With last week’s California Supreme Court ruling voiding all those gay marriages the city of San Francisco hosted early this year with the blessing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, we couldn’t help but notice that the quotes have crept back into the news pages of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, showing up around “wedlock” and “nuptials” and “marriage” most any time the subject of that matrimony, those nuptials, or that marriage happens to be two people of the same sex.
Those quotes. Those goddamned quotes.
They’ve got an explanation, of course. Deputy Editor Frank Fellone will tell you with a perfectly straight face (or at least without chuckling into the telephone) that the quotes are there because the marriages aren’t legal and therefore aren’t marriages. Because of that, his explanation goes, any mention of gay wedlock needs to be buttoned up in quotation marks to keep it from being mistaken for real, honest-to-God, 60 percent failure rate, penis-meets-vagina marriage by you, the reader.
I can’t really put my finger on why this tiny bit of style business infuriates me so much. For one thing, it looks incredibly stupid on the page. For that matter, it must be an incredibly stupid-looking process — grown, rational people going through wire copy with a little red pencil, cordoning off any mention of those “wed words” behind barbed quotation marks (“Hey Frank, do we put quotes around both “wedding” and “cake,” or just the “wedding” part?”) It leads to some stylistic loop-de-loops that would have Strunk and White spinning in their graves. This paragraph from page 1-A of the Aug. 13 edition, for example:
“San Francisco’s gay “weddings,” which followed a landmark ruling by Massachusetts’ top court allowing gay marriage in that state, prompted President Bush to push for changing the U.S. Constitution to ban same sex marriage…”
Get out the Excedrin 3, folks: “Weddings” is in quotes because gay marriage is no longer government-sanctioned in California (though it apparently was at the time the ceremonies were performed, and when the copy refers to). “Gay marriage” is not in quotes because gay marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, “same sex marriage” is also not in quotes, because it refers to the IDEA of same sex marriage, not two Jacks or Jennys hopping the broom together.
I say: Baloney. Fellone and the rest of the editors at the D-G are not stupid people. I assume they don’t bite their toenails, or carry around duffel bags full of expired bus schedules. Given that, they know good and well that without stapling a sidebar to every story about gay marriage explaining their complicated stylistic mishmash on the subject, the first thing the average reader sees in a story like that are those quotes. Specifically, what Joe Sixpack sees is some D-G editor saying “Gay Marriage” and making those little air quotes on either side of his head, the universal symbol for “Bullshit.” That, folks, is editorializing on the news side. And whether it’s intentional or not, it’s still monkeying with the currency that all reporters use to buy their readers’ faith.
The Arkansas “Democrat” “Gazette”