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Sides of conflict--A framing analysis of same-sex marriage in the
Rebecca L. McGovney, Graduate Student
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/ University of Florida
213 Rolfs Hall/ PO Box 110540/ Gainesville, FL 32611-0540
Tel: 352-392-0502, ext.226/ Fax: 352-392-9585
Email: [log in to unmask]
Dr. Tracy Irani, Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/ University of Florida
213 Rolfs Hall/ PO Box 110540/ Gainesville, FL 32611-0540
Tel: 352-392-0502, ext.225/ Fax: 352-392-9585
Email: [log in to unmask]
This study analyzed the framing of same-sex marriages or unions
within the Gainesville Sun, a southern, university town, New York
Times affiliate newspaper. Findings included a single frame of
"conflict" and six subframes—"confusion," "breaking the law," "equal
rights/marriage benefits," "definition of marriage," "political
tool," and "court vs. state." The use of negative subframes and
quotation sources in the 22 articles has framed same-sex marriage as
Sides of conflict--A framing analysis of same-sex marriage in the
A threat to the natural order. Sexual deviants. Perverts. All of
these terms, at one time or another, have been applied to gays and
lesbians. This was especially common during the gay and lesbian
movements of the 1960s, and again during the AIDS "crisis" of the
1980s (Gross, 1991; Gross, 2001). These terms have surfaced again
more recently during the debate on same-sex marriages or unions,
seeming to turn back the clock to times of fear and
misunderstanding. "One of the best predictors of such prejudice is
an attitudinal rigidity concerning the family and gender
roles. Lesbians and gays, according to this view, are devalued
because they are perceived as agitators, questioning traditional
roles" (Siegel, 1991, p. 205).
Media studies throughout the 20th century have shown distorted
representations of gays and lesbians, similar to those documented for
other disadvantaged categories such as minorities and women (Gross,
1991; Gross, 2001; Siegel, 1991).
"However, lesbians and gay men are unusually vulnerable to mass media
power; even more so than blacks, national minorities, and women. Of
all the social groups (except perhaps communists), [they] are
probably the least permitted to speak for [them]selves in the mass
media. [They] are also the only group (again, except for communists,
and currently, Arab "terrorists") whose enemies are generally
uninhibited by the consensus of "good taste" which protects most
minorities from the more public displays of bigotry" (Gross, 1991, p. 26).
Until the middle of the last decade, overt representations of gays
and lesbians within the media were nonexistent (Gross, 1991; Gross,
2001; Carstarphen, 1999; Hart, 2003).
Sides of Conflict R.L. McGovney
Gross (1991, 2002) termed this invisibility of gays or lesbians
within the media "symbolic annihilation." This limited coverage of
gays and lesbians in the media reinforces the power of the social
elite, specifically the heterosexual white male (Gross, 1991; Gross,
2001; Carstarphen, 1999; Hart, 2003). Once a minority group such as
gays or lesbians do become part of media coverage, their
representation is then distorted by the biases of this hegemonic
group (Gross, 1991; Gross, 2001; Carstarphen, 1999; Hart, 2003).
Studies have shown depictions of gays and lesbians, particularly in
television, are generally limited to two roles--the villain and the
victim of violence or ridicule (Gross, 1991; Gross, 2001). In the
villain-type role, gays and lesbians are seen as sick, abnormal,
deviant, against the social order (Gross, 1991; Gross, 2001;
Carstarphen, 1999). This was especially true during the AIDS crisis
when the disease was seen as "the gay plague" (Hart, 2003; Gross,
1991; Gross, 2001). Media construction of gays and lesbians as
victims is not as positive as the roles sound. Instead, they are
victims due to their villainy--they were attacked or killed or
contracted AIDS because they were gay or lesbian, almost as a warning
to others (Gross, 1991; Gross, 2001). Stereotypical portrayals of
gays and lesbians are taken to the extreme in the media (Gross, 1991;
Gross, 2001). This depiction of the highly effeminate gay male and
the large "butch" lesbian sets two rigid behavior roles for gays and
lesbians, while again victimizing them as objects of ridicule both
within the media text and by the media recipients. According to
Gross (1991, 2001) although some change has occurred in the media's
treatment of gays and lesbians, what is still missing is the normal gay.
