Married pair upset after Utah daily says policy is to print only legal unions
Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick. The couple say The Spectrum in St. George initially accepted their paid wedding announcement last week, then changed course. The couple was legally married June 17, 2008, in San Francisco.
SALT LAKE CITY - A southern Utah newspaper has rejected a gay California couple's wedding announcement, saying its policy is to publish announcements only for marriages legal under Utah law.
The Spectrum in St. George initially accepted a paid wedding announcement for Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones last week, but then changed course, Jones said. The San Francisco couple were legally married June 17, 2008. They wanted the announcement printed in Jones' hometown paper ahead of a family party next week.
Jones, 30, said he initially agreed to the paper's request that the announcement run without a photo, after a clerk told him the publisher feared the picture might make readers uncomfortable. Then Jones changed his mind and appealed to publisher Donnie Welch, asking him to reconsider.
"After all, our marriage is just as real and legal and entitled to celebration as any of the others that are announced each week in the pages of The Spectrum," Jones wrote in an e-mail to Welch.
"This simply is not true," Welch replied in an Aug. 10 e-mail, a copy of which the couple provided to The Associated Press. "While that may be the case in some states it is not the case in the state of Utah. As our policy is to run marriage announcements recognized by Utah law, I have made the decision not to run the announcement."
A telephone message seeking comment from Welch was not immediately returned Thursday. The Spectrum is owned by Gannett Co. A message left at Gannett's corporate offices in McLean, Va., was not immediately returned.
'Different walks of life'
Jones said The Spectrum clerk who took his announcement information and credit card number never disclosed such a policy and later told him it was a new policy she had not known.
The policy also contradicts information published about The Spectrum last year by the national advocacy group GLAAD — Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — which for six years has worked to open newspapers' wedding and celebration pages to same-sex couples.
GLAAD conducts telephone surveys every two years, and says more than 1,000 papers have policies allowing the announcements. In 2008, The Spectrum was included on GLAAD's list of "inclusive newspapers."
A GLAAD representative contacted Welch on Wednesday, but wasn't able to change the publisher's mind, said Rashad Robinson, the organization's senior director of media programs. Robinson said GLAAD has also contacted Gannett Co. to express its concern.
"At the end of the day, this is not about their editorial pages or the opinions of their columnists," Robinson said. "This is about the celebration pages reflecting the community, and a community is going to have people from many very different walks of life. We are diminished if our stories are put aside."
On Thursday, GLAAD posted a message on its Web site asking supporters to contact the paper to express concerns. Robinson also said GLAAD plans to contact Spectrum advertisers, many of whom have long-standing nondiscrimination policies.
"The paper said the decision was in the best business interests of the paper," Robinson said. "So the question is, do these advertisers, who have a long track record of diversity, want to be lumped in with a business decision that falls down on the side of inequality?"
The California Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in the state in June 2008, not long before Barrick and Jones wed. Less than five months later, California voters approved Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in California. In May, the court upheld the ban, but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the ban took effect would remain legally married.
Gay marriage is banned in Utah.
Jones said that although he and Barrick, 28, actively fought Proposition 8, when their announcement was rejected Barrick "didn't want to be the poster couple for gay marriage," so they decided to let it go.
"But I'm an attorney and I couldn't sleep that night," said Jones, a Utah native, who like Barrick was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "My instinct is to make it right."
The Salt Lake City-based Mormon church is opposed to gay marriage and called on its members last year to give time and money to the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8.
Jones reached out to GLAAD and other gay rights organizations for advice.
"I've thought a lot about the gay and lesbian kids who are surely all over the place in southern Utah, and maybe it's gratuitous on my part, but they need to see this announcement in the paper," he said. "When I was a kid ... I would have loved to have seen a picture of two guys having their life together celebrated in the paper."
In a follow-up e-mail to Welch, Jones, once a paperboy for The Spectrum, called the publisher's decision "intolerance, plain and simple," and said the paper has a duty not to shield readers from discomfort or disparate opinions.
"Your duty, as I see it, is exactly the opposite — to provide a neutral and fair forum for all of your readers to announce and celebrate their unions," Jones wrote.
Meanwhile, Jones and Barrick have had their announcement accepted by The Salt Lake Tribune, owned by MediaNews Group Inc.