How does the Washington Post frame its gay-marriage story? Take a guess

The Washington Post plays a classic Frame Game in its advance story yesterday on the Supreme Court's plans to consider making same-sex marriage a basic right.

Ostensibly, the story is about "High stakes as Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage case," as the headline reads. But it's written almost entirely from the viewpoint of gay marriage and its earnest advocates, who simply want their rights. Proponents of traditional marriage, meanwhile, are reduced to stark cutouts, good for little more than background and foils for the "right" side.

Consider the lede:

When a federal judge declared same-sex marriage legal in Florida earlier this year, it should have changed the way Bruce Stone does his job. The estate-planning attorney had for years helped gay couples patch together legal documents to try to approximate some of the protections enjoyed by heterosexual spouses.
But with the Supreme Court about to decide later this year whether that court decision and others ought to stand, Stone isn’t taking any chances. He is still writing up those power-of-attorney forms and setting up trusts out of state, and he has some stark advice for his gay clients: “Do not get married here in Florida.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over whether gay couples have a constitutional right to get married. But if the court rules against that right, the ability to decide reverts back to the states, and Florida and others might just slam the door.

This article bears several marks of issue framing:

* The American Civil Liberties Union is named without any labeling, but Liberty Counsel "defends conservative Christian values."

* Traditional marriage states, like Kansas, are "deep-red states" or want to "ban" gay marriage. Those that favor gay marriage, like Oregon, are simply "pro-gay marriage."

* If a state reverts to defining marriage as one man and one woman, the Post says it will "slam the door" or start "shutting the door."

* The story sympathetically quotes a gay couple in Florida, and their thoughts and feelings about their legal and social status. No matching hearing is offered a heterosexual couple, pondering how laws and court decisions may change the nature of marriage.

Much of the article is divided between different though related facets of the gay marriage issue. One part looks at the measures like power of attorney and joint assets that lawyers like Bruce Stone use to approximate marital benefits for gays.

Another big part of the article tries to assess the fallout if the Supreme Court leaves gay marriage to the states. Whether the states favor gay marriage, or have "banned" it, or lean for or against it, the high court decision could trigger laws or lawsuits or political pressure. All of it has to do with legal hurdles thrown in the path of gay couples.

And some of the story sounds like outright fearmongering. If the Supreme Court doesn't make same-sex marriage the law of the land, says the Washington Post:

The effect would be explosive in 22 states where same-sex marriage bans were struck down by the federal courts. Groups for and against such unions say such a decision would set off a cascade of fresh litigation and spark dramatic new fights in state capitals, with each side jockeying to have its version of marriage enshrined in state law.
Some legal experts say the old laws in those states would snap back into place, immediately shutting the door on future marriages, while others contend it would require another round of litigation. Some believe the thousands of marriages that have already taken place in those states would be deemed valid, even as others think it would need to be settled by the courts — perhaps even the Supreme Court.

The Post even hints that same-sex marriages may be called into question even in the 22 states that legalized them: "Some experts think it could take years of litigation, and perhaps another go before the Supreme Court, to clarify that." About the only thing we don’t get is "Please, don’t do this to them."

Granted, the Post could have been worse. It says that social conservatives seek a "national standard defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman." I.e., it doesn't stoop to something like "deny gays their marriage rights." Then again, it does use various versions of "gay marriage bans" five times.

The fairest the Post gets is when it respectfully quotes both James Esseks of ACLU and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel. But which is considered the default, the mainstream attitude? "Conservative" or "conservatives" appears four times in this article. "Liberal" or "liberals"? Not once.

And not to put too fine a point on it, here is how the article ends -- quoting half of that gay couple in Florida: "Times have really changed. The acceptance is there. Ours has become the right side."

I know, it was her words, not the Post's. The newspaper merely chose to leave it as the last thought.

Picture: Photo illustration via Shutterstock.

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