#Ask TIME Subscriber Q and A: Elizabeth Dias

Welcome to TIME’s subscriber Q&A with TIME correspondent Elizabeth Dias. This week she has written about the Supreme Court’s consideration of same-sex marriage in a story about how the issue has divided Evangelicals, and another about Jim Obergefell, whose marriage is at the center of the civil rights question: do same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry? Her other stories can be found here.

sacredh asks, Do you think that Hillary can attract a significant number of women that would usually vote for the GOP? As a follow up, do you see the GOP making an effort to actually appeal to women?

Hillary Clinton has put women at the front of her policy agenda for decades now, but it is misguided to conflate her being a woman with automatically winning the whole women’s vote. Women do tend to lean Democrat as a voting block—according to the Pew Research Center, men and older Americans tend to be key for GOP victories. One of the open Clinton questions is that many people already have an opinion about her, so it remains to be seen how big her swing vote is. As for the GOP, much of the actual effort on this front is coming from women leaders themselves. As my colleague Jay Newton-Small wrote last year, “The party that was once against identity politics is learning to court the female vote.” Her coverage is worth a read.

DonQuixotic asks, Elizabeth, How defining of an issue do you see gay marriage being during the election once we narrow down to two candidates? We should have the SCOTUS decision by then; do you think it will keep coming up as a key issue?

Marriage will not disappear instantly as an issue in America with a Supreme Court ruling. Many conservative opposite-sex marriage activists are planning to make the issue like Roe v. Wade, and 40 years after Roe, we know that abortion is not going away as an issue, and the pro-life movement has remained vibrant in recent years. The polling however shows marriage to be different from abortion, especially as younger generations continue to be increasingly accepting of marriage equality. This election, there are so many issues on the table—economics, immigration, ISIS, etc—and so it is unlikely that marriage will be the top issue, but philosophies about the rights of states v. the federal government and the role of the courts will certainly come up.

DonQuixotic asks, Elizabeth, If we recognize being gay as not a choice, that is you are born gay, how can anyone sensibly argue that same-sex couples don’t have the right to constitutionally marry? They have no more control over being gay than someone does of being born male or female. Or white or black. Or right or left handed. Isn’t it the same argument that used to be used to deny interracial marriage? How can anyone reasonably justify deliberate persecution against a group of people because of they way they’re born and pretend that it’s an expression of their “religious freedom”, and not an expression of their own personal bigotry?

The states argued at the Supreme Court this week why same-sex couples do not have the constitutional right to marry. I’d suggest reading the four briefs for the respondents in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, and the associated amicus briefs—they give the topline arguments: http://www.americanbar.org/publications/preview_home/14-556-14-562-14-571-14-574.html?cq_ck=1425077268167

deconstructive asks, Elizabeth, for now at least, looking forward in time, what do you think Pope Francis’ legacy will be? Do you think he will radically transform the Catholic Church in new directions? Or help clean up past messes and bring it back to its traditional roots (bending the stick – or staff – back to the middle)? Or are there other new and exciting possibilities we haven’t yet considered?

Pope Francis is full of surprises. That is one of the reasons people tend to love him so much. So far, his legacy is already about reforming the Curia, turning the Church’s focus to the Global South, and putting pastoral bishops in positions of power. He also has shifted the world’s attitude about what the Catholic Church is—it is easy to forget now just how bad the last decade has been for the Church, with the sexual abuse scandals coming to define the Church’s identity and public image. Now, the public relations game is going in a new direction—addressing poverty, climate change, nuclear disarmament, changing geopolitics between the USA and Cuba. It’s a remarkable shift already. But don’t expect shifts like women priests and accepting gay marriage. That’s an overreach.

deconstructive asks, Elizabeth, as you and Michael Scherer gave examples of religious leaders opposing marriage for gay people in your recent story, when you interview or informally chat with everyday ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. – as opposed to national figures like Perkins – how do you find most of them feel about the GOP, especially, politicizing religious views like this? Do most favor making these issues front and center on the political front, or do most oppose them as private spiritual matters that the government should stay out of, along the lines of Jesus wanting us to separate stuff rendered onto Caesar vs. onto God?

