As we well know, in our society, word choice matters, and the effectiveness with which a message or a meta-message is conveyed is very much determined by which words are chosen in that message. That's a vague understanding that we know and accept, so it's always interesting to see poll numbers and data that back up the assumption.
Take, for example, a recent poll that sought to determine public opinion in New Jersey regarding "marriage equality" and "gay marriage." The results are revealing:
Fifty-two percent of New Jersey voters believe same-sex marriages should be legal, according to today's Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
Support for legalizing gay marriage jumps to 61 percent when the issue is framed in terms of "marriage equality," the favored description of advocates for same-sex couples.
Almost four-in-10 respondents (39 percent) oppose legalizing gay marriage while 9 percent are unsure. Twenty-seven percent are against marriage equality, while 3 percent are unfamiliar with the term and 9 percent have no opinion.
I remember one of my first days on the job at The Bilerico Project back in May, where I headlined a post using "gay marriage" instead of "marriage equality," and we received comments criticizing or challenging the headline. Since then, I've been more supportive and understanding of the importance of using the "marriage equality" label over other terms.
My initial confusion over the terminology was probably rooted in my readership of other, non-LGBT-specific news. After all, mainstream news outlets - even supposedly liberal outlets like The Huffington Post - regularly use "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage" in their coverage of issues of marriage equality. That's probably because those terms are approved by The Associated Press Style Book, the standard, go-to guide on word choice for journalists.
The National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association (PDF) does not even advocate for the "marriage equality term," preferring "same-sex marriage" over other variations. According to the organization's style book:
Advocates for the right to marry seek the legal rights and obligations of marriage, not a
variation of it. Often, the most neutral approach is to avoid any adjective modifying the word "marriage." For the times in which a distinction is necessary, "marriage for same-sex couples" is preferable in stories. When there is a need for shorthand description (such as in headline writing), "same-sex marriage" is preferred because it is more inclusive and more accurate than "gay."
So, Projectors, what term do you prefer? And is there or should there be a difference in the terminology that journalists, activists, and politicians should use? Sound off in the comments!