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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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This weekend's column: Gay or straight, the name remains the same ...

Above: Anybody want to see a movie called "How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire"? Didn't think so.

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Two gay guys walk into a newspaper editor’s office. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one.)

Their names are Skip and Steve [not this Skip and Steve], and they want to know if I will publish their engagement and wedding announcements.

When I say, "Sure," they almost look disappointed. It was as if they had sat up all last night rehearsing their arguments as to why they shouldn’t be treated differently from anybody else and now won’t be able to use any of that.

I go back to what I thought was a lot more important work, like figuring out what Sunday comic strips I can afford to keep in my next round of budget cuts.

It was 1993, at a newspaper a long way from here, and some things never change. People are still getting used to gay marriage. And newspaper editors still have to spend a lot of time cutting their spending.

In the end, we didn’t really treat Skip and Steve’s wedding just like anybody else’s. We did a big story about the guys. A lot of readers were royally ticked off. A few canceled their subscriptions and one launched a campaign to get the state’s major grocery chain to cancel its advertising. (It didn’t. Sitting in judgment of the news content of all the papers it advertised in was a job it, wisely, didn’t want.)

I wrote an op-ed piece about all of it for The New York Times. [Sorry, can't find a link. Too old.] The lifestyles reporter who wrote it all up for my newspaper got to appear on "The Maury Povich Show," along with Skip and Steve and a couple of boring old straight couples whose wedding announcements had been published on the same day and were upset enough about it to accept a free trip to New York City so they could say so. (No chairs were thrown.)

A few days ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals looked at basically the same question and said basically what I said 19 years ago. Except it took them 80 pages to say "Sure."

And those judges said yes to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against California’s Proposition 8, the one where voters barely repealed a state court ruling allowing same-sex marriage in the Golden State, for the same reason I said yes to Skip and Steve.

They wanted to call what they had a marriage, and neither the judges nor that much younger newspaper editor could think of a good reason to tell them they couldn’t.

If the guys had come in and said they wanted to place a "civil union" announcement or a "domestic partnership" notice, I might have turned them down. We didn’t have a standing headline for those things. And I’m way too busy to create a whole new category of anything just for you guys.

What we call things matters. As the appeals court pointed out, it is unlikely that Marilyn Monroe would have had much success with a movie called "How To Register a Domestic Partnership With a Millionaire." (Most people too young to get that reference are already for gay marriage.)

What we call things matters very much to people who are against same-sex marriage, of course, or they wouldn’t be against it. They fear that broadening the definition will cheapen what they have.

I’ve yet to hear one good argument supporting that position, but that doesn’t mean a lot of good people don’t fervently feel it.

Telling people who are in the same kind of committed relationship that opposite-sex married couples have that they can’t call it that serves no purpose, as the court said, except to be mean to someone you don’t like.

So that’s settled. See you in the funny papers. (And what’s up with Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain, anyway?)

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, likes straight marriages so much that he’s had two of them, though not at the same time. Email: gpyle@sltrib.com. Twitter: @debatestate.



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