Fargo Forum reverses course, decides to publish gay marriage notices after backlash

Johnson (right) and her fiancee Kelsey Smith are getting married tomorrow in NYC.
Johnson (right) and her fiancee Kelsey Smith are getting married tomorrow in NYC.
Simon Stromberg

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The Fargo Forum's management probably had no idea what they were in for when they sent an email to Allison Johnson on July 23 informing her that "At this time The Forum does not print engagement/wedding announcements for same sex couples."

Hundreds of negative Facebook comments and thousands of petition signatures later, Matthew Von Pinnon, editor of The Forum, announced on Sunday that his paper is reversing course and will now publish notices for all legally recognized marriages.

Johnson, 31, and her fiancee, Kelsey Smith, 27, live in Fargo but plan to be married tomorrow in New York City. In 2004, North Dakota passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but woman-woman love is legally recognized in New York and five other states, along with D.C.

"It was such a simple idea," Johnson told The Huffington Post. "[The announcement] was for Kelsey's family, that is all over the state. They all get the newspaper. They love us and support us and we wanted to be able to announce to them so they could they could see it and be proud."

The Forum had apparently never been asked to publish a same-sex marriage announcement before being contacted by Johnson. Forum Communications owns several notable Minnesota newspapers, including the Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer, but apparently didn't impose the no-sex-sex-marriage-announcement policy on papers outside Fargo -- according to MinnPost, the Duluth News Tribune publishes gay marriage announcements.

After feeling blowback for several days, Von Pinnon published a statement on Sunday informing readers that "Starting today, The Forum will accept for publication the announcements of gay marriages, engagements and anniversaries if the marriage takes place in a state or country where it's legally recognized."

Here's more from Von Pinnon's statement:

The email that started the controversy.
The email that started the controversy.
Allison Johnson
In the uproar over our refusal to publish that announcement, we heard from more than 600 people in our area and beyond who shared their opinions about our policy. It's safe to say that people in our region are equally divided over the issue of gay marriage, a debate that goes well beyond the question of whether this newspaper should publish such announcements.

As one of the longest-standing and most trusted institutions in this region, The Forum's position on such matters is viewed as a bellwether, and we take that trusted role very seriously. It's true that a good newspaper mirrors its community, and this community is conflicted on the subject of gay marriage.

In the end, however, this policy review came down to one thing: We inform the public, plain and simple. Except for what's found on the Opinion page, we don't choose sides. We report on many, many things that we neither endorse nor condemn. That's the nature of news. Some people would like us to deny that gay marriage is legally recognized in several states and countries. To not recognize that fact is to deny or distort the truth, something we're not willing to do.

We bring readers marriage announcements, engagement announcements and anniversary announcements because it informs them of what people around them are doing. We tried to set a reasonable standard for what constitutes news in this arena, and we think a legally recognized marriage fits that bill.

Reached for comment in New York, Johnson told CNN she and her fiancee "Are very proud of our community and everyone who supported us and this cause! They are the reason for this policy change. The made their voices heard and change occurred because of it."

"While it is a great step in the right direction we know there is still so much more to be done for true equality to be reached," she added.

As you'd expect, Facebook reaction to The Forum's policy reversal is mixed:

Fargo Forum reverses course, decides to publish gay marriage notices after backlash

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