America has always been a place where local religious leaders have had a public social-political role, even if just locally. That doesn’t mean they are activists, and they can’t preach politics from the pulpit, but everyday religious leaders on the right and the left and in the center often politicize their religious views, or assume that religious views have a political meaning, and they are certainly exposed to their national leaders doing the same. Tony Perkins helps to host the “Watchmen on the Wall” local pastors gathering to take back America for God, and Rafael Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father and a pastor, spoke to the 1000+ pastors gathered there last year saying that the Bible tells them who to vote for. Sam Rodriguez’ National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference had its national conference in Houston this week, and former Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee both addressed the 1000+ pastors gathered.

yogi asks, let’s say SCOTUS issues a ruling that allows gay marriage across the land. How long will it be until the next LGBTQ discrimination issue rises to the SCOTUS? Will it be one of these “religious freedom restoration” laws similar to those in Indiana and Arkansas?

Good question. Several LGBTQ rights activists I have spoken with have mentioned surprise that marriage equality reached the Supreme Court before issues like job protection. A lot depends on how the Court rules—how narrow or broad the ruling is, and especially whether or not they name religious exemptions in the ruling. If those are left out, or if they are in but remain ambiguous, Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws definitely will continue to be an issue in states, perhaps even more so as states react to national mandates.

TIME #Asktime

#AskTIME Q & A: Alex Altman

Welcome to TIME’s weekly Q&A series #AskTIME. This week, we’re chatting with Alex Altman, who co-authored this week’s cover story on Ferguson and spent the week there reporting on the ground.

We will start posting questions and responses at 1 p.m. EST and stay online for about 30 minutes. We have been gathering reader questions all week on Whisper, Twitter and Facebook but will also take questions in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #askTIME.

If you’d like to follow along with #AskTIME going forward, sign up here.

Outsider asks: What do you think the chances are of the officer involved being charged in this case, and the police chief coming under investigation for lack of management (or a stated policy) regarding minorities in his city – given the other death that occurred by Police 4 miles away from where Brown was shot? Have you heard of any legal action coming down?

I don’t want to speculate about whether the officer will be charged. The county prosecutor has begun presenting evidence to a grand jury, but that process will take months. Gov. Jay Nixon has promised a “vigorous prosecution,” which is an unusual statement that gives you a sense of the political pressure at play. DOJ has opened a parallel investigation into federal (criminal) civil rights violations. They are probing allegations that the Ferguson police force has a pattern of racial profiling, borne out in both residents’ anecdotes and statistics collected by the state.

Whisper: ‘What are the protesters hoping to accomplish by destroying the things around them. It takes all respect away from their cause.’

It’s important to distinguish between the small faction of people who are there to fight cops or break stuff, and the vast majority, which is there to peacefully call attention to a deeply felt grievance. The protesters are not “destroying things.” That’s being done by other folks, who are there for reasons that have little to do with the death of Michael Brown. A week ago, when there was significant looting, a lot of protesters put themselves at personal risk by standing guard at storefronts to stop it. There are more volunteers spending hours a day actively policing the crowd than there are folks intent on doing damage. People are doing some pretty heroic stuff in an attempt to keep the peace.

Whisper: how do we shift the focus from a race issue to an issue where we see our police are out of control?

I think this question underscores why the story has gotten such traction. So much is screwed-up about what’s happened in Ferguson that it touches different nerves for different people. I agree that the “militarization” of police is a big issue. But so are the racial divisions that led to this point, and which have been deepened by the shooting. Focus on whatever aspect of the story you want, but there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

deconstructiva asks: Alex, we know that journalists normally try to cover the story instead of being the story, but the Ferguson police’s arrest of journalists have changed that, especially the initial two arrests in the McDonald’s. Has that made your coverage there any harder, or not really? Why did the police raid that McDonald’s in the first place? No doubt many view their food as a health hazard, but that’s no excuse to storm the place to clear it out and arrest journalists. Did anyone arrest or otherwise discipline those officers who made the arrests? I wonder how events and coverage would’ve played out if the police had left the media alone, but then again, given their brutality against local residents, their behavior would’ve been exposed anyway. And if the large media presence wasn’t there, how much worse would events be? Sunil Dutta’s recent op-ed defending fellow police shows a potentially dangerous mindset that obviously is not strictly his alone.

I have thought about this a lot. The arrest of journalists is obviously unfortunate, and for a bunch of reasons. One is it created a storyline which diverts attention from the bigger issues at the core of the case: the death of a 18-year-old kid; the systemic issues that led to it; the question of what transpired in the Brown-Wilson encounter; the protests that have ensued; the challenge of preventing a repeat occurrence. As you say, when at all possible, reporters should try to cover the story without inserting themselves into it. It’s not always possible.

