Linda McMahan thought she had a reasonable request. She wanted her hometown newspaper, the Somerville Journal, to publish a short article and a photo announcing her marriage to her partner, Kristine Grimes. And the Journal’s editor, Kathleen Powers, sounded accommodating — so much so, says McMahan, that at one point Powers even asked her to submit a better photo.
But it was not to be. Powers was overruled by her superiors at Community Newspaper Company (CNC), the Boston Herald–owned operation that publishes more than 100 papers in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod.
This raises a longstanding question: when are mainstream newspapers going to change their archaic practices and start recognizing gay and lesbian unions?
Not any time soon, apparently. Powers referred my inquiry to editor-in-chief Kevin Convey, who says that after consulting Herald publisher Pat Purcell, it was decided that, as at the Herald, gay-union announcements would not be run because such relationships are not legally recognized (though McMahan and Grimes were wed in a religious ceremony). Also quashed were an editorial and a column telling Journal readers that gay-union announcements would henceforth be accepted.
“That does not close the door entirely,” Convey adds, saying that Powers is researching a proposal with the idea of changing the policy. Convey also says that if the lawsuit filed against the state recently by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders were to result in legal recognition — whether marriage or something short of that, such as Vermont-style civil unions — then that, too, would lead to some rethinking.
CNC and the Herald are hardly alone in their outmoded wedding-page policy. The Boston Globe, derided by some as a bastion of political correctness, actually has the same rule as the Herald. Just a little more than a year ago, Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas wrote an eloquent plea for the paper’s editors to publish gay-union announcements, but so far his call has gone unheeded.
Pamela Strother, executive director of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, says her organization has not compiled any statistics on how many papers accept gay-union announcements, but adds, “It is rare. We’re finding that there are still very few papers.”
There are pockets of progress here and there. A recent issue of the Boston-based Jewish Advocate included an announcement of a marriage between two women. And in Provincetown, where the gay and lesbian population is so strong that more domestic partnerships are recorded at Town Hall each year than legal marriages, the Provincetown Banner has been running such announcements for a number of years. “We do so happily,” says Banner editor Hamilton Kahn. Of CNC’s policy, Kahn adds, “I hope they catch hell for it. Who do they think they are, Congress?” For what it’s worth, it’s interesting to note that Boston Metro — in its second issue ever, on May 4 — published a large, front-page color photo of two lesbians getting married in the Netherlands.
As for McMahan, she came away from a conversation with Convey impressed by his approach to the issue. “I don’t begrudge them being thoughtful about a change in policy,” she says. “I’m happy that there’s a conversation about it.”
She also managed to get the word out to her friends and family in Somerville by buying an ad in the Journal — at a cost of $160. But all she really wanted was the same consideration shown to heterosexual couples who get married.
“I’m not naive about these things, but I think I was in this instance,” McMahan says. “Clearly, I was disappointed.”