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June 27, 2008

Paper leans on marriage
ban to refuse couple's engagement notice


Canton--The Repository, Canton’s daily newspaper, is using a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil union to forbid the recognition of lesbian and gay couples in print, and has advised all the Ohio newspapers in its chain to follow suit.

“Given the current state of the law in Ohio, the Repository does not currently intend to publish same-sex engagement and wedding announcements. We also don’t intend to address this topic on our editorial page or in letters to the editor,” wrote Executive Editor Jeff Gauger on April 28.

Gauger was responding to a letter from Rev. Gene Kraus of New Vision United Church of Christ in Canton, sent after the newspaper refused an engagement announcement for two of his congregants.

“We find this decision deeply offensive and troubling for two reasons,” wrote Kraus.

“For the Repository to take this stand is a slap in the face against a significant part of the population of Canton and the readership the Repository seeks to serve,” Kraus continued.

“We protest this decision and insist that the Repository reassess its policies regarding the rights of same-gendered couples to announce their engagements and form faithful and loving families built upon a sacred covenant blessed by their own faith community,” Kraus concluded on behalf of the congregation.

Sixteen congregants co-signed the letter, rejected by Gauger eight days later.

Gauger would not comment on it. “I think my letter speaks for itself,” he said.

The couple whose announcement was rejected, Ronda Moorhead and Kelli Shaw, then wrote to Gauger again.

“Initially we had decided to just let this go and chalk it up to yet another social barrier that gays and lesbians are too often faced with. But after thinking it over, we realize that there is much more to be said,” the couple began.

“An engagement is not a legal event. There are no legal guidelines in place regarding engagements for homosexuals or heterosexuals,” the couple wrote. “Therefore, since there are no laws prohibiting same-sex engagements, we have to question your underlying reason and tell you that this is clearly discrimination.”

“We highly doubt that the Canton Repository would want to go on record as saying that it discriminates against the gay and lesbian community,” the couple continued.

Before rejecting the announcement, the Repository called the Moorhead and Shaw to inquire if they are a same-sex couple. The question is not part of the paper’s normal procedure with engagement announcements.

Moorhead and Shaw challenged Gauger on it.

“If we would have submitted our announcement using only initials, we are fairly certain that this situation would not exist. No one would have been any the wiser. But I guess that it was our mistake in assuming that the Canton Repository was an equitable enterprise.”

“In effect, what you are saying, is that our ceremony is inconsiderable, and not worthy of acknowledgement. If the local newspaper will not recognize committed relationships among gays and lesbians, then what chance is there that the straight community will ever accept these relationships as true and meaningful?” the couple continued.

“We understand that the Canton Repository has not previously published these types of announcements and that in doing so you might be making a rather bold political statement; but what kind of a political statement do you suppose that you are making by not publishing them?” wrote the couple.

Moorhead and Shaw also included research from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation saying that as of last year, 883 American newspapers publish announcements for same-sex couples. Three-quarters of them are in states with laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The couple also pointed out that a number of Ohio daily newspapers publish such announcements, including the Repository’s competitors, the Akron Beacon Journal, its neighbor, the Alliance Review, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the very conservative Lima News, among them.

Gauger repeated that because same-sex unions are not recognized in Ohio, the Repository will not publish the announcements.

The Repository does not charge opposite-sex couples to run announcements.

Asked if they would run a same-sex engagement announcement as a paid ad, Gauger said that would be up to the sales department.

Concerning the refusal to address the issue on the editorial page or in letters to the editor, Gauger said his response to Kraus was specific to the letter sent by the members of the church.

He said the paper would not print letters referring to couples they refuse to print as an announcement. Kraus' letter doesn’t mention the couple or their event.

Asked if he would run a letter on the topic that does not reference any couples, Gauger hedged.

“I’m not sure,” Gauger said. “That would be up to more people than me. I’m not going to base it on a letter I haven’t seen.”

President William McKinley’s grandfather-in-law John Saxton founded the Repository and it was the first newspaper to play a critical role in a presidential election.

McKinley waged his 1896 “front porch campaign” for the presidency from his Canton home. Speeches delivered on the front porch were published in special issues of the Repository, then distributed by train throughout the country to be delivered to homes and read aloud at rallies.

Currently, the newspaper is owned by GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York. Their other Ohio properties are the Massillon Independent and the New Philadelphia Times-Reporter. The three are dailies.

GateHouse also owns the weekly Suburbanite of southern Summit County.

It is not clear how other GateHouse publications treat same-sex couples or if they include sexual orientation or gender identity in their employment non-discrimination policies.

Liz Lewis, an assistant to GateHouse’s president, promised answers for this report, but did not provide them.

Human resource matters for GateHouse in Ohio are handled by Gary Carpenter at the Repository.

"I have been instructed to tell you that GateHouse's policy is in line with federal law," Carpenter said.

Neither federal nor Ohio law prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Carpenter added that "If we have to put anything out or publish anything on the matter, it will be on GateHouse's website."

GateHouse's corporate website lists rules for its users. Among them is, "You agree not to submit any content in any forums, chats, emails or otherwise that . . . abuses or discriminates on the basis of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, region, disability, etc." But there is no non-discrimination statement.

Repository employees are protected by the city of Canton's 2006 ordinance which covers sexual orientation for all employees, public and private, in the city of Canton and "his or her spouse, with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment," including job training and union practices.

LGBT employees of the other publications are unprotected.

Times-Reporter publisher Jac Clay said he “is going to pass [on answering questions] at this time” before abruptly hanging up.

Independent publisher Ron Fraily said “We stand by what GateHouse Ohio does.” He then called Gauger and told him that the Gay People’s Chronicle was inquiring.

Gauger mentioned Fraily’s call to him, and said GateHouse allows editors to do what is best for their markets.

On this matter, however, GateHouse Ohio operations appear to be run by Gauger and the Repository.

Suburbanite general manager Dan Mucci said not recognizing same-sex couples is “the policy of GateHouse Ohio.”

Mucci also said that the Suburbanite, which charges for engagement announcements, would also not accept one as an advertisement.

“The policy was sent to us by the Repository,” Mucci said. “It was told to us and we are following it.”

Asked when the policy was distributed, Mucci said “Early May.”

Gauger’s letter to Kraus is dated April 28.



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