Mother's Day story about lesbian couple creates controversy at Annapolis paper

On Mother's Day, the Annapolis-based Capital ran a front-page story about a lesbian couple and their two kids. "Mama and Mommy" -- as the story was headlined -- was quickly criticized in the comments section.

It makes me ill to think that innocent children are brought into abnormal situations and THEN the same-sex partners start thinking about how to "protect" those kids as an afterthought.

Solution: You are entitled to marry and have children with someone of the opposite sex. You have that same right as everyone else. You are not disenfranchised, except by virtue of your own insistent anomaly.

The story was defended, too.

A mom is a mom is a mom. Who cares if that mom loves unicorns or popcorn with M&Ms or Jack Black or another woman? Her love, dedication, worries, struggles, sacrifices, and soul are the exact same the mom next door, down the street, or across the country. What is wrong with you people?

Capital editor and publisher Tom Marquardt addressed the controversy in a column -- running the story on Mother's Day was a mistake, he said -- but his piece was spiked after some staffers objected.

Here are a few passages from the draft that Marquardt circulated in the newsroom:

There is an old saying in journalism that, adjusted for modern times, goes something like this: Architects cover up their mistakes with vines, attorneys send theirs to jail, businesses write them off, and doctors put them 6 feet under. But a newspaper publishes its mistakes for all to see. And that we did on May 8 with a Mother’s Day story on a lesbian couple raising two baby boys born to them through artificial insemination. The reaction among our readers was swift and damning.

In previous years we have written about single moms, poor moms, foster moms and handicapped moms — as well as the traditional moms with big families and heavy workloads. This year was different but difference is not what our readers wanted on a day when dad and kids shower love on the family matriarch.

Unfortunately for us, we lost sight of what the readers want to read: feel good stories about people who reflect their values. Newspapers need to mirror its readers — all of them perhaps, but inclusion not at the exception of the majority.

Only one reader complimented me for our non-traditional Mother’s Day story. The majority who reacted saw this story as the final liberal straw in their local newspaper or wanted to make a statement with their cancellation.
I suspect that many of you were very uncomfortable with the story and angry for us putting it on the front page, but found forgiveness and perhaps more tolerance. Thank you.

The decision to feature this story sparked long discussions between me and the editors. Lessons were learned, although at great expense and aggravation. Had we included homosexual couples in a wide-ranging story about mothers and published it on some day other than Mother’s Day, readers probably would have been more accepting of it. There was a better way to tell this story and to also tell the story about the traditional family.

Marquardt tells me in an email: "It would be wrong to assume that the column would have run without editing and adjustment -- I gave it to the key players seeking feedback, correction and suggestions. I am meeting with the staff in a few minutes and out of that conversation may come reason to write about the subject in a different way. But that particular column will not run." He also says he wants to make it clear "that my objection is not the story, but the story running on Mother's Day."

UPDATE: Marquardt emails: "We had a good, open meeting. The staff suggested I write a column about our internal struggle and I may do that."

  • Jim Romenesko

    From 1999 to 2011, Jim Romenesko maintained the Romenesko page for the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based non-profit school for journalists. Poynter hired him in August of 1999, after seeing his, a hobby site he started in May of 1999.


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