Media Coverage of Same-Sex Marriage

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Same-sex marriage has been a matter of political debates for decades now. Despite some supporters of gay-rights focusing on the goal of equality, the issue gained national popularity when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that illegalizing gay marriages was a discrimination under their constitution in 1996 (Anderson 7). In 2003, same-sex marriage gained new popularity because of one critical decision. The US Supreme Court had ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage were an unlawful form of discrimination. This decision by the US Supreme Court had opened avenues for the legalization of same-sex marriages. Unlike in Hawaii, the decision could not be reverted via the passage of constitutional amendment because the process could take at least three years. As a result, same-sex marriages began to be scheduled in 2004 (Boies 6). In particular, the paper considers the degree to which media coverage this issue as rooted in political strategy instead of as a rights-based or moral debate. Consequently, the study will draw on the literature of framing to develop key indicators of politically oriented media coverage.

Anderson (5) broadly visualizes framing as a sort of orienting or organizing guide, or way of interpreting an issue. Frequently, the conceptual uncertainty that is also the "framing" label is also applied to various forms of research that consider distinct variations in news texts. Despite the conceptual vagueness, researchers on political communications such as Boies (7) have proposed various interpretations of same-sex marriages such as the thematic or episodic distinct and the notion of the strategic frames. However, the latter is appropriate in dealing with same-sex marriages because activists have frequently become worried about the politicization of the issue (Cosgrove-mather 7; Anderson 6). Various researchers have also tried integrating the framing research with the issue of same-sex marriage. These researchers think of framing as a second-level agenda setting. Operationally, this usually implies checking to see the frequency with which claims of same-sex marriage appear in the media. In practice, such interpretation or framing reduces the complex literature of framing (Anderson 7).

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In order to understand how media potentially politicized and covered same-sex marriage, documenting the various attributes is a logical initial step. The four types of attributes include reasons for and against, opinions about, actions and information about same-sex marriage (Schumacher-Matos 67; Boies 56). In contrast to the reasons for same-sex marriage, a political rationale for this issue concentrates on the consequences of opposing or supporting it. According to opinion polls, the majority of Americans strongly oppose the legalization of the issue (Anderson 7). Cosgrove-mather (14) also points out that stories that tend to focus on political reasons for acting on this type of unions might enforce the notion that this is a strategic issue more than a practical or moral one.

The portion of Media Coverage Focusing on Political Actions

A substantial portion of the news coverage concentrates on political reasons associated with same-sex marriage (Cosgrove-mather 6). The facts that journalism is driven by a focus on events and reporters hardly cover an issue unless an action has been taken play a critical role in ensuring media coverage on same-sex marriages (Schumacher-Matos, 8). This implies that it is extremely important to consider the forms of actions described in news stories. To be specific, political actions that stem from government activities such as the passing of an Act or judicial decision about same-sex marriage obviously increase media coverage on this form of union (Staff 8). These actions also indicate that the issue of same-sex marriage is entirely political. In addition, stories having a heavy focus on the government actions about the issue might also mean a fundamental politicization, associating it with the broad strategic interpretation (Anderson 54).

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It is apparent that there is a substantial portion of the news coverage that focuses on political actions associated with same-sex unions (Anderson 7). According to Schumacher-Matos (56), government's actions and reasons for the legalization of same-sex marriage are frequently compared with other forms of media coverage. Besides the presentation of non-political actions or reasons, reporters might also address the broadly held opinions about the issue. For instance, polling data may indicate three significant things. The first thing is that the data might show is what the public thinks about the issue (Cosgrove-mather 6). The second thing is the reason why they hold such views concerning the issue. The third thing that relates to media coverage is that reporters may conduct "man-on-the-street" interviews as the formal way of getting public opinion. Additionally, factual content or contextual information form news story and thus provides an insight not drawn from other categories of the above-named attributes (Anderson 6).

Most importantly, attributes are not the only elements varying in frames and interpretation. Actors that serve as sources for content and agents who perform the action or express the public opinion captured in news stories are another significant dimension. Frequently, framing researches fail to clearly point out that manipulated interpretations represent the difference in actors, attributes or some combinations (Anderson 7). For instance, the interpretation of same-sex marriage by an individual or a group represents a shift in the level of actors involved to generic from individual groups. As mentioned above, thematic and episodic interpretations of same-sex marriages differ along various dimensions. Besides these interpretation researches, scholars have channeled their attention towards the sources of information used by news reporters, especially in terms of how the source of information reflects news routines, efforts to interfere with routines and treatment of women and minorities (Staff 5).

In the scenario of political interpretation, a potentially significant feature is the deployment of political actors. When the same-sex marriage has very close associations with the politicians, instead of average citizens or individuals willing to marry, it strategically places this form of union in the political atmosphere (Anderson 5). This study considers two dimensions of actors. The first dimension is the source of information relating to same-sex marriage. As previously noted, framing researches consider the resources such as political actors used by reporters in putting the stories together. The second dimension is the focus of the news stories on the actions taken by organizations and individuals (Cosgrove-mather 5). These individuals represent agents who are responsible for the endorsement of the reasons for or against the legalization of same-sex marriage. They achieve this by taking the actions and holding views that comprise the attributes of the news stories. Despite being given less attention than sources before research, the significance of agents cannot be ignored. News stories focusing heavily on political agents might mean that same-sex marriage is a political issue (Staff 5).