"The stereotypic depiction of lesbians and gay men as abnormal, and
the suppression of positive or even "unexceptional" portrayals serves
to maintain and police the boundaries of the moral order. It
encourages the majority to stay on their gender-defined reservation,
and tries to keep the minority quietly hidden out of sight. For the
visible presence of healthy, non-stereotypic lesbians and gay men
does pose a serious threat: it undermines the unquestioned normalcy
of the status quo…" (Gross, 1991, p. 30).
The current controversy over the legalization of same-sex unions and
marriages has brought the question of gay and lesbian media portrayal
into sharp focus. The events relating to same-sex marriage have
occurred primarily in the northeast and on west coast, but it has
become a national subject. For this study, the researcher wanted to
analyze a newspaper that was located in a university town, which is
traditionally thought to be more liberal, but also in a southern
state which tends toward more conservative viewpoints. In addition,
the researcher wanted a newspaper that was an affiliate of a larger
paper located in the northeast where the majority of same-sex
marriage events occurred. For these reasons, the researcher chose to
examine the framing of same-sex marriages or unions within a Florida
newspaper--the Gainesville Sun.
Founded on July 6, 1876, the Gainesville Sun is located in north
central Florida (History, n.d.). As the only daily newspaper in
Gainesville, the paper has a daily readership of 48,000 in both print
and online versions and was purchased in 1971 by the New York Times
Media Company and is still an affiliate (History, n.d.).
History of Same-Sex Marriage
"The recognition of marriage as a vital civil right, alongside the
declining tendency to criminalize sodomy and the growing tolerance
for diverse living arrangements, makes the public rejection of
same-sex marriage seem all the more a significant limit in need of
explanation and comprehension" (Goldberg-Hiller, 2002, p. 7). There
are currently 25 states that define marriage in their constitutions
as between one man and one woman (Same-sex, 2004). An additional 17
states' constitutions only recognize marriages as being between one
man and one woman (Same-sex, 2004). Two states recognize same-same
marriages, Massachusetts, and same-sex civil unions, Vermont,
although Massachusetts will vote on a constitutional amendment in
2006 defining marriage as between one man and one woman (Same-sex,
2004; Civil union, 2004). (See Table 1.) Civil unions differ from
civil marriage in that they do not "provide the federal-level rights,
benefits and protections that come with a civil marriage license, nor
will they necessarily be recognized in States that have not civil
union law" (Same-sex, 2004, p. 3).
Worldwide recognition of same-sex marriages and unions
Same-sex civil union
Canada (some regions)
United States (Massachusetts)
Canada (some regions)
United States (Vermont)
Proponents of same-sex marriages cite not only the right to be
recognized, but also civil rights and benefits associated with a
married status (Same-sex, 2004; Talking points, 2004). "There are
over 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor, as well
as state and private benefits (family memberships, discounts, etc)
denied same-sex couples by excluding them from participating in
marriage" (Same-sex, 2004, p. 3). This includes tax status, tax
returns, health care plans and benefits, all forms of insurance,
patient access in hospitals, next-of-kin notification, two-person
adoptions, spousal privileges in court, and more (Same-sex, 2004;
Talking points, 2004; Federal, 2004). Same-sex marriage proponents
also argue that marriage is not solely a religious union--civil
marriages are controlled by the state, not the church and should not
be based on religious views (Talking points, 2004). In addition,
proponents argue that same-sex marriages will have no impact on
opposite-sex marriages and will not undermine the institution of
marriage (Talking points, 2004).
Opponents of same-sex marriages argue that marriage predates the
Constitution and other forms of law (Knight & Sprigg, 2003). They
say that marriage is based on natural reproduction, and that same-sex
couples cannot reproduce naturally and so have no reason or right to
marry (Knight & Sprigg, 2003). Also, since marriage is based on
reproduction, it is therefore linked to children and family and
children need one mother and one father to be raised correctly
(Knight & Sprigg, 2003; Sprigg, 2003). They dispute the rights to
marriage benefits such as hospital benefits, next-of-kin
notification, insurance and health benefits, and tax reports, calling
some of these issues "emotional smokescreen[s] to distract people
from the more serious implications of radically redefining marriage"
(Sprigg, 2003). In addition, same-sex marriage opponents state that
homosexual relationships are harmful and have negative social
consequences, citing sexually infidelity and higher rates of sexual
diseases among gay men and cancer risk factors such as smoking,
alcohol use, poor diet and being overweight among lesbians (Sprigg, 2003).
