The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a formal freedom of information request for records regarding Suffolk County’s recent rejection of a local LGBT rights group’s attempt to place advertisements expressing support for same-sex marriage on county buses.
On May 21, the county rejected a bus ad proposed by the Long Island LGBT Coalition stating “Support Marriage Equality / Everybody should be able to marry the one they love / Call your state senator.” Explaining the denial in a newspaper article, County Attorney Christine Malafi said the county has a long-standing policy of not accepting political ads on its buses.
While the county rejected the LGBT group’s political ad, it previously accepted an ad from Birthright, an anti-abortion group. That political ad is currently displayed on county transit buses.
“The county can’t favor one group’s message over another’s,” said Andrea Callan, director of the NYCLU’s Suffolk County Chapter. “If it’s going to prohibit ads with political messages from being displayed on its buses, then it must reject all such ads.”
The LGBT group spent $6,000 to produce the rejected ad. In a press report, a representative from Gateway Outdoor Advertising, which coordinates advertising on county buses, said he’d never before had the county deny an ad.
In a May 28 telephone conversation with an NYCLU attorney, Malafi implied that she had not seen the Birthright ad until it was already posted on county buses. She distinguished the two ads by stating that the Birthright’s does not include the term “abortion” while the LGBT group’s ad contained the word “marriage.”
“The county is treading in murky First Amendment waters if it is rejects paid bus advertisements based on the presence or absence of specific words,” Callan said. “We need to learn more about county’s policies and practices in this area to try to understand why it rejected the LGBT Coalition’s ad.”
The NYCLU’s Freedom of Information Law request seeks documents related to the counties policies for non-county entities seeking to advertise on county buses, operating procedures regarding advertising on county property, a copy of the Birthright ad, and records of all ads the county has accepted or denied since May 1, 2007.