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Texas paper draws bigot fire for covering gay commitment ceremony

Texans David Aguilar and Ernie Aguilar tied the knot in a commitment ceremony. They were featured in a three-page spread of the Sunday edition of The Galveston County Daily News, “Gay couple celebrates vows.” This wasn’t a legal marriage, since Texas has an amendment on the books, but the editors at the paper wanted to open a few eyes and tell the story from the perspective of the couple living in a state where their union isn’t recognized.

This coverage of the ceremony was, unfortunately, enough to send the bigots over the edge. The public response was swift and harsh; subscriptions were canceled and irate homo-hating letters were fired off. It was so bad that the editor, Dolph Tillotson posted a follow up column on the vitriol. Emphasis mine:

My first e-mail that morning praised the story. “It’s heartening to see that the Island remains open and tolerant …”

After that cheery start, we received scores of angry phone calls criticizing the decision to publish the story. At last count, several dozen readers had canceled their subscriptions.

Most asked why we chose to do such a story in the first place.

The answer is simple. Newspapers write about issues of topical interest that are controversial, compelling and interesting. If it appears on your ballot and if you’re likely to discuss it over coffee, we’re likely to write about it.

Gay marriage, which has been on the ballot in 20 states (including ours) and has been debated recently and hotly in the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament, meets all those criteria.

Some readers criticized our telling the story through the eyes of two gay men.

To me, that perspective from inside a gay union is one of the things that gave the story value. We all know what opponents of gay marriage think, but what about those most affected by the debate?

Some readers said the ceremony we reported is illegal and banned in Texas.

Actually, it is not. Here’s the distinction. The state of Texas and the U.S. government do not recognize gay marriage, but anybody can have a ceremony declaring themselves married, or declaring just about anything.

For me, this has been an eye-opening week. Not all our callers were unreasonable. Many were thoughtful and asked good questions. However, a surprising number were blindly, nastily and profanely hateful.

In the case of a few, I saw bigotry and unreasoning hatred that would make the Ku Klux Klan blush. Then they often told me I’d offended all good Christians.

More than a few questioned my sexual orientation. Typical of these, one woman left a sneering, anonymous message on voice mail: “You must really be a queer yourself. You act like it, and you sound like it, and you’ve proved it by putting this in the paper.”

A few had the guts to come right out and ask if I’m gay. If you’re interested, my response was and remains, “My sex life is none of your business.”

I am sorry many readers were offended. I understand that, in the eyes of many, we may have overdone the story, and maybe that is so.

However, I am not sorry we published the story.

It created a needed discussion, and answering my phone this week provided new insight into the frightening degree of hatred homosexuals face routinely.

I now understand the need for hate crimes laws much better.

A couple of letters are after the flip.Look at some of the letters to the editor. The first letter is so over the top that it must be a tongue-in-cheek joke by a gay person to ridicule the fundies. Then again, you never know…

Like others, I can only presume The Daily News finds the banality of a heterosexual marriage unfit for a three-page photo essay.

Indeed, gay marriage is bad enough, but three pages and photographs? Preposterous.

Shouldn’t real photo essays be reserved for newsworthy marriages, such as the nuptials of male and female celebrities? Truly, these are matches sanctioned by God and worthy of color photographs and bold-faced typesets.

By committing three full pages to this kind of union, your publication is endangering not only its readers, but the children who regularly open their morning paper to read the latest Family Circus, or catch the zany antics of former Enron executives.

How dare The Daily News report on two people’s love for each other who are not heterosexual? And on a Sunday.

Coverage of gay marriages should be two pages, maximum, and limited to a single black and white photograph. I recommend an eight-point font for tripe such as this; at least then those interested in reading it will have to strain their eyes.

***

[I love this tactic — the paper was wrong because it “caused” all those hateful homophobes to get angry and write letters — the coverage itself brought the topic “out of the closet” and the sheeple couldn’t handle it.]

Do readers not realize that the gay wedding article was a subtle form of gay bashing?

So many gay men and women simply want to share a quiet life with someone with whom they share mutual understanding and love.

They do not need The News to again elevate them to objects of hate and ridicule with such exaggerated coverage of one gay wedding.

That is exactly what the article did. The hateful letters that have followed prove my point. The News has simply used the story to unleash the hate that for some reason is reserved for gays.

I find it hard to believe that the editors of The News did not know exactly what they were doing.

***

[Sue Null, who I met at the International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference, is advocacy chair of PFLAG Houston. She wrote the letter below.]

What a perplexing time we live in when so many readers are outraged about a story of love and commitment (the recent marriage of David and Ernie Aguilar, The Daily News, Nov. 19).

Perhaps they would prefer to read more stories of spousal and child abuse and divorce, all too common events in the heterosexual world of marriage which they revere so highly.

David and Ernie deserve the same chance as heterosexual couples to build a life together.

In fact, they just may put straight couples to shame.

Brady at Some Guys Are Normal pointed me to this story, and gave kudos to the small paper for running the piece.

I guess there are always going to be folks like this out there. I just wish they’d listen to a gay person for once rather than swallowing down the lies and stereotypes they are all too often fed. But, if you think about it, I guess it’s progress that a small paper in a small town in Texas has enough guts to even run with a story like this, and even better–they stood by it after it was printed. We’re making progress, even if the naysayers are sometimes still louder than everyone else.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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