NEW YORK - After a meeting with gay and lesbian activists on Thursday, NBC's "Today" show said it is changing the rules for its annual wedding contest to allow same-sex couples to apply for a ceremony conducted on morning TV.
NBC extended the deadline for applications until Monday. Already thousands of couples have expressed interest in the on-air wedding, which the top-rated morning show has sponsored for a decade, a spokeswoman said.
"We're thrilled that 'Today' show's 'Modern Wedding Contest' now recognizes what most fair-minded Americans have already concluded — a wedding celebrates love and commitment, whether the spouses are straight or gay," said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Viewers plan every aspect of the wedding, from the cake to the clothing styles of attendants. NBC picks four couples from thousands of applicants, and viewers vote on which of those couples will participate.
Same-sex couples have been excluded because New York state law does not allow them to get wedding licenses. But NBC said GLAAD pointed out that a same-sex couple would be able to get a license from another state and still have their ceremony in New York.
NBC said it had listened to voicemails and read e-mails protesting its decision not to allow same-sex marriages. The show considers relations with the gay and lesbian community very important, it said in a statement.
"Moving forward, we ensure that our future wedding contests will be inclusive to all couples," NBC said.
The only time same-sex couples were allowed to apply for the "Today" wedding was in 2005, when an out-of-state wedding was held, said show spokeswoman Megan Kopf. No gay or lesbian couples were among the finalists, however.
Although "Today" viewers will decide which couple to get married on TV, it will choose from among four that "Today" producers screen and put up for a vote. So there's no guarantee that even if same-sex couples apply for the on-air wedding, viewers will have a chance to select one to participate.
GLAAD said it only learned last week that same-sex couples weren't allowed to apply, and issued a "call to action" for members to complain to NBC. Thousands did, the organization said.