Reporters Wrestle With Gay Marriage

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By: Lisa Leff, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The debate over marriage for same-sex couples has forced journalists to rethink long-standing notions about objectivity, language and their audience, according to a panel of media professionals.

Whether the gay civil rights battle can be compared to the struggle for equality fought by black Americans, what to call same-sex spouses who have married, and when gay journalists should be kept from reporting the story are questions being debated in newsrooms, the panelists said Wednesday.

“One of the issues here for everybody is it’s new territory,” said Robert Rosenthal, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle (Click for QuikCap) and a member of the panel, which was sponsored by the Northern California chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA).

The Chronicle was criticized last week when it removed its lead City Hall reporter and photographer from covering the city’s same-sex marriage controversy after the lesbian partners got married. They were among the 3,955 couples that got married in San Francisco between Feb. 12 and March 11.

The Chronicle said its editors decided to take reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf off the story out of concern their personal stake in the unfolding legal and political drama might hamper the newspaper’s credibility.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Mangelsdorf said she and Gordon disagreed with the decision, and their marriage did not affect their ability to provide balanced coverage.

“If people wanted to see bias before they could have seen it because we were in a committed, long-term lesbian relationship and we wanted to get married,” Mangelsdorf said.

Rosenthal said the newspaper’s editors reluctantly concluded the two staffers couldn’t cover the story because they had crossed the line from observers to participants.

He added the Chronicle would no doubt change its position once the legal uncertainty surrounding marriage for gay couples is resolved.

Steven Petrow, president of NLGJA, said journalists also have wrestled with language. He cited as an example his organization’s objection to the phrase “gay marriage.” Marriage is marriage, whether it’s for straight couples or same-sex couples, he said.

Other panelists said they had wondered if it was appropriate to refer to same-sex spouses as husbands or wives.

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