Ruling on adoption by gay couples ?long overdue, expected?; Change in adoption law welcomed, Cape Times; Citizen

Date: January 1, 1970
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South Africa?s Constitutional Court rules that gay and lesbian couples can adopt children.

South Africa?s Constitutional Court rules that gay and lesbian couples can adopt children.

These articles may be used to:
  • Provide a comparative analysis of how two different South African newspapers covered the same news item.
  •  Examine the portrayal of gay men and lesbian women in the media and sources of news.
 Trainer’s notes

These two stories from the South African media offer a different approach to the coverage of gays and lesbians in the media. The news angle is that the
Constitutional Court ruled that gays and lesbians could jointly adopt children.
Homosexuality and same-sex relations are portrayed generally in the media, especially in Southern African countries, as ‘deviant behaviour’, this is the criteria used to make issues around sexual orientation news. The stories are more about homosexuality and same-sex relationships between men and the message that comes through is: Men who have sex with men are not ‘normal’ or, ‘real men’.     
The social and legal stigma surrounding one’s sexual orientation keeps a wall of silence around people who exercise their sexual choice in ways that do not conform to the heterosexual norm.
Heterosexual norms are inclusive in the gender norms which determine the role of women and men in a society. One’s sexuality therefore is seen as crucial to one’s identity as a woman or a man. Heterosexual norms for example say that a woman should be a mother, caretaker of the house, wife, while a man should be a father, breadwinner, husband. These norms fit well with the gender role constructs. Those who choose a different sexual lifestyle which breaks the norms, are considered outcasts and can face violence, harassment and discrimination in all spheres of life, including family and work.
Not only do journalists and editors carry gender biases and prejudices, they have also imbibed racial and or homophobic biases which often find their way into the newsgathering and editing processes.
These two case stories however present a different image of gays. In this case two white middle-class women, one of whom is a judge, challenge the sections of the law which prohibit adoption of children by same-sex couples.
The wording of the court’s ruling also questions the ‘norm’ about what the family should look like. The stereotyped norm is the family that consists of ‘father, mother and children’. But this stereotype has been dispelled by the court’s ruling and shows the changing roles of women and men at all levels in society. No stereotypes or biases are conveyed in the two stories.
The sources in the story are Judge Anne-Marie de Vos who lodged the case along with her partner; the male Judge’s statement; the male acting director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and a statement from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Notice that the story appeared in two different papers, but the sources are the same because both use the South African Press Association (SAPA) story as the main source for the information.
What is missing is the voice and perspective of heterosexuals and people who are not members of the gay activists groups (e.g. women’s groups, human rights organisations, etc). In the stories as they read now, we have more or less those who think alike responding to an issue which is beneficial to them. In other words, the sources accessed provide only one viewpoint which is supportive of the court’s decision.
Training exercises:
Exercise one: Study the two case studies and discuss the following:
  1. Who are the sources in both stories?

  2. What voices are missing in the articles?

  3. How are gay couples portrayed in the two articles? Is this portrayal similar or different from the way the media generally reports on gay couples? Explain answers citing examples from the media.

  4. What messages come through in the articles about the family?

  5. Are the headlines which accompany each story appropriate? If so, explain why?

  6. What message is conveyed by the image which accompanies the story ‘Ruling on adoption by gay couples, ‘long overdue, expected’?

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