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Sam Champion's Engagement: A Sign of How the Media Has Changed

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SAM CHAMPION
AP

The announcement on Friday that ABC News weatherman Sam Champion is marrying his boyfriend is yet another sign that gay marriage and gay rights are increasingly becoming a settled issue in many corners of the media.

These days, a well-known television personality can both publicly announce that he's gay and share news of his engagement at the same time, and have the entire news division he works for celebrate the news, with nobody batting an eye. This is, of course, as it should be -- but that doesn't make it any less noteworthy.

Though much of the media is ostensibly "objective" and avoids taking stands on particular issues, there are certain things that are settled questions. It is broadly acceptable, for instance, for a Wolf Blitzer type to denounce racism or anti-Semitism, even though Blitzer would never reveal who he voted for, or what he thinks about abortion.

It's becoming apparent that support for gay rights could be on its way to being one of those things that everyone takes for granted. That's why the way the news of Champion's engagement unfolded is so instructive.

His announcement itself was evidence of the sea change that has occurred in the media in the last few decades. It came towards the end of a lengthy New York Times story about the wedding of Thomas Roberts, the openly gay MSNBC anchor -- the equivalent of a shrug. Long gone are the days when Ellen DeGeneres-style national freakouts accompanied such things.

Champion's cheerful, matter-of-fact aside -- "We're getting married New Year's Eve in Miami" -- was also the first time that he publicly acknowledged his sexuality. It meant that, for the first time, one of the network morning shows has an openly gay member of its on-air team. For shows that often present themselves as mirror images of the American family, this is no small thing.

ABC followed up on the Times piece with a press release, complete with a large, gauzy picture of Champion and his boyfriend. Co-hosts George Stephanopoulos and Josh Elliott both sent congratulatory tweets.

On Monday, Champion and his boyfriend, Rubem Robierb, were congratulated on the air.

It was almost enough to make people forget that gay marriage is still banned in the overwhelming majority of states and, despite an unprecedentedly rapid shift in national opinion, remains a very controversial issue for many people.

By standing with Champion and celebrating his good news, ABC News has now effectively taken a side on the question. It's hard to remain neutral about gay marriage when everyone from the president of the division on down is cheering one on Twitter.

Ten years ago, eyebrows would have certainly been raised had Stephanopoulos, who generally takes care not to reveal his political positions, happily saluted a same-sex marriage -- a subject fraught with politics -- taking place. Now, it's no big deal.

The pattern can be seen in other parts of the media. The very fact that the Times ran an article about Roberts is enough of a symbolic shift, since it was once a notoriously homophobic institution. The paper has been changing for decades, but it has never been more gay-friendly than it is today.

On CNN, hosts regularly reserve some of their toughest questions for anti-gay figures. On Fox News, Shep Smith bluntly said that Republicans were on "the wrong side of history" for being against gay marriage. Megyn Kelly told a regular contributor that his fulminations against transgender people were "adding to the hate."

Conservative media watchdog Newsbusters makes it a habit to lament just how gay-friendly so many sectors of the press have become. How, for instance, could supposedly unbiased NPR anchor Guy Raz ask Barney Frank if he was "heartened at the distance America has come" on gay rights? Raz apparently didn't think that the acceptance of gay people was a controversial issue he had to remain neutral on. When Frank announced that he was getting married, and anchors congratulated him for it, Newsbusters was similarly aghast.

This change, of course, reflects a broader change in popular opinion. There is now a wider consensus than ever on gay rights in the U.S. The media's apparent willingness to sign on to this consensus in more and more prominent ways is something to cheer.

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