Same-sex marriage/union timeline
In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against two men who argued
since there was no state law prohibiting them to marry their union
was meant to be recognized (Same-sex, 2004). "The court found that
'The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely
involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is
as old as the book of Genesis'" (Same-sex, 2004, p. 4). A gay couple
in Arizona had their marriage voided in 1975 when the state supreme
court cited the Bible (Same-sex, 2004). In 1987, the American Civil
Liberties Union "married" 2,000 same-sex couples outside of the IRS
building after committing to fight legal barriers against it
(Same-sex, 2004). The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that
prohibiting same-sex marriages was against the state constitution
equal protection clause. In 1998, Hawaiian voters amended their
Constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman (Same-sex,
2004). Similar to this, in 1998 the Alaska Superior Court ruled that
the choice of a marital partner is a right that cannot be denied by
the state. Alaskan voters amended their constitution nine months
later to restrict marriage to a man and a woman (Same-sex, 2004).
In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court stated that same-sex couples have
the right "to all the protections and benefits provided through
marriage" (Same-sex, 2004, p. 5). In 2000, the Vermont state
legislature passed a civil union law for same-sex couple to give them
these rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003
that the state's ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional and
gave the state six months to change it (Same-sex, 2004). The state
legislature passed an amendment to restrict marriage to one man and
one woman, but it cannot be voted on until 2006. On May 17, 2004
Massachusetts became the first state to marry same-sex couples
(Same-sex, 2004). Also in 2004, New Jersey's governor signed a
domestic partnership law which grants most of the rights and benefits
received by married couples to same-sex couples (Same-sex, 2004). In
California, the mayor of San Francisco began same-sex marriages
saying that equal rights trumped the state's marriage law. The state
supreme court ordered the city to stop, and then voided all of the
marriage licenses (Same-sex, 2004).
In February of 2004, a New Mexico county clerk began issuing marriage
licenses, citing that the state marriage law does not mention
gender. Within a few hours, the state attorney general declared the
licenses invalid (Same-sex, 2004). Two New York mayors began issuing
marriage licenses in February of 2004 to same-sex couples. Both were
charged and had restraining orders issued against their actions
(Same-sex, 2004). The New York attorney general states that same-sex
marriages were not meant to be covered under the domestic relations
law, and judges drop the charges against all involved in performing
the ceremonies but make the restraining orders permanent (Same-sex,
2004). In 2004, an Oregon county began issuing same-sex marriage
licenses on the basis that Oregon law does not specify that marriage
be between one man and one woman. After legal hearings, a judge
ordered the county to stop issuing the licenses but allows the state
to process the 3,000 already issued (Same-sex, 2004). Oregon
residents voted in a constitutional amendment defining marriage as
between one woman and one man in November, the licenses stand until
the case reaches the state supreme court (Same-sex, 2004).
The attorney general of Rhode Island issues a statement in May of
2004 saying that the state will recognize marriages performed in
other states (Same-sex, 2004). The types of marriages to be
recognized are left to the state legislature. In 2004, the mayor of
Seattle recognizes the out-of-state same-sex marriages of city
employees (Same-sex, 2004). A lawsuit on the constitutionality of
the state's law prohibiting same-sex marriage is awaiting hearing
from the state supreme court, but has so far been ruled
unconstitutional (Same-sex, 2004). In August of 2004, Missouri
voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage
in the state (Voters, 2004). In September of 2004, Louisiana voters
also approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages
that was overturned because it dealt with marriage, civil unions,
domestic partnerships and common-law relationships (Voters,
2004). Eleven other states passed constitutional amendments banning
same-sex marriage in November of 2004--Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky,
Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon,
and Utah (Voters, 2004).
Defense of Marriage Act/Federal Amendment
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by Congress and signed
into law by President Clinton in 1996. "'[T]he bill amends the U.S.
