Paper’s CEO says policy based on state’s ban on same-sex marriage
John Wright | Online Editor
A gay couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their same-sex wedding announcement.
Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup, who were legally married in Washington, D.C., in October, filed the complaint on Friday, Nov. 19. The couple’s wedding has made international news in recent weeks because it was held in Dallas but officiated from D.C via teleconference.
Reed- Walkup, a board member for the national LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, said he’s been trying for several weeks to get The Morning News to publish their paid announcement in its “Weddings” section.
But the newspaper has refused because of a policy that says same-sex wedding announcements can only be published in a separate section called “Commitments.” The policy is based on the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t legally recognized by the state of Texas.
The couple filed the complaint under a 2002 city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Reed-Walkup says he believes wedding announcements, which are paid advertisements, are a public accommodation.
“Our ultimate goal is for the newspaper to realize that this is discrimination and change their policy,” Reed-Walkup said. “They [the city] may agree with the newspaper that because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas, they have every justification to not publish it in the ‘Weddings’ section. At least we can say that we tried, and take it from there.”
James M. Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Morning News, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of the complaint because he had not seen a copy of it.
Moroney said The DMN’s policy was enacted several years ago as a way to allow same-sex couples to announce things like civil unions. As more states have legalized same-sex marriage, the newspaper has started to receive requests to publish the announcements as weddings.
“We’ve just so far said that we’re thinking about it,” Moroney said. “Certainly if the state of Texas recognized the marriage of same-sex couples, we would put it in the paper. … This is the community and state we represent and live in, and we’re dealing with that.”
Moroney added that it’s not “a closed subject” and stressed that he believes the Morning News does a good job of reporting on LGBT issues.
“What troubles me a little bit is that some folks jump to this next level and say the newspaper is homophobic,” he said. “That really is an unfair accusation if they would only take the time to read the paper every day.”
Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, confirmed this week that her office received the couple’s complaint and is reviewing it. The Fair Housing Office investigates complaints under the ordinance before turning them over to the City Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. Each violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $500 fine.
“We’re having to consult with our attorney’s office on whether or not we have jurisdiction in this particular case,” Davis said. “Whenever we get a complaint, we go the extra mile to examine it. I imagine it will probably be next week sometime before I have a decision.”
In addition to the question of whether wedding announcements are a public accommodation, Davis noted that the ordinance doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on “marital status.”
The city once dismissed a complaint against a landlord who refused to allow a lesbian couple to live together in his apartment complex. The city determined that the landlord had not violated the ordinance because the policy was based on “marital status” and not sexual orientation.
But Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, said that because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and marital status are effectively the same.
“That’s really an old dodge to try to avoid the real issue,” Upton said.
Upton said he believes wedding announcements are public accommodations, because they’re paid commercial advertisements offered as a service. He also said it’s ironic that someone’s wedding announcement wouldn’t be published based on marital status.
Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage in no way prohibits the newspaper from publishing the announcement, Upton said. And he questioned whether the Morning News investigates announcements of heterosexual marriages performed outside the state to confirm that they’re legally recognized in Texas.
“Just because the state of Texas doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean they’re not married,” Upton said.