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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 22, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 8
Marriage equality - in Mississippi
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Marriage equality - in Mississippi

Magnolia State newspaper defends Lesbian marriage cover story

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

It's not every day that you hear about progressive behavior in the rural Deep South. But this week SGN learned about a small-town Mississippi newspaper that ran a front-page story on what it called the first same-sex marriage in the county it served - and then published an editorial defending its decision.

Well, we just knew we had to write about that!

On February 7, the Laurel Leader-Call published a story titled 'Historic Wedding: Women wed in Laurel through smiles, tears,' describing 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, Mississippi, 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?'

REACTION FAST AND FURIOUS
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, sound-offs 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 cannot 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 protesters 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.'

NO VALUE JUDGMENTS
'I took the bulk of the irate phone calls from people who called the paper to complain,' Cegielski went on. '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 to like something for it to be historic.

'The Holocaust, the 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.'

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