Newspaper edits out Dallas same-sex couple's reference in obit

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A Dallas couple believes they were discriminated against in a newspaper because of their marriage.

Barry Giles and John Gambill have been together for 31 years. When Giles’ mother passed away, the local newspaper in Olton, northwest of Lubbock, removed Gambill's name from her obituary. They cited "religious and ethical reasons."

Gambill says his mother-in-law was family to him. So when he saw he was cut out of the obituary, he was immediately suspicious. The couple called the newspaper to find out what happened.

“We're human beings like anyone else,” Giles said. “We have feelings. We have relationships, whether he agrees with them or not.”

In more than three decades together, Giles and Gambill say they often took family trips with Giles' late mother, Brenda Light, and cared for her when she moved closer to them in Dallas.

“She's like my second mom, you know,” Gambill said.

When Light passed away suddenly from a fall in February, the couple included both their names in her obituary.

In the obit sent to the newspaper, Giles wrote "Those left to cherish her memory include her son, Barry Giles and his husband, John Gambill of Dallas.”

But when the obit was published in the Olton Enterprise in Giles' hometown, Gambill wasn't in there.

“It wiped John completely off the picture like he didn't exist,” Giles said.

Gambill called the newspaper publisher right away.

“I said, ‘Why was my name left out?’ And he said, ‘Because I wanted to.’ And that's all there was to the conversation,” Gambill said. “Of course, I had a few choice words to say to him.”

The newspaper's publisher, Phillip Hamilton, says he's a bi-vocational Baptist pastor. He declined an interview but said in a statement, “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 has since been bombarded with negative reviews on Facebook.

Hamilton says “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. Gamabill as the husband of Mr. Giles."

The couple is looking at legal options, but appellate attorney Chad Ruback, who's not involved with the dispute, says the newspaper's first amendment rights are protected here.

“A newspaper cannot knowingly or recklessly publish false information,” Ruback said. “Other than that, the first amendment grants the newspaper extremely broad rights in deciding what information to publish and what information not to publish.”

The couple also had Light's obituary printed in other local newspapers. Those obituaries were printed in full without editing.