Sunday, December 05, 2004

Networks Bar Church Ads That Welcome Gays

Networks Bar Church Ads That Welcome Gays

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two leading U.S. television networks angered gay rights groups on Thursday by refusing to carry an ad by a church welcoming gays to their congregations, a message the networks found too controversial.

The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination which has about 1.3 million members, said the 30-second commercial was aimed at making gays feel included and they were disappointed by CBS and NBC's decision to reject it. Cable networks have accepted the ad.

In the ad, heavy-set bouncers stand behind a red velvet rope line outside a church and with bells chiming in the background, hand-holding gay couples are turned away.

"Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," is the message of the ad.

The church's director of communications, Robert Chase, said the ad grew out of a two-year effort to welcome gays.

"There are countless persons who feel alienated, rejected or excluded from the church. What we are trying to say is, you are welcome here," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" show.

Chase said he was surprised the networks had turned down the ads, which ran in six test markets last spring in predominantly Republican states and drew no complaints.

"I think that one of the things we need to be concerned about is what has changed that would cause such a stir?" asked Chase.


The issue of gay unions was a key one in last month's election when millions voted against same-sex unions and backed President Bush who made opposition to gay marriage part of his election platform.

In a written statement to the church, CBS, a unit of Viacom, said the fact that the Bush administration had proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman made the advertisement "unacceptable for broadcast."

NBC said the ad violated a long-standing policy of the network not to allow commercials that dealt with issues of public controversy. NBC is part of NBC Universal, which is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co. ., with the rest owned by Vivendi Universal .

The Human Rights Campaign and other leading gay rights groups denounced the networks. "It's a shameful censorship of diversity and understanding," said HRC's Seth Kilbourn.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination said CBS, in particular, needed to answer for what the group said was a disturbing response to the ad.

"CBS saying that they wouldn't run it because the message conflicts with anti-gay legislation put forward by the White House does call into question their actions and business practices," said GLAAD spokesman Michael Young.

Lambda Legal, a group fighting for recognition of full civil rights of gays, called the decision surprising, particularly as these networks ran countless controversial ads during the presidential election campaign.

"I think it's appalling that two major networks have decided that a message of love and acceptance is in any way controversial," said Lambda senior counsel Heather Sawyer.

While gay groups criticized the decision, some churches who oppose gay unions applauded it.

Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, called the ads "masterful propaganda" that should not be aired.

"We are all sinners, but we cannot remain in our sin and just bless a lifestyle by saying we accept it when the scriptures clearly condemn it (homosexuality) as sin," said Mohler.