Miss. Newspaper's Coverage of Lesbian Wedding Sparks Outrage and Owner's Kick-Ass Reply

Miss. Newspaper's Coverage of Lesbian Wedding Sparks Outrage and Owner's Kick-Ass Reply
Sunnivie Brydum

The Laurel Leader-Call, a daily newspaper based in Jones County, Miss., on Thursday published a front-page story about what the newspaper called the first same-sex wedding to take place in the state, between Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven.

The story, simply titled "Historic Wedding: Women wed in Laurel through smiles, tears," was written by self-proclaimed conservative reporter Cassidi Bush, and recounted how Powell and Craven met and fell in love, staying beside one another despite Craven's diagnosis last year of Stage 4 brain cancer. Craven has since had three surgeries, the most recent just weeks before the wedding, reports Bush. 

"If chemo doesn't work, we don't know what happens after that," Craven told the reporter. Bush's story went on to describe Powell's dress — from David's Bridal —and Craven's powder-blue vest and tie, along with a white cowboy hat to conceal the scars from her recent surgeries. Powell was walked down the aisle by her six-year-old son, and the couple's friends, family, and even Craven's oncologist and his team were in attendance to celebrate the couple's commitment. 

"Love is love, it knows no gender," Powell told the Leader-Call. "I don't remember voting on straight marriage, so why is gay marriage an issue?"

Small-minded readers on the Leader-Call's subscription roster were quick to explain the "issue" to the happy couple and the paper's owner, who was inundated by "hate calls," emails, Facebook messages, and cancelled subscriptions. 

"We shouldn't have to defend every decision we make here at the Leader-Call," wrote owner Jim Cegielski in an op-ed titled "Doing our Job," responding to the outraged readers and 15 former subscribers who cancelled their subscriptions in response to the story.

"We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage," continued Cegielski. "However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not 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 reads what is going on in our own 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 protestors 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."

In a full-throated defense of journalistic integrity that makes this reporter a little envious of those who work under Cegielski's tutelage, the owner notes that the bulk of the complaints he fielded surrounded the publication's headline which stated that the wedding was historic.

"You don't have to like something for it to be historic," Cegielski writes plainly. "The holocaust, 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), I'm just saying that whether you liked the story or not, the first known gay wedding to take place in Jones County is still historic."

Cegielski's full reply is worth reading, as he points out that the sheer volume of feedback — more than 50 phone calls, and more Facebook comments than any story in the paper's history — clearly proves that the story was worthy of its front-page placement. 

And to those claiming they didn't want their children to see a story about a lesbian couple on their local newspaper? Cegielski shuts them down with a word: "Ugh."

"We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page," continues the owner, "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."

Cegielski wraps up his pointed rant by noting that the original article had no endorsement or condemnation of the couple's relationship, or their decision to get married in their conservative home state that doesn't recognize their marriage. 

"We were simply reporting to the best of our ability," explained Cegielski. "However, I can't help but be saddened by the hate-filled viciousness of many of the comments directed toward our staff… No one here deserves to be berated or yelled at simply because we were doing our job.

"You have every right to cancel your subscription… But you have no right to berate and belittle anyone on our staff."

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