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Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions
Unformatted Document Text:  Framing Public Discussion 8 Framing Gay Civil Unions Issues surrounding gay rights have been controversial for several decades and have received increasing attention in the U.S. media. During the 2000 presidential election campaign, when this study was undertaken, the question of whether gay and lesbian partnerships should be accorded with the same legal status as heterosexual marriages received rather extensive coverage. Vermont, which had passed a law permitting such civil unions, became the site of heated controversy as an anti-civil-union movement (dubbed “Take Back Vermont”) gained force in the fall and moved to center stage in the state’s gubernatorial campaign. Eventually, the issue found its way onto the national agenda and was addressed by both candidates in the presidential debates. As with many gay rights issues, media discourse over the legal standing of gay partnerships has been framed largely in terms of two core values: morality and equality (Bull & Gallagher, 2001; Rimmerman, Wald & Wilcox, 2000; Brewer, 2002). Supporters of legal standing for such partnerships generally refer to them as “civil unions” and advocate them on grounds of “equal rights.” By contrast, foes frame the matter in terms of moral values, highlighting the threat they pose to the longstanding social and religious institutions of marriage and family. Both frames were prominent in news coverage during the fall of 2000. A review of the Lexis/Nexis news database indicates that, in the two months leading up to the November election, “homosexual marriage,” the phrase most closely associated with the morality frame, was invoked considerably more often (with 29 occurrences) than the “civil unions” phrase more commonly adopted by supporters (with 18 occurrences). Eight news articles made use of both phrases. The dialectical nature of symbolic contest is readily evident in the discourse over gay

Authors: Price, Vincent., Nir, Lilach. and Cappella, Joseph.
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Framing Public Discussion
8
Framing Gay Civil Unions
Issues surrounding gay rights have been controversial for several decades and have
received increasing attention in the U.S. media. During the 2000 presidential election campaign,
when this study was undertaken, the question of whether gay and lesbian partnerships should be
accorded with the same legal status as heterosexual marriages received rather extensive coverage.
Vermont, which had passed a law permitting such civil unions, became the site of heated
controversy as an anti-civil-union movement (dubbed “Take Back Vermont”) gained force in the
fall and moved to center stage in the state’s gubernatorial campaign. Eventually, the issue found
its way onto the national agenda and was addressed by both candidates in the presidential
debates.
As with many gay rights issues, media discourse over the legal standing of gay
partnerships has been framed largely in terms of two core values: morality and equality (Bull &
Gallagher, 2001; Rimmerman, Wald & Wilcox, 2000; Brewer, 2002). Supporters of legal
standing for such partnerships generally refer to them as “civil unions” and advocate them on
grounds of “equal rights.” By contrast, foes frame the matter in terms of moral values,
highlighting the threat they pose to the longstanding social and religious institutions of marriage
and family. Both frames were prominent in news coverage during the fall of 2000. A review of
the Lexis/Nexis news database indicates that, in the two months leading up to the November
election, “homosexual marriage,” the phrase most closely associated with the morality frame,
was invoked considerably more often (with 29 occurrences) than the “civil unions” phrase more
commonly adopted by supporters (with 18 occurrences). Eight news articles made use of both
phrases.
The dialectical nature of symbolic contest is readily evident in the discourse over gay


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