Code to make explicit what has been understood under federal law for
over 200 years; that a marriage is the legal union of a man and a
women as husband and wife, and a spouse is a husband or wife of the
opposite sex'" (Defense, 2004, p. 2). In addition, the bill allows
each state to deny or recognize same-sex civil unions or marriages
that have been granted in other states (Defense, 2004). Since the
law was passed, several court cases challenging its constitutionality
have been filed but the Supreme Court has declined to hear them
(Defense, 2004). DOMA opponents state that the law violates the
equal protection clause of the Constitution, discriminates illegally,
and violates a fundamental right to marriage under the due process
clause (Defense, 2004). In 2004, the U.S. Senate defeated a proposed
federal Constitutional amendment that would not only define marriage
as between one man and one woman, but also limit how courts can
interpret anti-discrimination laws and constitutional amendments at
all levels of government (Federal, 2004; Senators, 2004). Since that
time, the amendment wording has been changed to read, "Marriage in
the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a
woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State,
shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents
thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and
a woman" (Federal, 2004, p. 3). This amendment has not made it
before Congress, but President Bush stated that it is a priority of
his second term in office (Same-sex marriage effects, 2004).
Social Cognitive Theory
Social cognitive theory explains the process through which
individuals adopt behaviors or ideas such as gender or sex roles
(Bandura, 2001; Entman & Rojecki, 2001). A person sees a
behavior--referred to as a model--such as in the job, in the school
environment or on television or hears it through the radio, by
storytelling, or any number of ways (Bandura, 2001; Entman & Rojecki,
2001). After witnessing the model, a person then compares it to
previous knowledge he or she held on the subject and then decides
whether to accept the new model (if it is different) or to reject it
and stay with the old model (Bandura, 2001: Entman & Rojecki,
2001). The third step in social cognitive theory is spreading the
behavior after it is adopted through a social network such as the
ones where the model was witnessed in the first place (Bandura, 2001;
Entman & Rojecki, 2001). Models which are accessible, are extremely
attractive, or unattractive to a person, stand out or are noticeable,
usually draw attention which is integral to the first step of
acquiring knowledge (Bandura, 2001; Fiske, 1995).
One problem with this process is that humans desire
simplicity. This desire results in people taking shortcuts in the
process. Rather than compare new models with former knowledge as
social cognitive theory contends--to weigh the pros and cons of both
sets of information--people have presumptions about the world around
them that they use as shortcuts. These presumptions are called
"schemas" (Fiske, 1995). Schemas exist for almost everything,
including people, places, things, words, and characteristics. As
shortcuts, schemas tend to categorize people and events and lead to
stereotypes and role casting within society. "Schemas for roles are
equivalent to stereotypes, people's expectations about people who
fall into particular social categories" (Fiske, 1995, p 162).
The mass media are integral to social cognition in many ways. Mass
media is easily accessible because they come into people's personal
and professional lives in multiple formats. Mass media also have
tremendous reach, both in the numbers of people they can contact as
well as the wide range of places they can serve (Bandura,
2001). Studies have shown that media portrayals shape the beliefs
and views of the audience (Bandura, 2001; Dines & Humez,
2003). "Indeed, many of the shared misconceptions about occupation
pursuits, ethnic groups, minorities, the elderly, social and sex
roles, and other aspects of life are at least partially cultivated
through symbolic modeling of stereotypes" (Bandura, 2001, p. 138).
"In general, message framing involves the organization and packaging
of information" (Lundy, 2004, p. 22). In relation to the media,
framing theory posits that media can tell people how to think about a
subject (Zoch, 2001). "Schramm (1949), in his classic essay, 'The
Nature of News,' observed that news is not the event but is the
report of the event" (Miller & Riechert, 2001, p. 112). How an event
or controversy is reported, who is quoted and in what order, along
with word choice, corresponding images with a story, and metaphors
used in the text can all frame a story towards one viewpoint or
another (Hertog & McLeod, 2001; Miller & Riechert, 2001; Zoch, L., 2001).
Frames are made up of culturally developed ideas and concepts such
as myths, narratives and assumed knowledge (Hertog & McLeod,
2001). "Media content takes elements of culture, magnifies them,
frames them, and then feeds them back to an audience" (Zoch, L.,
2001, p. 197). They help to organize social reality much in the way
schemas do, by simplifying large quantities of information into
small, easily cognitively accessible ideas (Hertog & McLeod, 2001).
