The (New York) Times, They are A-Changin'

Last Sunday, I got silly-happy when I came across the Vows column in the Times' Style section. (For those who don't know, every week NYT highlights one couple's wedding with a little feature story and pictures, among the wedding listings.) Usually I simply scan that section briefly, checking up on how many same-sex couples appear, almost by habit. Since the NYT started allowing same-sex announcements in its wedding section in September 2002, a few prominent couples have crashed that Vows feature. If I remember correctly (and if I'm wrong, please let me know!), the first was folksinger Janis Ian's marriage to Patricia Snyder, whom I assumed was the same person Ian had, in her Advocate columns, been entertainingly referring to as "Mr. Lesbian." After that came Tony Kushner and Mark Harris's wedding. After that I stopped keeping such close track, but, and somewhere along the line, got married myself. (Thank you for asking, but no, we did not send a notice to the Times.)

This past weekend, I was incredibly happy to read Gail Marquis' and Audrey Smaltz's Vows story. Something about it just touched me so much. Maybe it was the way the formerly "straight" woman announced her interest in this basketball butch, thus featuring a clearly bisexual woman who chose to marry another woman. Maybe it was that Gail Marquis definitely got her toaster oven. I just loved reading about this couple.

Or maybe it's because I'm still so keenly aware that we haven't always been so welcome in the Times, or the country. Yesterday Ralph Blumenthal revealed a little bit of that history when he wrote "Before they were gay," an online reminiscence of his 1972 copy-desk struggle to use the word "gay" in his coverage of the third march commemorating the still-recent Stonewall riots.

But, oh, I was cautioned, it was not the gay march, it was the homosexual march.

The homosexual march?

I dreaded to write that. Even then it marked me as woefully out of step with the zeitgeist. There was a leaden quality to the phrase, a sniffy retrograde disapproval.

No, I objected, they call themselves gays.

Gays? Now it was an editor’s turn at consternation. Gay meant happy. Were they happy? No, they were homosexuals.

And so his piece was about the "homosexual" march. It's my vague memory that the Times first allowed "gay" instead of  "homosexual" somewhere in the late 1980s or early 1990s, after a great deal of external lobbying and, more important, an internal education as editors watched some of their coworkers come out as they sickened and died from AIDS. I'll do some checking and let you all know the date.

That's why each Vows column that features a same-sex couple tickles me so much. And since people are generally pretty happy at their own weddings--joyous, really--perhaps that older style sheet rule about using "gay" to mean happy is accurate in the new Style section after all.

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