Wedding announcements-like classified ads and obituaries-have long been mainstays of local newspapers, connecting the paper to the real lives of readers in their communities.
Newspapers publish (usually for a fee) pictures of the happy couple or even blow-by-blow accounts of the wedding ceremony, complete with bewildering technical details about the composition and construction of the bride's wedding dress.
Now, readers of the social pages might expect to see photographs of two women, each wearing a wedding dress, or two men, one wearing white and the other wearing leather. Many newspapers have decided to give "gay unions" the same public recognition that they have traditionally given marriages.
Last month, The New York Times published its first photograph and announcement of a homosexual couple's commitment to live together (see WORLD: "Old gay lady," Aug. 31). The Times was not the first American newspaper to print such notices. But when it decided that accounts of homosexual unions constituted news that was fit to print, scores of other mainstream newspapers followed the leader.
The homosexual activist group GLAAD ("Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation"), which has been pressuring newspapers to change their social-page policies, is keeping a list of newspapers that "have run same-sex union announcements" or "would be willing to do so if asked by a local resident." The list, posted at www.glaad.org, is continually updated. Before The New York Times adopted the new policy, 70 newspapers were on the list. Within weeks, by the end of September, the number shot up to 139 newspapers.
These include just about all of the newspapers from the nation's major cities-including the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post-as well as those from smaller communities, from Hackensack, N.J., to Missoula, Mont., from Duluth, Minn., to El Paso, Texas.
Some of these newspapers print the announcements on their social pages, just like weddings; others keep them separate, often printing same-sex notices as a section in their classified ads.
One might wonder what it is, exactly, that these newspapers are recognizing. "Gay marriage" does not exist under the law. But many local governments-mostly cities, plus the state of Vermont-have established a system by which homosexual couples can register as "domestic partners." This entitles them to various benefits, such as family health-insurance coverage, that married couples enjoy, without the demands of marital property provisions and divorce laws if they split up.
Many homosexuals, though, do not even bother with domestic-partner registration. A number of liberal churches, even those that do not recognize homosexual marriage, now perform same-sex "blessings." This serves the same purpose. Many homosexuals just put together a ceremony of their own. That such rituals have no legal status just makes it all the better, since no legal strings tie them down and they can leave the relationship without getting a divorce.
But public notices of homosexual alliances in the newspaper do have a powerful cultural effect and constitute a giant step toward the acceptance of homosexual marriage.
Under the common-law legal tradition, a key requirement of a marriage is its public announcement. Even a wedding ceremony was not as important in constituting a marriage as the public affirmation of the relationship, which is why simply introducing a person as one's spouse can, under some jurisdictions, constitute a legally recognized "common-law marriage." This is no doubt why newspapers developed the tradition of publishing the names of married couples and announcing to the world the formation of this new family.
When newspapers give "gay unions" the same prominence as marriages between men and women, they present the two as being equivalent. One is as normal as the other. Both are equally acceptable-culturally, morally, and spiritually.
Earlier efforts to legalize homosexual marriage failed. So now homosexual activists, having failed to change the law, have turned first to changing the culture. They realize that if they can change people's attitudes, the laws will soon follow.
Homosexuality used to be considered a vice; now, even those it makes uncomfortable must avow-as in a Seinfeld episode-"not that there's anything wrong with it," while those who think there is something wrong with it are considered to have the vice of intolerance. Homosexuality used to be considered a psychological problem; now, those who oppose homosexuality are considered to have the psychological problem of "homophobia."
Adroitly manipulating the media, sympathy for the AIDS epidemic, and most people's lack of a basis for moral judgments, homosexuals have claimed for themselves the moral high ground and have made traditional moralists run for cover.
Cultural conservatives can learn from homosexuals how to fight a culture war.