Framing the issue

frameThis week the California State Supreme Court revealed its decision regarding Proposition 8, the ballot initiative limiting marriage to a union of one man and one woman. Californians had passed the initiative and opponents had filed suit against it. The court arguments were televised which meant that no one was particularly surprised by the ruling, which the Washington Post‘s Keith Richburg writes up here:

The ruling Tuesday by California’s Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road toward full marriage rights remains difficult — particularly when voters are given a direct say.

The decisions in three states this year to legalize same-sex marriage, and the possibility that three others will soon follow suit, created a sense that the issue was gaining irreversible momentum and widespread acceptance, with many advocates making comparisons to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But the California ruling served as a reminder that same-sex marriage remains deeply polarizing, and the movement is likely to see more reversals and setbacks as it tries to expand beyond the favorable terrain of the Northeast.

Of all the interesting things about the way the mainstream media portray the debate over same-sex marriage, the above paragraphs demonstrate the importance of framing.

For instance, it’s true that in the last few months, three states have legalized same-sex marriage and others may soon follow suit. But it’s also true that in the last few months three states passed initiatives outlawing same-sex marriage and that they joined 30 others who had already done so.

Or what is this language about ‘creating a sense that gay marriage was inevitable.’ That’s only true because the media have been creating that sense. When a beauty pageant contestant is in the middle of a media firestorm for articulating a view of marriage and marriage policy shared by a majority of Americans including President Barack Obama; when articulating the view that marriage should be defined as it always has been — no matter what its variances — as a heterosexual institution is grounds for public shaming by the cultural elite; when the many victories of traditional marriage proponents are simply ignored . . .

The article goes on using the framework of how the Supreme Court ruling affects proponents of same-sex marriage — and not how it affects the majority of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. It’s just an interesting choice, particularly on the same day that this Gallup Poll came out showing that the media-promulgated view of the inevitability of same-sex marriage might just be a fabrication of the media. From the Washington Post‘s web site and written up by Chris Cillizza:

On the heels of a decision by California’s Supreme Court to uphold a ban on gay marriage in the Golden State comes polling data from USA Today/Gallup that contradicts the conventional wisdom that a majority of the American public is moving closer to acceptance of same-sex unions.

Asked whether “marriages between same-sex couples” should or shouldn’t be “recognized by the law as valid”, 40 percent of the sample said those unions should be valid while 57 percent said they should not.

Those number are essentially unchanged from a May 2008 Gallup survey but less optimistic for proponents of gay marriage than a May 2007 poll in which 46 percent said same sex marriages should be valid while 53 percent said they should not.

The USA Today/Gallup survey also asked whether “allowing two people of the same sex to marry” would change change society for the better, the worse or have no effect. Thirteen percent said it would make things better, 48 percent said it would make things worse and 36 percent said allowing gay people to marry would have no effect on society.

It’s fascinating that the plurality of Americans who reported in this poll that same-sex marriage would make things worse for society — and the majorities who routinely vote to define marriage as a heterosexual institution — aren’t given a voice in the media. They consistently express their views and yet are routinely derided by, marginalized in or ignored by the media. Why?

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  • Dan

    When the Supreme Court decided Roe many (including many in the media) believed that the populace would come to accept legalized abortion, which had made inroads in a few states before Roe. Instead, the country remains extremely polarized over legalized abortion. I believe that much the same thing will happen with “gay marriage”: it will be placed into law in some states but it will not become generally accepted among the populace as a whole.

  • MattK

    That “why” at the end of your last paragraph was rhetorical, right?

  • Perpetua

    Great analysis. Please tell us about these three states that in the last few months have passed initiatives outlawing same-sex marriage. Which states were these?

    I also note the lack of coverage of the raunchy people at the demonstrations against the Supreme Court decision. I have only seen sympathetic interviews. But the reality was a bunch of raunchy people. See Zombie’s photo essay here.

    Note also Zombie’s point about the racial implications that are being ignored by the MSM.

  • dalea

    The ‘inevitability of gay marriage’ is based on demographics, a form of applied statistics. The argument is based on who supports and who opposes gay marriage. When this is broken down by age group, older voters are more likely to be against while younger voters are for. Every year, about one percent of the electorate is replaced; almost all of this is olders moving on and youngers coming in. This was enough to shift the CA vote several points in favor, compared to a 2000 vote on the subject. Demographic change alone will make same sex marriage viable in 2012 CA.

  • dalea

    Perpetua, the posting you link to takes incredibily nasty swipes at my religion. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a Pagan Shamanic order, deserve to be treated with respect; at the same level we respect the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church here at GR. The language on display is simply the way Californians spead colloquially. It is ordinary, everyday discourse.

