The Lookout

Mississippi newspaper owner defends gay marriage cover story

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

(The Laurel Leader-Call)

A newspaper in rural Mississippi is defending its decision to run a cover story on what it called the first same-sex marriage in the county it serves.

On Feb. 7, the Laurel Leader-Call published the story Historic Wedding: Women wed in Laurel through smiles, tears about the wedding of Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven. Craven has been battling brain cancer. The women exchanged vows earlier this month at a ceremony in Laurel, Miss., attended by family, friends and Craven's doctors.

"If chemo doesn't work, we don't know what happens after that," Craven told the paper.

"This is true love," Powell said. "Love is love. It knows no gender."

She added: "I don't remember voting on straight marriage, so why is gay marriage an issue?"

The story sparked a backlash among readers in a state that does not legally recognize same-sex marriage.

"We shouldn't have to defend every decision we make here at the Leader-Call," Jim Cegielski, the paper's owner, wrote in an editorial published on Saturday. "However, the intense reaction to our gay wedding front-page story, which led to a deluge of hate calls, letters, e-mails, Facebook posts, soundoffs and random cross stares thrown in my direction, warrants some sort of response. So here it is."

Cegielski continued:

We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage. However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not base decisions on whether to cover a story based on whether the story will make people angry.

The job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn't take place or ignoring it because it will upset people. No, our job is to inform readers what is going on in our town and let them make their own judgments. That is exactly what we did with the wedding story. Our reporter heard about the wedding, attended it, interviewed some of the participants and wrote a news story. If there had been protestors at the wedding, we would have covered that the exact same way … but there weren't any. We never said it was a good thing or a bad thing, we simply did our job by telling people what took place.

I took the bulk of the irate phone calls from people who called the paper to complain. Most of the complaints seem to revolve around the headline, "Historic Wedding," and the fact that we chose to put the story on the front page. My answer to the "Historic Wedding" headline is pretty simple. You don't have like something for it to be historic.

The holocaust, bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Black Sox scandal are all historic. I'm in no way comparing the downtown wedding of two females to any of those events (even though some of you made it quite clear that you think gay marriage is much worse).

[...]

We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying 'I don't need my children reading this.' Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children.

I had at least 20 or so readers express to me they think gay marriage is "an abomination against God." We never said it wasn't. We never said it was.

"We were simply reporting to the best of our ability," Cegielski wrote. "However, I can't help but be saddened by the hate-filled viciousness of many of the comments directed toward our staff … No one here deserves to be berated or yelled at simply because we were doing our job."

Fifteen readers canceled their subscriptions in protest, according to Cegielski.

"You have every right to cancel your subscription," he wrote. "But you have no right to berate and belittle anyone on our staff."

[Hat tip: SheWired]

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