Besides establishing the occurrence with which same-sex union stories focus on political actors and topics, it is very significant to consider the relationship between the two elements. Interpretation studies need to concentrate on key elements comprising frames (Anderson 5). This is because the elements have associations amongst themselves. For instance, a strategic frame or media interpretation of same-sex marriages might feature horserace coverage but not polling data. Similarly, according to Staff (45), politically oriented media coverage might prominently deal with the political reasons but not utilize the political sources. Nevertheless, different dimensions often correlated to an extent that a pattern of elements occurs regularly in a manner that comprises the broad interpretation of the issue.

According to Schumacher-Matos (6), politicians are not the only actors related to political coverage of same-sex marriage. In fact, one of the most frequent complaints about modern politics is that the alleged special interest often plays a pivotal role in influencing media coverage (Boies 78). The definitions of the so-called media coverage are conditional and ambiguous upon the person doing the labeling. The difference between the well-organized lobbyist and grassroots social movements might be meaningful, though the media hardly draw the difference (Anderson 7). Irrespective, all kinds of activists groups for same-sex marriage apparently play an ongoing role by communicating with the media and lobbying the government (Anderson 65). If media stories making use of political actions and reasons as attributes can be broadly perceived as a political interpretation, then it appears reasonable that such stories would feature activists as actors (Boies 7).

According to Cosgrove-mather (13), the presence of political actions will have positive associations with the deployment of activist agents. The orientation of same-sex marriage adopted in the media coverage is another significant consideration (Staff 5). Therefore, are the actions taken and reasons offered meant to promote or prevent same-sex marriages? A considerable amount of content analysis partly focuses on such questions. Such claims might appear excessively vague to the public. It is meaningful to determine if certain forms of stories by the media present unusually unfavorable or favorable coverage (Anderson 6). If political coverage tends to concentrate on the negative effects of supporting same-sex unions more than other coverage, it would present another additional effect on the possible prevalence of such stories (Anderson 7).

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The Effect of Media's Coverage on Same-sex Marriage

Media coverage on this issue affects elections. Drawing on the last completed reelection of President Obama, it is apparent that media coverage on same-sex unions played a pivotal role in swaying the votes. The involvement of the media in the issues of same-sex marriage seemed to have spurred various questions (Anderson 8; Cosgrove-mather 7). An example of such question was whether the media was rooting for Obama. Apparently, the supporters of culture within the mainstream media were very happy about the support for the legalization of this union and the media coverage revealed this jubilation. However, this does not imply that the coverage was bad.

Some of the panelists strongly claimed that Obama was not going to lose votes by supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage (Anderson 8). This was a rather dramatic claim by the media, though some media coverage concluded that that was to be experienced. According to a CBS coverage, the majority of Americans strongly affirmed that the president's decision of legalizing gay marriages will not sway their choice of the president during the election (Staff 8). One opinion released by Gallup strongly pointed out that about 60 percent of voters claimed that Obama's new decision did not affect the way they voted, whereas about 26 percent felt that it would make them think of reviewing their presidential candidates (Staff 56). If the media is going to be fixed on politics, at the very least they could cover political effects of races.

Besides these effects of media coverage on the election, Anderson (6) perceived that favorable coverage frustrated Obama's efforts to restrain the public controversy over the support for the union. The importance of media management efforts was revealed by two opinion polls which showed that the president's decision had negative impacts on the forthcoming elections. The polls demonstrated that 22 percent of voters were less likely to vote for Obama because of this union's legalization (Anderson 54). On the other hand, only 14 percent of the voters were likely to vote for Obama because of the decision. The same research also pointed out that Romney's advocacy for the traditional marriage made him gain additional support. According to this opinion poll, about 19 percent of voters were likely to vote for him because of his decision (Anderson 43).

Conclusion

Media coverage on same-sex marriage has made the issue to become entirely a political matter. Frequently, the conceptual uncertainty that is also the "framing" label is also applied to various forms of research that consider distinct variations in news texts. The difference between the well-organized lobbyist and grassroots social movements might be meaningful, though the media hardly draw the difference. Operationally, framing usually implies checking to see the frequency with which claims of same-sex marriage appear in the media. A substantial portion of the news coverage concentrates on political reasons associated with same-sex marriage. The facts that journalism is driven by a focus on events and reporters hardly cover an issue unless an action has been taken play a critical role in ensuring media coverage on same-sex marriages. It is apparent that there is a substantial portion of the news coverage that focuses on political actions associated with same-sex unions. When the matter has very close associations with the politicians, instead of average citizens or individuals willing to marry, it strategically places these form of union in the political atmosphere. Drawing on the last completed reelection of President Obama, it is apparent that media coverage played a pivotal role in swaying the votes.

Works Cited:

  1. Anderson, Jennifer. Framing Same-Sex Marriage: An Analysis of 2004 Newspaper Coverage of Marriage Legislation. Thesis. Oxford: Miami University, 2008. Document.
  2. Boies, Jason. Obama's Support for Gay Marriage Lights up Social Media. 11 May 2012. Web. 12 December 2012.
  3. Cosgrove-mather, Bootie. Media Bias Over Gay Marriage. 22 September 2009. Web. 12 December 2012.
  4. Schumacher-Matos, Edward. Eight Days of Same-Sex Marriage (The Coverage). 14 May 2012. Web. 12 December 2012.
  5. Staff, Observer. Analysis: Mainstream Media Coverage of Same-Sex Union Debate Omits Key Points. 14 May 2012. Web. 12 December 2012.
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