For now, Minnesota’s government shutdown is the big political news, but next year, a proposed state Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage could dominate coverage. With that will come millions of ad dollars, testing media policies about the confluence of sex, religion and politics.
A few weeks ago came a precursor of sorts, when the Star Tribune rejected an ad from The Presbyterian Lay Committee, a group opposing that denomination’s acceptance of non-celibate gays and lesbians into the ministry.
Presbyterian Church U.S.A. congregations now have the option of such ordinations after the Twin Cities presbytery approved the move May 10, Christianity Today reported.
The Lay Committee ad — titled simply, “Presbyterian?” — asks among other things, “Why does the PC(USA) no longer require its ordained leaders to limit their sexual activity to Christian marriage?” and “How long can the PC(USA) claim to speak for you and other members who hold fast to Biblical teachings?”
According to Committee president Carmen Fowler LaBerge, “The Strib indicated that if we would scrub the reference in our ad to sex within marriage and scrub the reference to the Bible, they would reconsider running it. Those edits would have so substantively changed the ad as to render it meaningless.”
LaBerge says the ad ran in big-city papers such as the Los Angeles Times (right), Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Charlotte Observer, Orlando Sentinel, Houston Chronicle, Richmond Times-Dispatch and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Star Tribune spokesman Ben Taylor declined to confirm LaBerge’s version of the turn-down, saying, “We consider the ad acceptance process a private business transaction between us and the advertiser — which we do not discuss publicly.”
LaBerge does not contest the Strib’s unilateral right to reject her group’s ad (unlike other thwarted sponsors), but she feels the Strib’s politics, rather than objective standards, motivated their actions. As she told University of Minnesota Media Ethics and Law Prof. Jane Kirtley, “When blatant bias toward a particular social or political agenda is in view, it seems they should rightly be called on it.”
To this unchurched, same-sex-marriage-backing observer, the ad seems pretty tame in its references to sexuality and religion, though it wouldn’t shock if the Strib wanted to avoid any paid debate about religious fidelity in its pages. If true, that potentially could create some interesting barriers to 2012 advocates.
Minnesota media outlets, including radio and TV stations regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, can turn down any non-candidate political group’s ad for any reason.
For her part, LaBerge notes the Lay Committee’s campaign “is ‘related’ to the larger discussion of the proposed redefinition of marriage, but because the standards of the church are bound to the Bible and the standards of civil society are not, the issues are not exactly the same.”
The Strib’s Taylor says the paper has not made any changes in anticipation of next year’s deluge: “We have not enhanced our ad standards guidelines in anticipation of next year’s constitutional amendment.”