In the year since the Supreme Court invalidated the core of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, over a dozen district courts have struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, marking a historic shift in the legal debate over marriage equality. But coverage of the marriage equality revolution has been largely absent from Fox News, where most of the decisions have received less than a minute of coverage.
In late June of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, finding that prohibiting the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages served “no legitimate purpose.” While the Court didn’t establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Windsor, that ruling has proven pivotal in a dozen district courts’ and the New Jersey Superior Court’s subsequent decisions to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage. As a result, four more states now have marriage equality, with a host of other decisions being appealed.
The rash of court rulings - in blue states like Oregon and crimson-red states like Oklahoma - suggest that marriage equality is likely headed back to the Supreme Court, with the potential for a sweeping ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by June 2015. And with a 13-0 record in the courts since Windsor, some experts predict that marriage equality could soon effectively become the law of the land even without the High Court.
But if you’ve been watching Fox News, this legal revolution for marriage equality may well have escaped your notice.
Fox News has spent just over 10 minutes covering the 13 court decisions in favor of marriage equality since Windsor, according to an Equality Matters analysis examining the five-day windows after each decision, during which period these decisions were actual news stories, with the bulk of the network’s coverage devoted to one state, Utah. New Mexico and Michigan’s decisions received no coverage at all, and the majority of the decisions received less than a minute of attention:
For the four states - New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania - where same-sex marriage has taken effect as a result of court rulings post-Windsor, Fox News has provided a scant two minutes and 14 seconds of coverage, compared with nearly 16 minutes from CNN and more than an hour from MSNBC:
Fox News is in an awkward position. Anti-equality forces are losing in court ruling after court ruling, and marriage equality supporters have won the battle for public opinion, with surveys showing a growing majority of Americans in favor of the freedom for same-sex couples to marry. Even anti-gay activists like National Organization for Marriage (NOM) co-founder Maggie Gallagher have conceded the inevitability of marriage equality.
At the same time, the network continues to cater to an anti-gay audience that’s been fed a steady diet of horror stories about same-sex marriage in years past.
Rather than further stake a position on the wrong side of history, it appears Fox News has taken to sidestepping the issue altogether. Take Fox’s awkward reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Court’s Windsor ruling. Many hosts seemed at a loss for what to say. Host Jenna Lee opened one segment by instructing her guests not to “start a conversation on the merits of same-sex marriage.”
Though Fox News continues to house a number of right-wing holdouts, the network has withdrawn from its battle against same-sex marriage, uninterested in dwelling on the end of an era when warnings of activist judges and slippery slopes could score the network cheap points without raising many eyebrows. Now, the marriage equality revolution is passing Fox News by largely unnoticed. It’s a kind of eerie silence that’s almost as newsworthy as the legal victories that induced it.
Equality Matters searched Media Matters' internal video archives and TV Eyes for evening news transcripts using the terms and date ranges “New Jersey” (September 27-October 1, 2013 and October 18-25, 2013), “New Mexico” (December 19-23, 2013), “Utah” (December 20-24, 2013), “Oklahoma” (January 14-18, 2014), “Kentucky” (February 12-16, 2014), “Virginia” (February 13-17, 2014), “Texas” (February 27-March 3, 2014), “Michigan” (March 21-25, 2014), “Arkansas” (May 9-13, 2014), “Idaho” (May 13-17, 2014), “Oregon” (May 19-23, 2014), and “Pennsylvania” (May 20-24, 2014). For each respective date range, Equality Matters also searched the terms “gay,” “same-sex,” and “marriage.” “Marriage now” states are those states where marriage equality rulings weren’t appealed and marriage equality took effect - New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Equality Matters excluded Illinois from the “marriage now” states because its court ruling applied only to Cook County. For New Jersey, Equality Matters searched from September 27-October 1, 2013 to cover the announcement of the state’s marriage equality ruling, and searched from October 18 (when Judge Mary Jacobson refused to stay her ruling) to October 25 (the end of the five-day period after Gov. Chris Christie announced he would not appeal the ruling).
Equality Matters excluded reruns, teases for upcoming segments, and passing mentions during segments about topics other than marriage equality.
Photo via Flickr.com user Maggie Winters