For Democrats, Fox News is like a peephole: look through it and you get to see all sorts of things not meant for you. This afternoon, hours after the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that gay marriage is a right, the scene through the peephole was one of disarray, a sad scramble to find a way to critique the decision that, somehow, would keep everyone involved from seeming overtly anti-gay. (As if today hasn’t already proved how far gay rights has come, know, also, that no one on Fox News wants to be seen as anti-gay anymore either.)
In the hours immediately following the decision, it became clear that the network did not yet have its talking points about gay marriage in order. You could watch, in real time, as it tried to land on some. The network kept jumping back to its previously scheduled programming, as if it could convince itself and its audience what had happened was not such a big deal: A little gay marriage, a reminder that some of Hillary Clinton’s emails are still missing, discussion of the terrorist attacks in France, a little gay marriage, and a return to the ongoing Charleston funerals. The host of the talk show Outnumbered began a brief segment on the decision by saying, “Let’s move on so we don’t get mired in social issues. How will GOP candidates react?” as if getting mired in social issues was not Fox’s raison d’être.
As the afternoon wore on, Fox started to hesitantly test various lines of argumentation against the decision. Taking a cue from Chief Justice Roberts’ decision, one of the Outnumbered panelists argued that the legislature should have made a decision like this, not the court. “I don’t think the [dissenting] justices are anti-gay,” she said: “They’re just pro-constitution.” On Happening Now, Howard Kurtz helped finger the perpetual bogeyman of the mainstream media: It had played a role in the decision by “focusing on happy couples kissing and hugging [to] put a face on the movement.” “Was this appropriate of the media?,” host Jenna Lee wondered. (Kurtz said yes.) Hosts and talking heads kept turning back to the question of religious freedom, like a liferaft, even after guest Tim O’Brien explained that churches would not have to perform same sex marriages. States rights were briefly namedropped. The hazy rights of business and business owners were also fitfully tossed around. Another panelist on Outnumbered, her analogy not quite prepped, wondered, “If someone’s religion says he really, really dislikes Latinos. … Am I allowed to say no to baking cake for Latinos?”
Underlying all of this seemed to be an anxiety, one expressed in Justice Alito’s dissent, that the decision would get anyone who didn’t agree with it labeled a bigot. “Forty percent of Americans still oppose it. We need to treat those people with respect and not just fall into liberal groupthink that they’re all just bigots,” Kurtz said. “If someone doesn’t wholeheartedly agree, they are going to be called bigots, or that they’re anti-constitution,” Lee said. Of course, there’s nothing like being in the minority to make Fox News concerned about the rights of the minority.