Newsworthy Commitments

This August marked the fifth anniversary of The New York Times opening its weddings and celebrations pages to gay and lesbian couples. When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) first approached the Times in July 2002, only 27 states had a newspaper with an inclusive announcement policy. Following on its success in changing the policy at the Times, GLAAD launched its Announcing Equality campaign to convince other papers to follow suit and to encourage gay and lesbian couples to announce their equality by submitting their wedding announcements. Today, every state in the union and Washington, D.C., has at least one paper with an inclusive policy for their weddings and celebrations pages -- for a combined national circulation of over 37 million in nearly 900 outlets, reaching almost 75 percent of total newspaper readers.

With the strides that have been made over the last five years, I was very surprised to hear the response Warrensburg, Mo.'s, The Daily Star-Journal received when it published the commitment announcement of John Scott, Jr. and Elijah Davidson on Sept. 26. A Nov. 1 Associated Press (AP) article reported that because of the Scott-Davidson announcement, three advertisers had withdrawn their ads from the Warrensburg newspaper. This must be a mistake. Three businesses withdrew their advertisements from the town's only paper because it ran an announcement that a local couple was committing to spend the rest of their lives together?

I have two immediate reactions to this news: one, congratulations to John and Elijah for being willing to live their lives openly and honestly; and, two, congratulations to a newspaper for reporting on community news in a way that is fair, accurate and inclusive.

A newspaper is bound to journalistic ethics and standards of objectivity and accuracy, but it is in no way required to omit news that some readers may not want to hear. When was the last time you read something in an article with which you disagreed? I would safely venture a guess that if your answer is not "today," then it would most certainly be within the last week. If opposition to the news being reported becomes the basis for withdrawing advertising dollars from the outlet doing the reporting, newspaper operations would promptly grind to a halt.

Surely those who are writing to The Daily Star-Journal to express their displeasure with the Scott-Davidson announcement have strong views on this news. They are also likely to have strong, vocal opinions on the visibility of their gay and lesbian neighbors -- and, I'd imagine, other people who are different from themselves. But we would all be well-served to be mindful of the letters that are not being written; in a town of just over 16,000 people, John and Elijah know well the community to which they are announcing their commitment.

Ultimately, this is a story about commitment. It is about two people living their lives openly, honestly and with integrity in a small town in the heart of America. Elijah embodied the spirit of Announcing Equality when the AP quoted him saying: "I am hoping that since me and John put our thing in the paper, that other gay couples who feel like they shouldn't or have been afraid to do it will come forward and do it too. And they'll express their love and let people know that they're happy and they want to spend the rest of their lives together."

The good news is that this is exactly what seems to be happening. A pattern of increasing acceptance is being highlighted in a report released Nov. 5 by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. According to the Institute's study, "Geographic Trends Among Same-Sex Couples in the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey," the number of gay and lesbian couples identifying as "unmarried partners" has increased 437 percent from 145,000 in 1990 to almost 780,000 in 2006. The study's Central Midwest region -- Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Missouri -- experienced a growth in gay and lesbian couples that was 46 times faster than the region's population increase from 1990 to 2006. In Missouri alone, the number of gay and lesbian partnerships increased from 1,931 to 14,955 during this time.

As John and Elijah have shown, announcing our equality is one way that we can change hearts and minds to make our local communities more welcoming places. Conversations about our lives are happening in workplaces, schools and churches, around dinner tables and in the media. When people hear the discussions that happen in the media about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, it affects their attitudes and perceptions about our community. When people hear our personal stories as part of those exchanges, they begin to know us and understand us, and then, hopefully, accept us and embrace us as full and equal members of society.

Today John and Elijah will celebrate the first day of the rest of their lives together in the presence of friends and loved ones. They, as a couple, will become part of the greater fabric of a community that is increasingly open-minded and accepting of their loving commitment to one another.