By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - A small newspaper in north central Arkansas is considering changing its policy on obituaries after a local man complained that the Batesville Daily Guard discriminated against him for being gay.
Terrence James said that through a funeral home, he submitted an obituary to the Daily Guard for his partner, John Millican, who died on June 11 of spinal meningitis. James listed himself as Millican's partner on the obituary form. When the free obituary was printed, James' name was omitted.
"I was already in shock and grieving over John's death," James told Reuters. "It never even occurred to me I would find my last slap in the face after his death at my local newspaper."
Oscar Jones, whose family has owned the newspaper for 82 years, told Reuters that the Daily Guard has a policy of not listing names of unmarried partners, gay or straight, in free obituaries. Paid obituaries cost $85.
"Our policy has more to do with space and manpower issues than it does sexual orientation," said Jones, who is the newspaper's attorney. His mother, Pat Jones, is the Daily Guard's owner and manager.
Oscar Jones said that it might be time to reconsider the policy. He said that since James objected, he has talked with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation about possible ways to update the policy.
"Those policies are stuck in a drawer and don't get review often," Jones said. "Frankly, it hasn't come up before, but it's something that needs to be reviewed. I truly sympathize with this family."
James said that the newspaper told him that if he had chosen a paid obituary, he could have even listed pets.
"That was even worse, comparing John to a pet," James said. "It also reeked of hucksterism."
The Center for Artistic Revolution, a non-profit gay rights group "that fights for fairness and equality for all Arkansans," has launched a campaign for people to call the newspaper to protest.
Randi Romo, a Center representative, said the paper has no right to determine who is a family member and who is not.
"At every turn we are reminded we are not equal and this was a rather stark reminder that even in death there is no equality," Romo told Reuters.
Romo said that the Center will continue to challenge the newspaper until the policy is changed.
"Sometimes the surviving grieving partner, gay or straight, only has that little piece of paper as a last memento of their loved one's life," she said. "They need to know that families look very different than they did 25 years ago."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)