- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Do gay and lesbian wedding announcements in newspapers promote a political agenda, or are they simply public social announcements? The answer is a work in progress.

The New York Times' decision to publish accounts of same-sex unions was heralded as historic, courageous and a "watershed moment" by Joan M. Garry of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a media monitoring group that has already begun a yearlong "Equality Project" to promote the idea elsewhere in the press.

"It's simply a matter of fairness and accurate representation of important events," Ms. Garry said, noting that 71 newspapers including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald already publish same-sex announcements. The group posts the complete list at its Web site (www.glaad.org).

Others dispute the idea.

"This is not an abstract news decision. We disagree with the New York Times because it is serving a radical social political agenda," said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. "And I don't think they consulted any pro-family group in the process."

Mr. Sprigg said that although marriage is a fundamental, trans-cultural institution, "no culture has ever treated same sex marriage as the equal of traditional marriage. The New York Times has neither the right or power to redefine marriage on these terms."

In explaining his decision to the New York Times' staff, Executive Editor Howell Raines said the paper acknowledged "the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend" of same- sex "marriage," though the paper would remain "impartial" about the debate surrounding its legal, social and religious ramifications.

Marriage Equality, a group that promotes same-sex marriage, and GLAAD had lobbied the 1.2 million circulation Times for a year to rescind its written policy of barring the announcements from its pages.

Both groups called the Times policy a "blatantly discriminatory practice" and said the paper lacked "journalistic integrity" for publishing editorials that supported gays' rights and lifestyles but not their wedding announcements.

"The time has come for the Gray Lady to get with it," said spokeswoman Connie Ress at the time.

The groups have also criticized such papers as the Times-owned Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, both of which accept revenue from gay personal ads but do not print announcements for "lifelong commitment."

Meanwhile, the Globe announced it was reviewing its policy in an article yesterday. The story also cited "The Trust," a 1999 book that says Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. "displayed a commitment to gay and lesbian rights."

The question of the Times' impartiality was made even more sensitive this month when a Vanity Fair magazine article detailed former Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz's account of his professional undoing by a "gay mafia" that included a New York Times reporter.

The hubbub prompted one observer to call for the demise of wedding announcements altogether. "The Times wedding pages are built on the false assumption that the weddings of wealthy non-celebrities constitute news. They're an anachronistic holdover," wrote Slate's Timothy Noah yesterday on the Internet news site (www.slate.com).

Still, the decision to publish same-sex announcements is not a new one. The Brattleboro Reformer, based in the Vermont town where in 1999 the first same-sex civil union was performed, published its first gay wedding announcement a decade ago.

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