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The Portland Phoenix
January 11 - 18, 2001

[This Just In]

MILESTONE

Bangor Daily News announces civil ceremony

By Tony Giampetruzzi

At first glance, it looked just like any other announcement on the wedding page of the Bangor Daily News: “Austin Franklin Brown Jr. of Gardiner and Alan Byron Stearns of Hallowell made lifetime commitments to each other July 2 at the Ocean Point Chapel.” Officiated by Rev. John MacDuffie and attended by friends from far and near, the ceremony was followed by a honeymoon in both Quebec City and Prince Edward Island.

Typical — but wait, aren’t both Austin and Alan names usually reserved for guys?

Sure enough.

On Saturday, December 30, Brown and Stearns became the first same-sex couple to have their commitment ceremony immortalized on the wedding announcement page of a major daily newspaper in Maine.

“There’s a cultural change going on, and this is our way of manifesting it,” says Mark Woodward, executive editor of the Bangor Daily News and the person responsible for the decision to publish the announcement

According to Brown, he and Stearns began speaking with the paper in October. “We really wanted to give it a shot,” he says. “We typed up the letter and sent a photo . . . Within days we heard back that they would run the announcement without a photo.”

Brown added that Woodward was “incredibly fair” in his approach to the issue, although he decided to only run the text. According to Brown, his reasons for not running the photograph were that this would be the first announcement of its kind in the paper and that the paper could face a barrage of “conservative assaults” as it is. (Woodward says the paper has received no negative feedback on the decision so far.)

“That was really okay with us,” says Brown. “We wanted the transition to be as easy as possible, and we thought that they were very fair and very open.”

“In the end, the photo that should run with this story is one of Mark Woodward who took a big risk in running the announcement in the first place,” says Stearns, who’s mother, Fern, was also instrumental in convincing the paper to change their policy regarding wedding announcements.

Woodward downplays the accolades.

“What it came down to was two people wanting to announce their commitment to one another. We ran it on the same page as all the other wedding and engagement announcements, all clearly identified as such,” Woodward explains. “We did give it a lot of thought, but, at this moment, it is socially significant that there is a greater tolerance of differences.”

Social change or not, it’s notably ironic that the Bangor Daily News, a daily newspaper with a circulation encompassing a geographic area of the state that hands-down voted against November’s equal rights bill, would be the Maine news source to raise the bar for editorial inclusion.

But the paper remains steadfast in its assertion that equal rights, regardless of the form, is not a passing fancy. “We received the same reaction in 1984 when we endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment,” says Woodward. “People often think that we’re acting out of character, but we are actually very much in character.”

While the Bangor Daily News sees the issue as one of social responsibility, the Portland Press Herald sees it as one of legalities. Last June, the Press Herald told the Phoenix they would not publish same-sex wedding announcements until gay marriage is legally recognized by the state legislature.

“If the status of gay marriage were to change, if they were to become legal, then we would certainly treat them as such,” said Ted O’Meara, Press Herald spokesperson, last June. “The key issue here is a legal one.”

However, O’Meara did not rule out the possibility of a policy change, only saying that it is “unlikely.”

“This is a decision that we as a paper made and we are very comfortable with it,” says Woodward. “I would be very reluctant to instruct other newspapers on their policies regarding this issue.”

Now that the Bangor Daily News has made their decision, will it stick? Woodward says most definitely. Soon, the wedding announcement page will become a function of the paper’s advertising department, conceptually joining most major newspapers in the country.

“As long as the announcements meet the standards of the department, they will be published,” confirms Woodward. “Clearly the precedent has been set.”


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