The owner of a small newspaper in rural Mississippi took to the opinion section of his paper to defend himself and his reporters against homophobic readers who ranted about coverage of a local same-sex wedding.
On Feb. 7, the Laurel Leader-Call -- a newspaper that serves Jones County, in southeastern Mississippi -- published a front-page story about the marriage of Jessica Powell and her partner Crystal Craven. The paper called the ceremony the county's first same-sex wedding.
Under the headline "Historic Wedding," self-proclaimed conservative reporter Cassidi Bush described the strength and growth of Powell and Craven's love after Craven was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer in 2012, according to SheWired, a site powered by LGBT-focused news site The Advocate. Craven proposed in October, and their wedding was officiated by her uncle.
After the story ran, angry subscribers called, emailed and Facebook messaged the newspaper to express their disapproval. Fifteen have cancelled subscriptions, SheWired reports.
By Feb. 16, Leader-Call owner Jim Cegielski had had enough.
He penned an op-ed, titled "Doing Our Job," in defense of the newspaper's choice to run the same-sex wedding story, despite the fact that "the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage."
Via the Laurel Leader-Call:
I took the bulk of the irate phone calls from people who called the paper to complain. 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 like something for it to be historic. 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 gay wedding to take place in Jones County is still historic.
Cegielski went on to write that not once had the paper received a phone call from parents worried about their children seeing a story on "child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals," which the paper has printed before.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Mississippi, according to the Human Rights Campaign, meaning that the state does not recognize the unions of same-sex couples like Powell and Craven. The state also does not permit same-sex couples to adopt children, and there are no legal protections for hate crimes related to sexual orientation.
Recently, five lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses in Mississippi, knowing they would be rejected, as part of a push for equality spearheaded by the Campaign for Southern Equality.