Mississippi Newspaper Bans Gay Wedding Announcements

Weeks after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, protest and resistance to the ruling continues in Mississippi, the only state with a flag still paying homage to the Confederacy.

Following the SCOTUS 5-4 decision on June 26 granting same-sex couples the right to marry, one elected official in the Hospitality State has resigned in protest. Two elected judges this week announced decisions to no longer officiate weddings.

Beyond public officials, Mississippi has a newfound opponent of the reality of legal marriage of same-sex couples in each state: a news organization based in Tupelo.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, the state's third-largest newspaper, has a special connection to me. I spent a significant part of my professional career writing for the organization, including when working on stories related to access to public records and investigating a rural water association with questionable financial activities.

Earlier this week, the news organization's publisher Clay Foster wrote a column objecting to same-sex marriage. He included a half-dozen Bible verses to justify his point of view in the piece.

"I don't write a column often, but as publisher and CEO of the Journal there are times when I feel a responsibility to share my thoughts on a subject and ensure our company is not misunderstood based on our job to report the news and share both sides of a story," wrote Foster, also a minister at a small Church of Christ congregation. "I'll also preface the following thoughts by saying if you don't believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the source of authority that trumps all others, you're not likely to agree with the rest of this column."

Foster has not taken equally hard stands to ensure that his company is not misunderstood related to positions of other Biblical abominations, such as planting fields with two kinds of seed or wearing clothes woven with two kinds of material. These commands and others, including directions to receive forgiveness for having sex with a slave girl engaged to another man, are found in the book of Leviticus.

Covering the newsworthy story about the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Lee County, many readers complained about it appearing on the front page, even above the fold. I emailed Foster earlier this week with questions, such as how much reader complaints contributed to his decision to write the column. He has not responded.

I also questioned Foster in the email about something he did not directly disclose in his anti-gay marriage column: He has directed advertising and sales staff at the Daily Journal to refuse to accept for publication announcements of same-sex marriages. As of now, anyone in Northeast Mississippi who wants to see publication of wedding announcements of marriages of same-sex couples must turn to another news organization.

Lane Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association, informed me of no knowledge of any other newspaper in the state, aside from the Daily Journal in Tupelo, that has taken a definitive stand publication of same-sex wedding announcements.

Sam Hall, executive editor of the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi's most widely circulated newspaper, said via email that the newspaper receives few engagement and wedding announcements, handled through the newspaper's advertising department.

"But the short answer to your question is, yes, we will publish same-sex engagement and wedding announcements," Hall said.

Of course, the decision whether to discriminate against same-sex couples legally married is a decision each news organization must decide for itself. However, Kelly McBride, ethics faculty member at journalism think tank, the Poynter Institute, addressed publication of same-sex wedding announcements on the organization's website before the Supreme Court ruling. She mentioned the decision of the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Washington a few years ago to publish same-sex unions separately from weddings, a policy she opposed.

"There was a time when other people also could not get access to those very pages: people of color and in interracial marriages," McBride said. "Given that, we should err on the side of equality."

Bob Spencer, lay minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tupelo and gay rights advocate, has officiated multiple same-sex weddings in the area since the Supreme Court ruling. He said the newspaper's policy not to publish wedding announcements from any couple legally married saddens him.

"It's prejudice and bigotry based on religion," he said.

Historically, Mississippi has resisted social change mandated by the Supreme Court, such as integration of public schools and universities. Riots erupted at Ole Miss in 1962 in protest of the first African-American student, James Meredith, enrolling. Two people died during the violence and hundreds were injured.

Today the university has a statue honoring Meredith and bans the Confederate flag at football games.

South Carolina legislators voted this week to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse property in response to a white man associated with the flag murdered nine black people insider a church during Bible study. This has renewed calls to remove the Confederate cross from the Mississippi state flag.

Mississippi voters soundly defeated by referendum in 2001 an effort to remove the Confederate cross on the state flag. While some state lawmakers have called for changing the flag, Gov. Phil Bryant has said he has no interest.

Will the Mississippi flag receive a makeover? Will the Daily Journal in Tupelo publish same-sex wedding announcements?

My advice as we wait to find out: be very patient. Progress often happens at a slower pace in the South, especially Mississippi.