The reason Tom Cruise won his $10 million defamation lawsuit against “erotic wrestler” Chad Slater wasn’t because Slater called him a homo. It was because Slater claimed it was his sleeping with Cruise that ended his relationship with Kidman. That is: The homosexuality claim wasn’t what was defamatory; the false allegations about his sex life were. And thanks to a ruling in New Jersey, calling even average citizens gay isn’t defamation either.
U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano predicted the state Supreme Court, which insisted on equal protection for same-sex couples in 2006, would be unlikely to “legitimize discrimination against gays and lesbians” by treating a homosexual reference as a slur. The ruling, in Murphy v. Millenium Radio Group, 08-cv-1743, is a loss for freelance photographer Peter Murphy, who complained that Craig Carton and Ray Rossi, hosts of the “Jersey Guys” show on WKXW 101.5 FM, “derogatorily inferred” he was a homosexual during a 45-minute segment.
The on-air lambasting arose from a photograph of Carton and Rossi that Murphy had taken for New Jersey Monthly magazine, which named the pair the state’s top shock jocks for a “Best of 2006” issue. Murphy posed them standing side by side and apparently naked except for a placard, with the station’s name, covering their midsections. The photo was posted on 101.5 FM’s Web site and on the hosts’ myspacetv.com page, without a copyright notice in either place. The station invited Web site visitors to send in altered versions and many did. One put bikini tops on Carton and Rossi and changed the placard to read “2007 Jersey Girls Calendar.” Others added images like Michael Jackson and Gov. Richard Codey.
The station posted the altered pictures but removed them after Murphy’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter in June 2007, claiming copyright infringement and demanding compensation. Shortly afterward, Murphy alleged, Carton and Rossi spent about 45 minutes bashing him on their show, talking about how he had them pose for the photo and suggesting he was homosexual.
Murphy actually had some legal standing. In Gray v. Press Communications, “Sally Star Gray, who had a children’s television program from 1950 to 1972, sued Jeff Diminski, host of a call-in radio show on 101.5 FM, for calling her ‘the lesbian cowgirl.’ A trial court judge dismissed the case but the Appellate Division reversed, finding a false accusation of homosexuality is defamatory.”
But with Judge Pisano’s ruling, the idea that somebody labeling you as gay carries the same weight as somebody labeling you as straight: none.