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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for August, 2010

Omaha World-Herald creates criteria to exclude same-sex couples

Timothy Kincaid

August 31st, 2010

One of the favorite tactics for those who want to exclude based on a class is to come up with a justification – a seemingly non-biased criterion – to engage in discrimination while deflecting criticism. This exorcise allows the perpetrator to simultaneously feed their animus while claiming the mantle of decency and reasonableness.

Perhaps the most egregious examples of this were the “literacy tests” used to deny African Americans the right to vote. Blacks in the South weren’t denied the ability to vote due to skin color, you see, just ignorance. All justified and righteous. Except, of course, they weren’t applied fairly and were nothing more than a cover, an excuse, to give a pretense of reasonableness to blatant racism and violation of the 14th Amendment.

And while the civil rights movement ended race-based “literacy tests” in the 60’s, this way of thinking certainly lingers today. And we certainly see a lot of it directed towards gay people and same-sex couples.

One of the more common – and more stupid – arguments against marriage equality is a variation on the theme: “Everyone has the equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex.”

This actually isn’t true (marriages in which one partner is gay are presumed to be fraudulent in a number of legal situations), but that’s beside the point. A rule which is designed to exclude based on specific attributes of the group excluded, is discriminatory on its face. As Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “a tax on yarmulkes is a tax on Jews.”

Now enter Terry Kroeger, the oh-so-clever publisher of the Omaha World-Herald.

Jeff and Heidi Wilke were delighted that their daughter was to be married and wanted their friends and neighbors to share in their joy. So they contacted the paper, only to be informed by Kroeger, the papers publisher, that he wouldn’t print same-sex wedding announcements.

The Wilke’s weren’t too pleased and so they used the power of the internet – and Facebook – to inform the world. I was but one of undoubtedly thousands who dropped Kroeger a little note expressing our disappointment.

So now Kroeger has back-tracked. He’s made an announcement which, at first glace, seems like he’s found social awareness and a conscience and is doing the right thing. In fact, the New York Times ran a headline Omaha Paper to Print Same-Sex Wedding Announcements in which Kroeger plays the martyr.

“What has transpired over recent days has included some reasoned discussions with us about our practices, but mostly it has been a stream of vitriol against The World-Herald,” said the publisher, Terry Kroeger. “This news organization is not guilty of hating gays and lesbians. Should we have seen this issue more clearly? Probably. Have we been too slow in reacting to this matter? Maybe. But hateful? Never.”

And yet the Wilke’s shouldn’t get too excited. Kroeger won’t be printing their announcement. Because the Omaha World-Herald has a new criteria, one designed to exclude most same-sex couples who would request notice in Omaha while pretending to be balanced and fair.

The “Celebrations” page of the Omaha World-Herald has provided a place to buy space to celebrate weddings, engagements, anniversaries and birthdays. It will continue to be just that. Celebrations announcements regarding legal weddings, engagements for legal weddings or anniversaries of a legal marriage will be welcomed, regardless of the genders of the couple. We will not run announcements regarding commitment ceremonies, partnerships and other non-marriage unions, again regardless of gender.

Some will criticize this action because they would prefer that same-sex announcements not appear in their newspaper. Others will say it doesn’t go far enough. Our sense is that this change will provide for a public “celebration” of important milestones in the lives of people who take the significant steps toward legally sanctioned marriage. Iowa and four other states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. We will publish Celebrations announcements of marriages from those jurisdictions.

You see, only marriage is an “important milestone” and in Omaha marriage is denied to same-sex couples. It isn’t that they are gay, you see, just not legally sanctioned. All justified and righteous. It isn’t Kroeger that is discriminatory, just the voters.

And because Kristin Wilke and Jessica Kitzman are going to wed in Minnesota instead of Iowa, well then his problem is solved. Kroeger can keep the lesbians out of his paper and give a pretense of reasonableness to justify his discrimination.

But sorry Omaha World-Herald. Sorry Terry Kroeger. You may have dodged the bullet today. But history will be no kinder to you that it is to all the others who came before you who have sought to justify their bias by bogus “tests.”

Westboro Baptists Flee Student Counter Protest

Jim Burroway

November 25th, 2008

The Westboro Baptist clan was at it again, this time near Omaha Central High School last Friday. A counter protest by students turned, well, theatrical — in a rotten-tomatoes sort of way:

Students threw hamburgers and bottles of lemonade and milk at several members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., students said after the protest. A video of the protest — recorded by 16-year-old student Mason Hartwell — showed one counterprotester on the ground, seated with his hands behind his back and flanked by two law enforcement officers.

Students also chanted several slogans — including the Pledge of Allegiance, where they yelled “Liberty and justice for all.” Police persuaded the Westboro clan to leave once the situation threatened to get out of hand. Police said no one was injured and no one was arrested.