06/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated 6 days ago

Midwest Editors Shifting On Gay Marriage

Coming to an American Midwest near you: gay marriage -- at least in the papers.

On a day when the Obama campaign announced the appointment of Brian Bond and Dave Noble to its high-level national election team -- both men prominent advocates for the LGBT communities -- there was another signal perhaps of the readiness around the country for change, even across the stereotypically staid Midwest. On the heels of news coming from California, newspapers here showed a restrained objectivity toward-- and, in some cases, excitement about -- gay marriage, an issue that only years ago was considered taboo. Even papers owned by the traditionally conservative-leaning Gannett Co. dedicated considerable column inches to the matter, and more significantly, in a decidedly non-provocative manner.

2008-06-13-otb_flyover.jpgProminently featured on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch web site yesterday was a reader comment:

"Canada was just like us and now they are becoming more accepting of gay marriage. There will always be a small and vocal minority against it. However, many more people will become accepting as time goes on."

The Gannett Co.corporate mission somewhat mysteriously states: "To successfully transform Gannett to the new environment." The company's papers' open coverage of the gay marriage issue seems to reinforce that mission.

As of 12:31 a.m. Tuesday morning, gay marriage topped the headlines on the web site of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, despite the deluge covering half the Midwest and Iowa in particular facing one of the greatest crises of its modern history as floodwaters crested at record levels.

"What will gay marriage mean in Ohio?" read the headline, its non-combative language perhaps implying a measure of both resignation and acceptance. Although Ohio has one of the more stringent gay marriage bans in the nation, Mark Naymik, political analyst for the Plain Dealer, says the issue isn't likely to affect the presidential vote in that state.

Even the Des Moines Register, literally swamped with the flood disaster, nevertheless followed suit, dedicating prominent page space to gay marriage in California. And while many of the newspaper's editorial staff chose not to weigh in on the subject themselves, a recent editorial in the Register praises the Supreme Court's landmark decision regarding Guantanamo detainees, calling it "a victory for individual liberty." Might that sentiment soon be applied to the issue of gay marriage? Maybe, maybe not. But change is clearly on the move in Iowa.

Between Iowa and Ohio lies Chicago, Illinois, home to the Chicago Tribune -- the most widely distributed daily paper in the Midwest and certainly the most controversial. Although perhaps best known around the country for its infamous printing of the "DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN" headline, the paper's reputation is one of unapologetic conservatism. In its editorial policy, the Tribune calls itself "unimpressed by momentary trend and skeptical of untested theory." Despite that trademark suspicion, the Tribune's coverage of gay marriage in California deserves attention.

Correspondent Michael Martinez's feature-length article represents a serious departure from the Tribune's notorious GOP-grandstanding of the 20th century, and is particularly significant for its subtle acquiescence to the legal standing of gay marriage advocates. Describing two men's journey toward marriage, he writes:

"The marriage on Tuesday will cap a legal odyssey that began in 2004 when San Francisco's attempt to marry the two men and other same-sex couples was voided by California's Supreme Court on the narrow point that the city exceeded its authority."

It's no parade, but in the Midwest, getting on the wagon is half the battle.