Adventures in news coverage, part 1: When we would and then wouldn’t publish civil union announcements

Time was, brides announced their nuptials in the daily newspaper. In retrospect, it seems so “Mad Men” era quaint. Yet another tradition gone the way of digital.

Anyway, in 2002, Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson, Publisher Van King and I were talking about our policy on publishing gay wedding and civil union announcements.

Correction: We didn’t have a policy — the assumption was that weddings were between a man and woman. I don’t know that anyone had tried to place a gay union in the newspaper. But the New York Times had decided to publish the civil union announcement of a gay couple. If the old Gray Lady was going to do it, we’d better know what we were going to do.

Of course, the law of the land was that marriage was between a man and a woman. And bear in mind that a good percentage of the newspaper’s readership was conservative; this is part of the Bible Belt, after all. We knew readers would complain. We didn’t mind readers complaining so much. But we wanted their complaints to be over something important. And we wanted to have thought through our position.

It wasn’t a long discussion. (One reason is that the ad director wasn’t involved and he should have been. Wedding announcements — the paper called them “Celebrations” — were paid advertisements. But Allen and I wanted to strike while we had the publisher’s attention.)

Both Allen and I wanted to publish them. Van was less sure, but I don’t know if he was truly uncertain or was playing devil’s advocate. In any case, we left the meeting with the tentative decision that if we received a request for an announcement for a civil union, we would publish it. Or, realistically, we would have another discussion about it, but the inclination was to publish.

We didn’t get a request for a civil union announcement.

A few years later, under a different publisher, Allen and I raised the question again. I don’t remember what provoked it. This time, the publisher, Robin Saul, said we would not publish them. Saul had asked his boss about the issue and was told that the newspaper would follow state law. As long as gay marriages and civil unions were not recognized by the state of North Carolina, the paper would not publish any “Celebrations” of civil unions.

For the rest of the time I was at the paper, I dreaded the possibility that a same-sex couple would try to buy an ad. I believed the paper’s position would embarrass us and put us on the wrong side of history.

It didn’t come to that. We didn’t get a publication request, and in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages are legal.

And, the “Celebrations” page has gone the way of classified ads.

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