The power of frames comes from this connection to schemas according
to McLeod and Hertog (2001). Because they have strong symbolic
power, viewers react strongly when frames "activate" certain myths,
morals, stories, ideals or definitions within their culture (McLeod &
Hertog, 2001). Second, frames do not stand alone but are connected
to other concepts or ideas that can also be activated. McLeod &
Hertog (2001) demonstrate the example of a political election being
called a "horse race", which in turn activates concepts related to
horses, racing, betting, and money. Because they are socially
constructed, frames have widespread recognition among
viewers--another source of their power (McLeod & Hertog,
2001). "Frames, as part of the deep structure of a culture, provide
a significant portion of the shared meaning among society's
members. Frames provide the unexpressed by shared knowledge of
communicators that allows each to engage in discussion that presumes
a set of shared assumptions" (McLeod & Hertog, 2001).
When looking at the possible framing of any issue within the media,
many questions arise. This study began with these basic questions:
-How has the Gainesville Sun framed the issue of same-sex marriage?
-What are the foremost or dominant frames?
-Who is quoted and associated with each frame?
The Gainesville Sun newspaper was chosen for this study based on its
position as a New York Times affiliate and as the only daily
newspaper in a large, southern university town. The researcher
wanted to look at the framing of same-sex marriage within this paper
to see if this positioning would have any effects on coverage or author tone.
The time frame used for this study was from January 1, 2003 to
November 20, 2004. These dates were chosen based on federal and
state decisions relating to same-sex marriage. In June of 2003, the
Supreme Court ruled against the anti-sodomy law in Texas based on
personal rights and liberty (Bush Backs, 2003). President Bush then
announced in July of 2003 "that while he believed Americans should
treat gays in a welcoming and respectful manner, he remained firmly
opposed to gay marriages and that administration lawyers were working
to ensure that the term 'marriage' would cover only unions between
men and women" (Bush Backs, 2003, p. 1). In November of 2003,
Massachusetts' highest court ruled the state's ban on same-sex
marriages was unconstitutional and created "second-class citizens"
(Marriage, 2003, p. 1). The state government was given until May of
2004 to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples (Marriage,
2003). In February of 2004, San Francisco began issuing marriage
licenses to same-sex couples in spite of the state's law preventing
it (Rushing, 2004). In response to this, President Bush announced a
federal marriage amendment one week later that would define marriage
as between one man and one woman (Bush, 2004). In July of 2004, the
U.S. Senate voted on this amendment, and eleven states voted to add
marriage definitions to their own constitutions in November of 2004
(Senators, 2004; Voters, 2004).
Articles were gathered for this study by using the online archive
search on the Gainesville Sun's website, www.sunone.com. This
archive search allowed the researcher to search by specific date
range. The researcher searched the publication using the search term
"same-sex marriage" to gather articles on the topic. Due to the
nature of searching an online archive of this type, the researcher
opted to use only news stories to prevent bias in selecting
editorials or opinion pieces that may or may not be available
online. Twenty-two articles were found in the online archive,
ranging in print dates from July 31, 2003 to August 13,
2004. Because so few articles were returned, the research widened
the date search to include all online articles in the only other
available search year of 2002. No articles were found on this topic
from the online search, so the population of the study was limited to
the 22 returned articles. The word counts of these articles ranged
from 633 words to 1660 words.
Articles were examined individually using a coding sheet developed by
the researcher. Information including the newspaper name, print
date, word count, reporter's name and newspaper section were all
recorded. In addition, the geographic level of the story, the story
focus of "in" or "out" of state, the type of article and any graphic
elements were also noted. The story headline and lead were examined
individually along with the topics of the article. The first
reference to "same-sex marriage", "gay marriage" or any derivative of
these phrases was recorded, along with the context of the reference.
