Making it Public

SEATTLE — News articles listing many of the rights and benefitsdenied gays and lesbians because they can’t legally marry mayoverlook at least one: having wedding announcements published intheir hometown paper.

As gays and lesbians in recent weeks have gone to Portland orSan Francisco to obtain marriage licenses, papers have been left tofigure out how to deal with requests to publicly announce their newunions.

Take the Yakima Herald-Republic, a 39,000-circulation paper inEastern Washington owned by The Seattle Times Co.

The paper had written extensively about a local couple, JaneNewall and Deborah Vuillemot, who traveled to Portland in March tomarry. Yet it found itself in a quandary when the women returnedfrom Oregon and presented their wedding announcement forpublication in the Sunday Life news section.

“They had no stated policy on the issue,” Newall said. “They hadcovered same-sex unions and written extensively about couples whohad gone to Portland to marry. And their editorial position was infavor of civil unions. Given those things, we figured they’d put itin.”

But three days after the women made their request, editor SarahJenkins called to say their announcement would not be publishedalongside other wedding and engagement announcements. A new policy,Jenkins told them, established since the announcement wassubmitted, reserves those pages for state-recognized marriagesonly.

Also, the paper will not publish engagement announcements forsame-sex couples because “they can’t at this time lead to amarriage recognized in Washington,” Jenkins wrote in a columnexplaining the paper’s position.

The paper offered Newall and her partner and other gay couplesthe option of publishing announcements as paid advertisements inthe “Celebrations” section.

Newall and Vuillemot -insulted– called that “separate butequal” treatment. “We felt it was discriminatory, since the onlyweddings not legally recognized by the state were same-sexmarriages. We felt that what they were telling us was that we werenewsworthy but not worthy of being treated as human beings.”

An increasing number of newspapers in recent years have beenpublishing announcements of same-sex commitment ceremonies andcivil unions. Many added wedding announcements last year after gaymarriages were legalized in parts of Canada.

About 245 newspapers around the United States either runsame-sex union announcements or say they would be willing to do soif asked by a local resident, according to the Gay & LesbianAlliance Against Defamation.

And while papers of all sizes are grappling with the issue sincethousands of gay couples have wed in Canada, Portland, SanFrancisco, New York and New Mexico, smaller publications are havinga harder time because many still run wedding and engagementannouncements for free. It wasn’t that long ago that newspapersstruggled with another gay issue _ whether to list partners’ namesin obituary notices.

Kelly McBride, ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute, aSt. Petersburg, Fla., school dedicated to teaching and inspiringjournalists, said that by publishing these announcements,newspapers aren’t making a statement about the legality of gaymarriage.

“There are a lot of people about whose marriage we may raise aneyebrow,” she said. “But we don’t disenfranchise them from thepaper.”

She said papers need to make sure they are applying the samestandard to everyone who wants to announce a wedding: If they askfor legal proof of marriage from gay couples, they must ask that ofall couples – a practice not in place at the Herald-Republic.

At The Oregonian in Portland – ground-zero for recent legalskirmishes on gay marriage – all paid wedding announcements, fromgay and straight couples, run together in the Celebration pages ofthe paper’s Living section.

Advertising Director Dennis Atkin said the announcements, whichthe paper began running less than a year ago, are for any couplewith a legal bond: “If a couple wants to pay for it, we’ll run it,”he said.

–The Seattle Times