Local News

Publishing Announcements Of Same-Sex Unions Draws Debate

Posted September 17, 2002

— Hot off the presses -- a North Carolina newspaper has found itself at the center of a nationwide debate.

Members of a national gay and lesbian advocacy group want

The Charlotte Observer

to publish announcements of same-sex unions alongside wedding announcements.

Observer Publisher Peter Ridder will meet later this month with representatives from the national Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Equality North Carolina PAC. It is a political action committee representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Ridder said the paper does not print the announcements "because they are not recognized by the state," but he said the paper's unwritten policy is under review.

The decision to publish same-sex unions is causing much debate.

After dating for three years, John Nitzsche and B.Z. Jernigan wanted to make a lifelong commitment. They went to Vermont, the only state that legally recognizes homosexual couples, and were united in a civil union ceremony. When the men returned to Cumberland County, they wanted to share their joy by putting an announcement in

The Fayetteville Observer

.

"Marriage is a wonderful thing," Jernigan said. "We, as a member of the gay community, wanted to prove to the heterosexual community that our relationships are just as viable, just as caring, just as loving."

The newspaper did not have a policy about civil unions, so it created one. Under its policy,

The Fayetteville Observer

will only publish civil unions it they take place in a state-recognized ceremony and if the couple lives locally.

Nitzsche and Jernigan's civil union announcement appeared next to the wedding announcements. The paper received hundreds of complaints.

"Some people don't acknowledge they exist and I don't think that's consistent with our editorial policies of inclusion and tolerance," said Charles Broadwell, editor and publisher of

The Fayetteville Observer

.

Baptist Minister Wally Bearden said the paper's decision is an example of the erosion of morals.

"The media doesn't promote it, but helps the process along when they recognize things our government doesn't even recognize as being legal," he said.

Publishing gay unions are becoming more common, appearing in more than 125 newspapers nationwide.

The News and Observer

in Raleigh and

The Herald Sun

in Durham said they will also publish same-sex committments; however, neither publication has received requests.

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