Out of the 22 articles used for this study, 19 were New York Times
articles, two were from the Associated Press wire and one was
local. The 22 articles showed similarities in coverage due to their
nature of "news" items. Twelve of the articles covered same-sex
marriage in relation to the Massachusetts' ruling and actions. Four
of the articles covered President Bush and the federal marriage
amendment. Three of the articles covered same-sex marriage in San
Francisco and the California Supreme Court ruling. The remaining
three articles were split between the approved Missouri marriage
amendment, the proposed Georgia marriage amendment, and the reaction
in Gainesville to the same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Further
examination of the articles revealed a single overarching frame of
"conflict". Same-sex marriage was an "issue" that was being dealt
with in different ways by different people. Subframes were found
based on this idea of conflict--"confusion," "breaking the law,"
"equal rights/marriage benefits," "definition of marriage,"
"political tool," and "court vs. state."
The researcher had an additional coder trained in framing methods
analyze and code a sample of three (13.6%) of the articles. Similar
frames were found by this coder with the exception of one--where the
primary researcher saw conflict, the secondary coder saw
confusion. This can in part be attributed to this person's
unfamiliarity with this particular subject matter. In addition, a
portion of the conflict found by the primary researcher was based on
confusion as evidenced by conflict as a frame and confusion as a subframe.
Research Question 1: How has the Gainesville Sun framed the issue of
The first frame found in the Gainesville Sun was the "conflict"
frame. Not only were the people and sides in conflict over same-sex
marriage, but the articles also had conflict within them. A
journalistic guide is to balance a story, or show both sides. In
doing so, these articles showed conflict. Both the mention of
conflict as part of this issue, as well as this conflict within the
story was used as evidence of the "conflict" frame. Phrases such as
"ignited a storm of reaction," "an issue that is nothing if not
polarizing," "an earthquake politically," "inflame a divisive
debate," "caused an uproar," "unleash activity," "culture war,"
"facing this onslaught of religious and political right attacks,"
"fist fight," "divisive," "frenzied atmosphere in the Statehouse,"
"erupted in pandemonium," "pitched battle," "resolved to continue
fighting," "public demonstrations that engulfed the Statehouse,"
"cultural watershed," "resigned rather than perform same-sex
marriage," and "cultural and economic roadblocks" were used in the
conflict frame. Other such phrases included "the seeds of
full-fledged contact were planted on Monday," "defying his order," "a
legal battle will result," "plunge into the hotly debated issue,"
"wading into a volatile social issue," "politically charged
initiative," "holding signs, some with slurs against homosexuals,"
"invited chaos," "waging a fierce lobbying and pr war," and political
unrest." These phrases were not only used by the reporters but also
by those quoted within the articles. Two examples--"real family
values over antigay propaganda," and "put an end to the anarchy in
San Francisco." Although this frame was used in both same-sex
marriage opponents and proponents language, it had a negative
connotation for the legalization of same-sex marriages.
The first subframe found in the articles was the "confusion"
subframe, in which the issue of same-sex marriage was portrayed as
confusing, especially in terms of law. Phrases used in this subframe
included "presented many confusing legal questions," "we do not
intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation,"
"puzzled as to the legal aspect," "believes it is important to have
clarity," "some paused and worried aloud," "the decision, which did
not explicitly tell the state legislature how to carry out the
ruling, sent lawmakers and legal experts scrambling," and "we're in
uncertain territory right now…we don't actually know what it
means." This subframe seemed to be neutral, as it was applied to
both sides of the issue.
"Breaking the law" was the second subframe found in the articles,
and referred not only to same-sex marriages as breaking the law but
also cities and towns that chose to issue marriage licenses under a
belief of equal rights. "Under a directive that opponents say defies
state law," and "an important repudiation of San Francisco's bid to
skirt a state law" were two of the phrases used in this subframe.
The third subframe was "equal rights/marriage benefits" and is
exactly as it sounds. In this subframe, the reader saw same-sex
marriage as an equal rights issue and the marital benefits being
denied to same-sex couples. Phrases used in this subframe included
"fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits,"
"was archaic and discriminatory," "continue to work towards these
rights," "he doesn't believe in freedom for everyone," "the tax,
pension and other benefits typically enjoyed by spouses," "is
unconstitutional, largely on the ground of discrimination," "a
historic event reminiscent of the struggle once faced by interracial
couples," "one of the last outstanding prejudices," and "entitle
same-sex couples to numerous other benefits." Another example of
this subframe --"Gay rights advocates hailed this day, which fell on
the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of
Education, as an occasion that evoked the triumphs and the social
vindication of the civil rights era."
