What’s in a kiss? How does a photograph of a gay couple kissing differ from written text of the same image?
The Washington Post‘s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, responded to reader criticism (and subscription cancellations) over a recent front-page photograph of a couple kissing. That the kiss was photographed and published was not the issue; that the kiss involved a same-sex couple was.
Alexander likens the response from outraged Post readers to public anger when photos showed blacks mixing with whites. He defends the Post’s publication of the photograph as a mirror of societal change:
Did the Post go too far? Of course not. The photo deserved to be in newspaper and on its Web site, and it warranted front-page display.
News photos capture reality. And the prominent display reflects the historic significance of what was occurring. The recent D.C. Council decision to approve same-sex marriage was the culmination of a decades-long gay rights fight for equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the District. The photo of Ames and Ariga kissing simply showed joy that would be exhibited by any couple planning to wed – especially a couple who previously had been denied the legal right to marry.
More than two dozen readers cancelled their subscriptions. Reasons varied from outright vitriol (one angry caller said: “That kind of stuff makes normal people want to throw up. People have kids who are being exposed to this crap. I will be glad when your rag goes out of business. Real men marry women.”) to the wish to relegate coverage of gay rights to the inner pages of the paper.
Wrote Lee Miller of Columbia: “I would appreciate it if your cover pictures would not be so disturbing where my kids can see it easily on the kitchen table… please don’t shove this “Gay” business in our face. This is something that should have shown up on an inside page or two (without the picture).”
I’m often troubled when arguments of what’s good for children are raised. Two people in healthy relationships expressing their love are depicted in the media constantly–as long as it’s a man and a woman. There’s a double standard–and, as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum recently wrote, a literal disgust–when the two people in love are of the same sex. We can’t stomach the notion of gay sex, and for many, this is what is implied with the image of a kiss.
Though the Washington Post‘s photo generated vocal response, it’s somewhat heartening to know that the end result was only a few cancelled subscriptions. As Alexander notes, there is a societal change happening in perceptions of gay marriage. The newspaper’s reportage of this change, in which LGBT lives are more accepted both in D.C. and on a national level, is valid and unbiased.
Filed under: gay rights, media, d.c., gay marriage, martha nussbaum, same-sex representation, washington post