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Ed Schiappa is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies.

U of M expert available to comment on "Why do courts rule one way about gay marriage and public votes go another?"

May 31, 2011

Eighteen months from now, in November 2012, Minnesota voters will decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to explicitly limit civil marriage to heterosexual couples. Proponents of the amendment argue that the amendment is necessary to prohibit courts to rule on the matter of gay marriage. Historically, why have courts ruled one way about gay marriage and public votes gone another? A University of Minnesota expert who can provide insight is:  

Edward Schiappa, professor, Department of Communication Studies, College of Liberal Arts

Schiappa says it is because the argumentative rules are different. Schiappa has studied the debate over gay marriage and, in particular, the debate over Prop 8 in California in 2008.

“The courts ruling in favor of gay marriage have not found a ‘compelling state interest’ in forbidding them,” Schiappa says. “Courts have ruled that moral discomfort or religious preferences, by themselves, fail as constitutionally permissible reasons to deny rights.”

Schiappa notes that “the norms and practices of legal argument filter out specific arguments, particularly fear appeals and claims based on religious beliefs and values, which were prevalent in debates over ballot initiatives.” In particular, Schiappa says that TV ads opposed to gay marriage that played on parental fears were particularly important in the closing weeks of the Prop 8 debate in 2008.

Schiappa is the department chair and teaches graduate courses on contemporary rhetorical theory, critical communication studies, rhetorical criticism and popular culture criticism. For a recent presentation he gave on “Defining Marriage in California: An Analysis of Public & Technical Argument,” see

To interview Schiappa, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

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