The Times West Virginian

March 30, 2014

COLUMN: Decision on wedding announcement matter of policy

By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian

— Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, dating back 10 years ago when a state supreme court decision in Massachusetts shot down a lower court ruling.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 on Nov. 18, 2003, that “barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution,” the state government was given 180 days to take whatever action they felt fit the decision.

The governor at the time was Mitt Romney, who would eventually be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Legislators asked the high court whether a law establishing civil unions as legal, as the state of Vermont had, would adequately fulfill its determination.

The answer was no. So state leaders took no action either to implement or block the high court’s decision, and on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., would follow in legalization of same-sex marriage — some by court decisions, some by actions of the state’s Legislature and others by vote.

Washington, D.C., legalized same-sex marriage by vote of the Council of the District of Columbia in 2009. Marriage licenses started to be issued on March 3, 2010. By law, it takes five days from the application date to when the license is issued, so same-sex marriages started taking place in D.C. on March 9, 2010.

So for more than four years, marriages of same-sex couples, whether they be between a man and man or woman and woman, have been legally performed and recognized in Washington, D.C.

All of this is prelude to a marriage announcement that appears in today’s Times West Virginian, a paid announcement that appears in our My Life section. A few months ago, we were contacted by a woman who grew up in the North Marion area and asked whether our paper had a policy against publishing paid wedding announcements of same-sex couples. An editor told her that we did not.

The only policies we have when it comes to these paid announcements is that it comes from the couple or is authorized by the couple — there’s a story there but for another column on another day — and that it fit the newspaper’s standards of grammar, Associated Press style and safeguards against libel. We also require that the paid wedding announcement print within one year of the nuptials and that it be a legal marriage.

A legal marriage. Same-sex marriages are legal in Washington, D.C., where the couple exchanged vows and rings earlier this month. Though now recognized by the federal government, same-sex marriages are not legal in 33 states, including West Virginia. The state also does not recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states.

So why would the Times West Virginian recognize this marriage? Quite simply because there is nothing within our policies to exclude it. And we very strongly believe that if we refused this paid announcement then we would be limiting a person’s First Amendment right to the freedom of speech. We are advocates, by nature and profession, of the First Amendment.

The inclusion of this paid wedding announcement should in no way be interpreted as the newspaper’s support of same-sex marriages, though it is the first time such an announcement has been printed. And neither should this column be interpreted as lack of support because our decision was made without emotions and purely by policy. We are not making any editorial statement at all on the issue at this time.

Going forward, the Times West Virginian will continue to follow its policies for paid wedding, engagement and anniversary announcements, and there are no plans to change those policies.

We thank you for being faithful readers, and if you have any questions on the issue or any other policy our newspaper may have, please feel free to contact me.

Misty Poe is managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached at mpoe@timeswv.com, on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV or by phone at 304-367-2523.