small, 'moral' victory in the right wing's losing culture war over gay rights and marriage equality.

Within that context the question becomes, if Fox isn't on board for that battle, what chance do conservatives have of altering or influencing the debate when their loudest megaphone is permanently set on mute?

It's been well documented that the-once hot button issue now represents a problem for Republican politicians who covet independent and younger voters, both of whom have followed the rest of the country in dramatically alter their views on marriage equality. As Time noted this week, the Supreme Court's ruling may have been a blessing for “Republican lawmakers who can't wait to stop talking about gay marriage, an issue that is increasingly becoming a drag for the party.”

The same seems to be true for Fox News.

Photo via Flickr.com user Maggie Winters