  • Webster


    Perhaps what you take to be “nasty swipes” at The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are merely “the way” some people “speak colloquially.” Maybe they are just “ordinary, everyday discourse” and you ought to lighten up.

  • Perpetua

    Hi dalea,

    I don’t see any commentary regarding the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in the article I linked. Would you please explain?

    I looked through the article and found two photos that may be of Sisters. The are both wearing what may be parodies of nuns habits with elaborate headgear. In one, the men is wearing white make-up, black clothes, pink glasses and has a gag in his mouth. That does have the comment from Zombie:

    And is it wise to wear a ball-gag and nun’s habit to show how you’re “just like everyone else”?

    Hmmm, I see he also has a black leather collar around his neck. Is the “ball-gag” something to do with S&M?

    The other photo is of a Sister, I am pretty sure because the man has the classic white makeup. That photo has no comment from Zombie at all. The man is carrying a sign “We all deserve the freedom to marry”.

    Would you please help me understand what you perceive as “incredibly nasty swipes” at your religion, dalea?

  • Dave

    Molly, you’re making a point that I have stressed repeatedly while you’ve been busy with more fundamental concerns. Though I find the recent increase in the number of marriage-equity states heartening, I don’t kid myself that the represent a “tide.” If there is a tide it’s in the other direction, and the MSM are ignoring it.

  • Dan Berger

    Dalea, I think people might take the “Sisters” a lot more seriously as a “pagan shamanic order” if they stopped mimicking and mocking Catholic nun stereotypes. Don’t you?

  • Dave

    dalea, how long have the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence been a Pagan Shamaic order? As far as I’ve ever been able to tell from 2/3 of a continent away they were satirists of conventionality with religion as their theme. Was there a change? Or have they always been Pagan but only come “out of the broom closet” recently?

  • tmatt

    Come on people….

    MZ is rather busy right now and I’m in Kiev.

    Take your arguments about the sisters to the cafe.

    Back to the journalism issues in MZ’s post.

  • dalea

    OK, back to the journalism. No clue as to why the media has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon. Ten years ago, they dismissed the idea as ‘crazy’ and ‘not going to happen’. My own experience is that the MSM tends to go long periods ignoring gay news until some major event forces them to cover. They ignored gay bashing for decades until the Matthew Shepherd tragedy. And have not covered it much since then. The MSM treasts the MS death as a major event; the gay press treats it as another gaybashing in an unending series of horrors.

    Why the sudden fascination with gay marriage? No clue here. The gay press is not as convinced of inevitability as the MSM seems to be. Nor is it as focused on marriage; the gay press tends to be as concerned with ending DADT, ENDA, partner immigration etc.

    On the other hand, the gay religion beat has covered the Sisters for over 30 years. Which is what I base my statements on. Plus actually having known a few.

  • Travis

    I think Dalea has it right. A shift of about 1.1% per years has been measured in California over the last decade as the voting populations have shifted.

    I predict 2016 as the latest Prop 8 will be overturned in California, with a decent shot at overturning it beginning in 2012. The national mood sways a lot and has a large margin of error, but California has a lot of political intertia for better or for worse, and I don’t see a reversal of the pro-equality trend in California.

  • John D

    Mollie as usual begs the question. Okay, majorities feel I should live according to the dictates of their religion, instead of my own. Does this matter? I also hold beliefs contrary to theirs. Should I be compelled to hold to the majority belief?

    The real missing religion story here is how opponents to marriage equality are eager to deny religious freedoms and destroy the separation of religion and state.

  • kyle

    Right, John D. Nobody’s covered the story from that angle before. Sheesh.

  • John D


    Mollie keeps complaining that reporting on same-sex marriage consists of the press going “rah-rah” and ignoring people of faith.

    I’m claiming that they do indeed ignore people of faith: those who support marriage equality, a perspective that Mollie does not bemoan the lack of.

    And, no, the typical “religious view of same-sex marriage” is a profile of a person who opposes same-sex marriage for religious reasons. I’ve seen far more profiles of anti-same-sex marriage clergy than of clergy who support marriage equality. Given the media coverage, you would not realize that for Jewish congregations this issue is overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality.

    Mollie ends with the question of a majority belief on same-sex marriage. My religious group supports same-sex marriage. Must we bow to the majority and lose our religious liberty?

  • Dave

    John D, while I’m on your side regarding the underlying issue I must come to Mollie’s defense re your latest comment. All the principals of this blog regularly bemoan the absence of MSM coverage of the “religious left” as they call it.

  • kyle

    John D, the claim that the views of the religious left are anything but overrepresented in mainstream media coverage of this issue is nothing short of absurd. I think you will find considerable documentation in the archives of this very blog, especially in the immediate build-up to and aftermath of the Prop 8 vote. What’s distinctly missing, as Mollie says, are the most thoughtful voices representing the majority view.