The "definition of marriage" subframe was the fourth subframe, and
was associated with opponents of same-sex marriage. This subframe
used the following phrases, "defend the sanctity of marriage,"
"redefining marriage," "it is the beginning of the crumbling or our
democracy," "it does preserve the definition of marriage," "two men
and two women marrying each other is a passport to hell," "marriage
is a sacred institution between a man and a woman," "I don't see how
the union between a man and a man or a woman and a woman uplifts
marriage," "an assault on the traditional concept of marriage by the
courts and gay activists," "a personal relation arising out of a
civil contract between a man and a woman," "Biblically, homosexuality
isn't in the plan," and "the proposed amendment, which conservatives
portrayed as crucial to preventing social decline." Quotes from
President Bush also fell into this subframe—"I believe marriage is
between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one
way or the other," and "protecting and defending the sanctity of
marriage"were two examples.
Same-sex marriage as a "political tool" was the fifth subframe found
in the articles. This subframe showed the issue being used as a
political tool by politicians and lawmakers across the country and at
all levels because 2004 was an election year. Phrases used in this
subframe included "a step to placate his political base," "issues
designed to divide us for political purposes," and "there's a
political focus on these out-of-state couples." Most of the
"political tool" references were linked to President Bush, the
federal marriage amendment and the presidential election. Examples
included, "vaults the issue to a more prominent role in the
presidential election," "this debate was about changing the subject
in the presidential election," "this whole thing is about politics,"
and "it seems like it's a political card being played for the radical
right on a national stage." Although this subframe was negative, it
does not reflect directly on same-sex marriage as an issue, just how
the issue is being used.
The sixth and final subframe found in these articles was "courts vs.
state," wherein the decisions of courts to allow same-sex marriages
based on equal rights was in direct opposition with public
opinion. This subframe used the following phrases, "any decision to
extend marriage to same-sex partners should be made by elected
lawmakers, not the courts," "it is inexcusable for this court to
force the state legislature to 'fix' its state constitution to make
it comport with the pro-homosexual agenda of four court justices,"
"if activist judges insist on redefining marriage by court order,"
"the legislature has now passed an amendment in opposition to the
court's decision," "preserve the right of the citizens to decide
whether we'll have same-sex marriage," "an issue as fundamental to
society as the definition of marriage should be decided by the
people," "activist judges and local officials in some parts of the
country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for
the rest of America," "voters will step in when the states get it
wrong," "feared that a state provision might not be enough for a
court somewhere," and "amendments provide a more resistant foil to
judges who might find the law unconstitutional."
Research Question 2: What are the foremost or dominant frames?
All of the 22 articles examined contained the "conflict"
frame. Most of the articles had multiple subframes in them,
sometimes all of the subframes. Of the six subframes found, the
"court vs. state" and "definition of marriage" subframes were the
most dominant. Both of these frames were found in 13 of the 22
stories (59.1%). (See Table 2.) The "equal rights/marriage
benefits" subframe followed closely in 11 of the 22 articles
(50%). Thirty-one point eight percent (n=7) of the articles
contained the "confusion" frame, and 27.3% (n=6) contained the
"political tool" frame. The least dominant subframe was "breaking
the law" which was only found in three articles (13.6%).
Frames and Subframes
Breaking the Law
Equal Rights/ Benefits
Definition of Marriage
Court vs. State
Because the articles were on same-sex marriage events around the
nation, the researcher also compared the dominant subframes to these
locations. (See Table 3.) Of the 12 Massachusetts' articles, the
"equal rights/marriage benefits" subframe was found in nine (75%) and
the "court vs. state" was found in eight (66.7%). Fifty percent
(n=6) of the articles contained the "definition of marriage"
subframe, and 41.7% (n=5) contained the "confusion" subframe. Only
two of the Massachusetts' articles contained the "political tool"
subframe, and none contained "breaking the law." The San Francisco
articles contained all of the "breaking the law" subframe articles
(n=3). The following subframes were each found in one
article--"equal rights/marriage benefits," "political tool," and
"definition of marriage." None of the remaining subframes were found
in the San Francisco articles. The four Washington D.C. articles had
"definition of marriage" and "political tool" tied as their dominant
subframes with three articles apiece (75%). The "confusion" and
"court vs. state" subframes were found in 50% of these
articles. Three subframes were found in the single Georgia
article--"definition of marriage," "political tool," and "court vs.
state." These were also the three subframes found in the single
Missouri article. The Florida article was a local reaction to the
start of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. The two subframes
found were "equal rights/marriage benefits" and "definition of marriage."
Subframes by Story Location
Breaking The Law
Definition of Marriage
Court vs. State
Research Question 3: Who is quoted and associated with each frame?
The sources directly quoted in these articles helped to establish
the dominant frame of the article. After examining the articles,
five different types of sources were established. The first group
was gays and lesbians who wish to marry. The second group was law
enforcement and legal, which was police officers at all levels,
county attorneys and prosecutors, private attorneys, state attorneys,
defense attorneys, and judges from the local level up to both state
and federal supreme court. The third group included government
officials from the city and county level, state level including
representatives and governors, up through U.S. Congress members, the
president, and official spokespeople for any of these. The fourth
group was people who were activists in the same-sex marriage arena,
both those acting for same-sex marriage and those acting
against. The fifth group of "other" included law professors speaking
on the rulings, state residents, and direct quotes from both court
rulings and proposed marriage amendments.
There were a total of 149 direct quotes in the Gainesville Sun
articles. (See Table 4.) Seventy-five of the quotes were "for"
same-sex marriage (50.3%) and 59 were "against" it (39.6%). Fifteen
of the quotes fell into the neutral or compromise category. The
dominant group quoted in the articles was government with a total of
59 quotes (39.6%). Of these government quotes, 20 were for same-sex
marriage (33.9%) and 35 were against it (59.3%). Activist groups
were the second most quoted group with 31 quotes (20.8%). The quotes
were split almost evenly between for and against groups. Gays and
lesbians were the third dominant quote group with a total of 29
quotes (19.5%), all of which were for same-sex marriage. Twenty-one
of the quotes (14.1%) were from the "other" group, ten of which were
neutral. The final group quoted in the Gainesville Sun articles was
law enforcement/legal. Of the nine quotes in this group, seven
(77.8%) were for same-sex marriage, one was neutral and one was against.
Breakdown of sources quoted directly
Through the use of the dominant "conflict" frame, as well as the
dominant subframes "definition of marriage" and "court vs. state,"
the articles in the Gainesville Sun have suggested same-sex marriage
is a threat. These subframes associate same-sex marriage as a new
war or crisis needing to be dealt with that can harm both traditional
marriage and individual rights. Adding the "confusion" and
"political tool" subframes to this quagmire only heightens this
effect. Only one positive subframe was found in the articles, that
of "equal rights/marriage benefits."
Looking at the sources of direct quotes in these articles at first
seemed positive. There were 16 more quotes in the "for" same-sex
marriage category than the "against". However, when the quotes were
broken down into groups the numbers change. There were 30 more
government people quoted in these articles than those involved in the
issue--the same-sex couples. There were also more activist groups
quoted than same-sex couples, and of these activist quotes more were
against same-sex marriage. This only adds to the negative portrayal
of same-sex marriage just discussed. By looking to government
officials, the threat to individual rights is enforced and by looking
to anti same-sex marriage activist groups, the threat to marriage is
enforced. The only truly positive representations of same-sex
marriage in these articles are on the wedding days--those days when
one state or town has begun to issue marriage licenses. However even
these articles included negative aspects of gay marriage with quotes
from religious protestors declaring same-sex couples sinners and
spouting gay slurs.
Implications of this framing analysis are primarily for media
practitioners. It is important that editors and writers understand
the effects of framing, especially in controversial issues such as
same-sex marriage, where it can effect public reactions and even
public policy decisions.
Future research recommendations include expanding the study in
multiple ways. First, a greater sampling of newspapers should be
done to determine if same-sex marriage is framed differently
depending on location. This should first be conducted on newspapers
located in the areas where the events relating to same-sex marriage
have occurred. These would include newspapers in and around
Washington D.C., Massachusetts, New York, and San Francisco,
California. The research should also be expanded to include more
media issues such as gatekeeping and agenda setting in addition to
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