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At issue: same-sex notices in The Sun

On Sunday, The Sun published a landmark advertisement: a paid announcement of the lifetime commitment ceremony of Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar, a lesbian couple that had lived until recently in Baltimore. It was believed to be the first notice about a same-sex couple that the paper has published.

The announcement, however, did not appear where other paid celebratory notices do every other week, on the back page of the paper's Arts & Society section. Instead, it ran on page 19J, in a different section dedicated to classified ads.

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The ad's placement, separating it from the birthdays, anniversaries and marriage announcements on the paper's Celebrations page, was the result of a decision by business-side managers. Newspaper officials declined to comment yesterday.

"We're just not ready to talk about that right now," said John F. Patinella, The Sun's general manager and senior vice president.

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A spokesman for a national gay rights group that monitors how newspapers handle notices of gay unions was critical of the approach.

"They should be in the same section" as weddings, said Michael Young, an official with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "By putting them in a second section, it's creating a second class of relationships and unions."

Until the end of last year, announcements of weddings were carried in the news columns of The Sun. The newspaper decided to assign them to the advertising department - which operates separately on the business side - amid a search to find ways to increase revenues during a difficult economy.

The way in which the notice was published on Sunday - amid classified ads for lost pets, used furniture and old cars for sale - would seem to conflict with the consensus that had emerged among The Sun's news editors last year. Editors say they had decided to publish notices of all same-sex commitments - whether legally recognized, such as domestic unions in Vermont, or nonformal ceremonies elsewhere in the country - alongside traditional wedding announcements.

"To me, it's a matter of principle, not pragmatism," William K. Marimow, The Sun's editor and senior vice president, said of that decision. "We want to be a society in which all people are treated equally and treated well. To me, having people who make commitments and unions of the same sex is worthy of recognition." He did not comment directly on The Sun's handling of the couple's notice.

The newspaper and its parent company, Tribune Co., offer many benefits to same-sex partners of employees who are registered as being in a committed relationship, including health care, dental and bereavement benefits.

Last January, after then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening appealed to the state's newspapers to publish notices marking gay unions, Sun vice president for advertising Lenora N. Howze was quoted as saying The Sun had not yet received any requests for such commitment ceremony announcements. "When we do, we're willing to look at what our policy should be on the matter," Howze said.

Different newspapers maintain widely divergent policies on the practice. Last September, The New York Times began to publish notices of gay and lesbian unions among conventional marriage notices. "This reflects a news judgment about a change of considerable importance that's occurring in society," said Toby Usnik, a spokesman for The Times.

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Earlier this summer, The Washington Post published a paid announcement of a lesbian union that took place in Canada, where such commitments have been legalized. Though gay marriage remains a highly charged political issue, many papers have decided in recent years to publish notices about same-sex partnerships. Differences have emerged, though, over whether to require that notices involve ceremonies that have some legal force, and over the placement of notices within the paper. The trend away from free wedding announcements toward paid notices has also complicated the issue.

Officials at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune said their newspapers would accept paid same-sex union notices, but have never had any such announcement submitted for publication. Like The Sun, both newspapers are owned by the Tribune Co. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, owned by Knight Ridder, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, owned by Newhouse, also accept paid announcements.

Not everyone backs the new sensibility.

"The fact that The Post and Times-Picayune ran these announcements shows a reflection of the political views of the newspapers' owners and editorial boards, not the American public," Genevieve Wood, vice president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, told the Associated Press last month. The conservative activist group opposes legalizing same-sex unions, which it terms a "counterfeit form of marriage."

The Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, will not publish such notices unless the state of Nebraska legally endorses them. "Our policy is that we will recognize and publish those [ceremonies] that are legal in the state of Nebraska," said Joel Long, director of public affairs for the World-Herald. "Gay weddings are not legal."

Last week, editors at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reversed a decision rejecting a notice of a same-sex commitment ceremony. "I myself am gay, and said, you know, maybe it's time to talk about this and revisit it," said Anne Glover, the Times' assistant managing editor for the copy desk.

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From now on, the Florida newspaper will print gay weddings and legal same-sex unions in its weddings section, Glover said. Paid notices for ceremonies marking commitments will appear in its advertising section set aside for celebratory notices.


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