A St. George newspaper has refused to run a wedding announcement for a legally married gay couple.
Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick were married in California on June 17, 2008 — the day the state began performing same-sex marriages. Their story and pictures appeared in People Magazine and USA Today. In a photo from one story, now featured prominently on a Facebook event page, the couple appears holding a sign proclaiming “Newlyweds, June 17, 2008, Thank you California!” And although Bay State voters passed Proposition 8 — the controversial measure re-banning gay marriage — five months later, Barrick and Jones’ marriage, and those of 18,000 other California couples, is still valid.
“A lot of people don’t get that we got the marriage license because we knew Prop. 8 was on ballot and we didn’t know how long that would be on ballot,” said Jones.
On Aug. 22, the couple — who now live in San Francisco, but who met in Southern Utah — will celebrate their union at the Washington County home owned by Barrick’s mother, surrounded by friends and family. In preparation for the happy day, they sent a wedding announcement to the Spectrum, St. George’s daily newspaper. A few days later, the paper’s publisher, Donnie Welch, refused to run it.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which released an in-depth statement on the situation on Aug. 13, the paper initially agreed to run the announcement in its “celebrations” section without the photograph the couple had submitted. When Barrick and Jones protested, they said Welch told them he had decided not to run their paid announcement. In an e-mail to the couple, Welch explained that the paper only publishes “marriage announcements recognized by Utah law.”
GLAAD also indicated that the Spectrum is owned by the national media corporation Gannett, and that 85 percent of its newspapers publish the wedding announcements of gay and lesbian couples. Since GLAAD began its Announcing Equality campaign seven years ago, the number of U.S. daily papers that will print such announcements has increased from 70 to 1,052.
Jones, who said he once worked as a paperboy for the Spectrum and regularly reads the paper online, said he and Barrick found the decision hurtful and unfair.
“It’s not [about] do you agree with my marriage. I’m well reminded many don’t every day,” he said. “But I’m asking [people] to accept I was married due to the good graces of the state of California, and I’m asking to be treated with equality, fairness, respect and decency just as any other married couple is.”
Like the story of Matt Aune and Derek Jones, a gay couple detained by LDS Church security in July for kissing on a Salt Lake City plaza owned by the church, news of the spurned announcement spread around the world. In the week since the story first broke, newspapers and blogs from around the world have weighed in on the matter. Closer to home, Welch defended his decision in an Aug. 14 Spectrum article.
“I considered strongly who makes up our readers and the conservative nature of our community,” he said, adding that his initial plan to run the announcement sans photo was a “middle ground and allow us time to review our policies.” Welch also noted that his paper had lost readership and ad dollars in the past, including last November when it published a story about a gay couple and Proposition 8. He also said that this was the first time the paper had denied to publish a same-sex marriage announcement and noted that he sometimes had to make policy decisions that conflict with his personal beliefs.
“It was a very tough decision,” Welch said. “Even [Jones] commented that I would get an inevitable amount of backlash for running this announcement within the local community.”
Welch did not respond to a phone message from QSaltLake seeking further comment.
On Aug. 15, the Salt Lake Tribune ran the couple’s announcement, complete with photograph.
“The policy of the Salt Lake Tribune is that it will accept all wedding announcements. That is a decision made by the publisher,” Brent Low, president and CEO of the paper’s parent company, MediaOne of Utah, said.
In interviews with several Utah news stations, Welch said that he may reconsider his decision.
“I’m still hopeful they’ll run it, who knows,” said Jones. “But at the very least they’re getting a lot of bad publicity for this decision.”
Indeed, Welch told the Spectrum that he had received hate mail when the story broke, though most of the comments he has received are supportive. Jones said he and Barrick have gotten their share of hate mail, including messages that the two should “stay in San Francisco and leave well enough alone and not impose our lifestyle on Utahns.”
“It’s not me imposing,” he said. “I was a paperboy for this paper. I lived in St. George for 18 years, and there are people there who don’t share [these commenters’] perspective, and all of them deserve to be celebrated on the celebration page of the Spectrum. That page is not reserved for the religious majority who believe it should be reserved for one type of union. It’s not the newspaper’s place to say which of these unions we agree with and don’t, but to provide a neutral and fair forum where all members of a community are represented.”
They have also received supportive messages from all across the world.
“We’ve gotten e-mails from Belgium, the Philippines, England and Sweden,” he said. “It’s very comforting that so many people recognize this for what it is: an injustice done to two people.”
GLAAD has encouraged Utahns to contact Welch and urge him to publish the announcement. He can be reached at (435) 674-6222 or [email protected]