Couple: Fargo, N.D., newspaper's wedding-announcement policy 'obviously outdated'

FARGO, N.D. -- A same-sex couple whose wedding announcement was turned away by The Forum told the editor Tuesday that the newspaper is on "the wrong side of history."...

Gay couple
Allison Johnson, left, and Kelsey Smith meet Tuesday, July 25, 2012, with Forum Editor Matt Von Pinnon at The Forum in Fargo N.D. They plan to marry in Aug. 1 in New York. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO, N.D. -- A same-sex couple whose wedding announcement was turned away by The Forum told the editor Tuesday that the newspaper is on "the wrong side of history."

At the invitation of The Forum, Kelsey Smith, 27, Fargo, and Allison Johnson, 31, Austin, Texas, met with Forum Editor Matthew Von Pinnon early Tuesday afternoon. They told him the paper's policy to refuse publication of same-sex wedding announcements is based in hatred and bias.

"You have hate and discrimination asking you to keep a policy in place that's obviously outdated," Johnson said.

Von Pinnon told the couple the policy is based on North Dakota and Minnesota law. Both states

explicitly define marriage as between a man and a woman -- North Dakota in its state constitution and Minnesota by state statute, though a constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November.


"We've used those as guiding principles," Von Pinnon said of the state laws. "We're not sure that's right, but that's the practice we've had up until now."

The couple said they are happy the policy is under review.

The Forum is a member paper of both the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association. Officials for both organizations said they do not provide policy recommendations.

Roger Bailey, executive director of NDNA, said this is the first time in his 12 years with the association that he's dealt specifically with this issue.

"I'm fairly certain it has impacted other newspapers in the state, but this is the first one that has become public issue like it has, to my knowledge," Bailey said.

The Duluth News Tribune and the Grand Forks Herald -- which, like The Forum, are owned by Forum Communications, allow same-sex announcements. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mankato Free Press allow same-sex announcements as well.

The Minot Daily News does not have policy on the books, but Editor Bryan Obenchain said they too look to state law for guidance.

"As long as it's not legal in the state of North Dakota, we would not be comfortable publishing such an announcement," Obenchain said.


Obenchain, however, said in his approximately 12 years as editor, he has never received such a request.

Von Pinnon said the newspaper is a reflection of the community, and he has been receiving feedback from all sides of the argument, both approving of The Forum's current policy and criticizing it.

The newspaper has been reviewing the policy for some time, but since the couple's announcement was denied Monday morning, the review process has accelerated, Von Pinnon said.

The policy first came into question a couple of months ago, Von Pinnon said, after a civil commitment announcement for a different couple was refused.

"It's just kind of coming to light right now that we need to take a look at it and see if it's still right for our area," he said of the policy.

Johnson said she submitted the request to the paper early Saturday for the Aug. 1 wedding notification to be printed next Sunday.

She received an email Monday morning that told her The Forum does not print engagement or wedding announcements for same-sex couples.

The situation has created a storm of negative comments on the paper's official Facebook page and spawned an online petition on the website calling for the newspaper to allow same-sex announcements to be printed.


That petition had more than 2,280 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

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