Invoking "The Family" to Legitimize Gender- and Sexuality-Based Public Policies in the United States: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Party Conventions


  • Andrew Pilecki
  • Phillip L. Hammack


Women and sexual minorities in the United States continue to experience subordinate status, and the policy gains they have made in areas such as reproductive rights and marriage equality continue to be challenged in political discourse. We conducted a critical discourse analysis of texts from the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions in order to examine the extent to which ideological representations of the family were employed to legitimize public policy positions related to gender (e.g., abortion) and sexuality (e.g., same-sex marriage). We analyzed two forms of text (official party platform document, transcripts of speeches) with distinct intended audiences (i.e., party members, general audience). Findings revealed that an ideological representation of the traditional family ideal—featuring a heterosexual couple, their children, and asymmetric gender relations—was present within speeches given by both parties, particularly by the spouses of the presidential candidates (Michelle Obama and Ann Romney). Although this ideological representation was subsequently used within the Republican Party platform to legitimize positions against same-sex marriage and abortion, the Democratic Party platform challenged this representation of the family to instead advocate for policy positions in favor of same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive rights. We discuss this ambivalence within Democratic texts in light of the different audiences that party convention texts seek. Implications for gender- and sexuality-based policies are discussed, as well as the importance of examining political discourse across diverse forms and settings.