Getting the story straight


It has been an incredible few weeks. I could use this column to tell you about the recent chat I had with Magic Johnson at the Apollo Theatre, or a major LGBT-related change in the works at NBC or even my “possible” new project — but the papers haven’t been signed for that one yet, so better not make that announcement. Or, more important, I could write about the opening of the rental office for the community’s pride and joy, the John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly senior apartments, and about the scores who lined up the night before. But we have another important issue to discuss. It’s about an article published Tuesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding Mayor Michael Nutter refusing to perform same-sex marriages. My problem with the article was that it was dead wrong, and in my opinion reflects what has become a pet peeve of mine, bad journalism. Here’s the background. A male couple that already received a civil union in Vermont but now lives in Philadelphia asked the mayor to marry them, in contrary to Pennsylvania law. The request comes amid the Montgomery County register of wills’ recent decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Here’s the first question it does not appear the writer asked: Did the couple sign up for Philadelphia’s domestic-partnership registry? Question two, if marriage equality is so important to them, did they take a 30-minute drive to Delaware, where they can get a legal marriage? Question three, has the mayor performed any form of same-sex unions? The answer is yes. Question four, how many heterosexual marriages has the mayor performed? Does that seem to be a biased article? Especially when the writer knew most of those questions to ask. I know that, since I told him before the story was published. But his most important omission is who actually is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Philadelphia. His name is Ron Donatucci, register of wills. I’ve personally talked to Ron, and he gave me the line that the mayor used about legal issues. It seems to me that the mayor is giving cover to Donatucci. You’ll note that Donatucci’s name appears nowhere in the story. Begging the question, was this a hit job on the mayor? Now that we address what looks like poor journalism, let’s face the facts and a solution. There are already two cases in the legal system that will test Pennsylvania’s marriage law. They will go through the courts, and whichever side loses will appeal. One of the cases from Pennsylvania or another state will wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court. So performing marriages in Philly is a symbol, but a very powerful one. It seems that the city is under financial strain because of the education system and other issues and doesn’t want another legal bill. So here’s an answer, in fact two. Get a law firm to deal with any potential issues probono. Second option: Issue the license (hear that, Ron?), then, when served with papers, simply show up at court and say one sentence: “We find no reason not to issue the license under the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling.” Leave the courthouse and let the judge rule any way he or she wishes. It will be appealed, and the same should happen in the next court. In fact, with pro-bono counsel, the city would pay very little or nothing until it gets to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is not a column in justification of Mayor Nutter. Like many, I have issues with him. Rather, it is a column about journalism and symbolism. It is not a column on the Inquirer, of which I am a fan. But this column has a message: Mr. Donatucci, it is time for you to stand up for civil rights and equality.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected].