Gay and lesbian New Yorkers who were looking for comprehensive coverage of the events in San Francisco had to make an unusual choice to find that coverage. They had to read the New York Post.
The Post’s editors, who clearly understood the significance of hundreds of same sex couple getting hitched in San Francisco, put the story on the cover of it February 13 edition under the headline “Gays Wed” with a subhead that read “Historic 1st nuptials as S.F. mayor defies law.”
When readers moved to the story they got a full page on the San Francisco doings. The story, by reporter Andy Geller, described what was taking place at City Hall.
Geller placed the marriages in the broader context of the queer community efforts to win the right to marry. The reporter noted recent court rulings in Massachusetts as well as the 2000 enactment of civil unions in Vermont.
Geller laid out the history of California’s efforts to stop gay marriage and wrote that the licenses San Francisco was giving to gay and lesbian couples might not survive a legal challenge, but “their symbolism was clear on a day when Massachusetts lawmakers were debating a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.”
On the facing page, readers got a brief update on the debate in Massachusetts and a second story about a Brooklyn gay couple who were about to jet off to Toronto to get married.
The only quibble I might have with the piece is a minor error. The first local jurisdiction to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple was Colorado’s Boulder County in 1975. Many other news outlets have made the same error.
Nevertheless, while San Francisco is not the first, what is happening there clearly is much more significant than what transpired in Boulder nearly 30 years ago and the New York Post gets that.
Now what New York City publication with a national purview dropped the ball? The New York Times.
On February 13, a large picture of actor —excuse me—California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on a motorcycle greeted you if you turned to the Times national page. A smaller picture of the governor enjoying breakfast with some fellow cyclists was placed below it.
The photos illustrated a Charlie LeDuff story about how Schwarzenegger still enjoys a Sunday morning motorcycle ride with friends despite holding public office and contending with a state budget that is a disaster.
I’m not aware of a groundswell of concern across America about whether since becoming governor Schwarzenegger is getting sufficient fresh air, but then I don’t hang out with millionaire actors turned politicians and their rich friends. Or maybe it’s the Times that is out of touch with America.
On February 14, the Times gave readers a lawyer-heavy piece that quoted just one woman who was waiting at San Francisco’s City Hall with her partner to get married.
The reporter, Dean E. Murphy, apparently couldn’t wait until the two court cases over these weddings actually ended up in front of a judge. He wanted to write a long, speculative piece. On February 17, the two judges essentially decided to not make a decision. Murphy’s story didn’t consider that possibility.
On February 15, the Post found some local New York couples who wedded in San Francisco and interviewed them. It was a nice story about the feelings these guys had for one another.
The Times finally caught up on February 17 with a long story that featured a number of interviews with couples who were getting married, but this prompts a question.
The precipitating event for all of this coverage was same-sex couples getting married at San Francisco’s City Hall. Why did it take the Times four days to report on the events there? These marriages are central to the debate.
The New York Post, a right wing tabloid, understood that. Why didn’t the New York Times?
I need to correct some of my own work. In last year’s December 11- 17 issue, I reported that Chicago Sun Times reporter Cheryl Jackson was wrong when she wrote “About 32 percent of black men who have sex with men were found to be infected with HIV, according to a multicity study of men ages 23 to 29.”
I was wrong and Jackson was right. I stand by my critique of her story, but on that particular fact I erred.