When a northwest Arkansas newspaper declined to run a same-sex engagement announcement last week it set into motion a groundswell of support that has garnered the attention of local media and activists.
Cody Renegar, 35, of Elkins, Ark. asked the Arkansas Democrat Gazette to publish an engagement announcement for his June wedding commitment ceremony, something Renegar said happens for other couples who would like to announce their impending nuptials.
“I called the newspaper and asked how I can submit our announcement for publication,” Renegar told Yahoo! News. “I was told that they won’t publish them until it’s legal.”
Renegar said the newspaper declined to run the announcement because of long-standing policy.
According to newspaper representatives, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette charges a minimal fee and has content length requirements, but does run announcements on a regular basis for heterosexual couples, including mixed race couples. They do not run same-sex announcements because the state of Arkansas does not legally recognize those unions.
Gazette publisher Rusty Turner told Yahoo! News on Monday that he was not familiar with Renegar’s request, but said it would not be published because of long-standing editorial policies.
“We run announcements for marriages that are legally recognized in Arkansas,” Turner said.”It is a long-established policy of the newspaper.”
Turner said he was personally unaware of any similar requests from same-sex couples.
Renegar and his fiance, 28-year old Thomas Staed, plan to conduct a public commitment ceremony at their northwest Arkansas home this summer. Same-sex marriage is not currently recognized under Arkansas state law, although other states and the District of Columbia do recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.
“We don’t need a license to prove our love,” Renegar said. “We’ll get married in front of our family and friends…we know we’re in love.”
On Saturday, the engagement story was published on Yahoo! and immediately drew the attention of friends and family on social media sites such as Facebook, as well as KNWA, a local television news outlet.
“My friends are just amazing,” Renegar said. “They started calling and texting me and asking when it would be in the newspaper.”
Local activist Jay Phillips was one of the people to join Renegar’s cause. Through his contacts at GetEqual.com and Change.org, Phillips initiated an online petition drive to apply pressure on the newspaper to change its policies.
“I contacted (publisher Rusty Turner) to give him an advanced notice of our intent to build public awareness of their discriminatory policy,” Phillips told Yahoo! News. “It’s my opinion that he’s willing to progress on the issue, but he is reasonably worried about blow-back from his conservative readers.”
Turner said there was no plans currently under way to examine the policy or grant an exception for Renegar.
Phillips said some apprehension on the newspaper’s part was understandable.
“This is a very progressive area in a red state,” Phillips said. “Mr. Turner is very justified to be cautious, but it is wrong.”
Renegar said he thought the newspaper’s policy was outdated and simply needed to be changed to keep up with the times. “Maybe they just need to take another look at their policies and change them,” he said. “It is the right of any couple to be able to share their love and happiness…it’s validating.”