There’s no question that the media have affected the trajectory of events. I suspect the press horde has probably made police more cautious about how they deploy force, since they know their actions are liable to be splashed across the national news. Nearly everyone I met was happy to talk to me—which is a rarity—because they hope the reporting calls attention to problems in the community. I also think the media presence eggs on some agitators who want to mug for the cameras.

Some of this stuff is unavoidable. And the majority of media in Ferguson are doing a very good job covering an important story under difficult circumstances. But the swarm has grown to unwieldy proportions and there are some folks who seem to be courting controversy rather than trying to avoid it. The last day or so that I was in Ferguson (I was there for a week before leaving yesterday morning), the press pack began outnumbering protesters at time. Reporting started to feel like rubbernecking. We have to be conscious of when our presence becomes a hindrance. (And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy in saying the press shouldn’t be the story, then giving a windy first-person response.)

yogi1 asks: Alex what are the chances a lame duck Congress passes anything substantial on immigration reform after the midterms?

Pretty much zero. House Republicans have blocked efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill for more than a year, despite strong public support and pressure from business lobbies and evangelicals. The right’s resistance will only intensify if President Obama issues executive orders on immigration policy this fall, as he has suggested. I have written about what moves he may be considering, such as expanding DACA to grant relief from deportation for potentially millions.

Whisper: ‘has the officer responsible been arrested, detained, placed on probation or faced any repercussions? if not, why?

The officer who shot Brown is on paid administrative leave. He’s left the area, and is in an undisclosed location because of threats to his safety. The Ferguson police hasn’t addressed your question specifically, and the St. Louis County police tells me they will not release the investigative component of the incident report, which deals with what happened. It’s possible that Wilson will face criminal charges. But we won’t know for months; the prosecuting attorney is hoping to finish presenting evidence by mid-October.

DonQuixotic asks: Alex, given your past coverage on the House vote to try and help Marijuana businesses gain access to financial systems, what do you think the likelihood of legalization is? Is it only a matter of time? How much support is the move seeing on the Hill?

There has been very little progress on legalization at a federal level. There’s not even much progress on giving legitimate, tax-paying businesses in states that have legalized pot access to banks, which is an urgent and obvious problem. Lawmakers want to see how the experiments unfolding in Colorado and Washington play out. But I think there’s no question the legalization movement is gaining momentum at the state level. Oregon and Alaska may follow this year. California is the big one, and industry folks believe it will pass a legalization measure in 2016.

deconstructiva asks: Alex, in a change of pace from Ferguson coverage, as you travel all over the country to cover politics, what do you think is the biggest difference in political coverage all over the US – elected officials at highest levels (President, Congress, governors, state legislators) vs. everyday people in your interviews, or different areas of the country, like East Coast vs. Midwest vs. South, or even DC / Beltway vs. outside DC (everywhere else)? Do DC politicians and the media really have its own collective mindset about politics apart from the rest of country, thus the “Beltway media” term mentioned a lot, or is this more of an urban myth and Beltway coverage really isn’t that much different as say, reporting from Ohio or California?

(My best guess – if “Beltway media” reporting is unique among national reporting, I suspect it comes from DC’s sole existence as our nation’s capital and thus politics is a daily livelihood for nearly everyone there …so politics might be seen as a game to be played (and manipulated) instead of a daily job of tackling everyday issues and keeping things running, though of course, Congress is failing to do even this bare minimum, but I digress.)

If I understand your question, the biggest difference is the stakes, both political and monetary. Read coverage in, say, mid-sized metro newspapers around the U.S., and you will see the same focus on incremental inside-baseball news, fleeting “scoops,” partisan bickering. “Beltway” reporting heightens these tendencies, because the characters are bigger, there’s more competition, and there’s an entire industry that wants this kind of coverage and is willing to underwrite it. Believe me when I tell you that a lot of reporters are even more frustrated with some of the industry trends than you seem to be.

@AprilHollowayJD asks: Did you hear any police officers disagree with the actions of the other police or is it mob/protect your own mentality?

There’s definitely a protect-your-own mentality. However, it’s just as dangerous to generalize about the behavior of police in Ferguson as it is to generalize about the protesters. Is some of the criticism of police behavior valid? Absolutely. But I also saw and spoke to a lot of police officers who were respectful of the protesters’ right to assemble, who were doing their best to lower the temperature, and who are caught in a very difficult situation not of their own making.

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