Brenda Light died last month in a small Texas town with small Texas minds. Brenda Light’s obituary in the Olton Enterprise included a great deal of family history. When the obituary was submitted to the paper it included “Those left to cherish her memory include her son, Barry Giles, and his husband, John Gambill of Dallas”.
However, when the obituary was published there was no mention of Mr. Giles or Mr. Gambill. The couple who had been together for more than 30 years had been airbrushed from Brenda Light’s family at the whim of a holier-than-thou editor. A grieving son was exposed to raw bigotry at a time of sorrow.
That editor and publisher is Phillip Hamilton who is also a Baptist minister. In a prepared statement he told Fox4 News:
It is my religious conviction that a male cannot have a husband. It is also my belief that to publish anything contrary to God’s Word on this issue would be to publish something in the newspaper that is not true.
The newspaper respects the first amendment rights of those who express such opinions. The newspaper’s decision to edit the obituary is both ethical and lawful. It would be unethical to publish a news item that is known by the editor to be false. Based on the truth found in the Word of God, I could not in good conscience identify Mr Gambill as the husband of Mr Giles.
Mr. Hamilton and his ilk seem to be convinced that their approval is required. Hamilton is obviously somewhat short of genius as this has nothing whatsoever to do with First Amendment rights or the expression of opinions. Moreover, it is a simple fact that the couple are legally wed irrespective of Hamilton’s disapproval. That is how things work in this country; even in Texas.
Editing the obituary in this fashion may be lawful. However, to claim that it is ethical compromises the very meaning of the word. The newspaper serves a presumably diverse community (350 miles north-west of Dallas) of about 2,200 people. It is likely, even in Texas, that not all of those 2,200 people share Hamilton’s fundamentalist Christian views. Not all of those 2,200 people are heterosexual — or even cisgender. There are probably people who have multiple marriages and divorces.
Hamilton would impose his values on everyone else in the community. I would argue that the “paper of record” in a small town has a responsibility to the community to be fair and accurate. Accuracy, in this case, includes the indisputable fact that the late Brenda Light’s son is gay and married to another man. Mr. Hamilton is free to editorialize in an opinion piece. An obituary is not supposed to be an editorial.