Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Erin Sahlstein Parcell

Committee Members

Lindsay Timmerman, Leslie Harris, Erin Ruppel


Contrapuntal Analysis, Discourses, Family Identity, Gay Male Parents, Relational Dialectics Theory, Same-Sex Marriage


The historic 2015 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges—which extended marriage equality to every state nationwide—coupled with an increase in the number of reported same-sex parent households in America (Gates, 2013) has resulted in greater social, political, and academic visibility for same-sex families in recent years (Breshears & Braithwaite, 2014). Despite this increased cultural visibility, because gay parent families (GPFs) fall outside the parameters of the traditional family model (i.e., a married heterosexual husband and wife couple raising biological children) (Baxter, 2014a), they necessarily rely more heavily on discourse to manage their nontraditional family identity (Galvin, 2006; 2014). To date, little is known about how married gay male parents discursively create and sustain family identity and how they position their families in relation to the dominant heteronormative discourses of traditional marriage, family, and fatherhood. Framed by Baxter’s (2011) relational dialectics theory—a heuristic communication theory useful for investigating the meaning-making process—this study explored the meaning(s) of marriage, family, and fatherhood in married gay fathers’ relational talk. I interviewed 13 married gay parent dyads twice to collect data from the couples across time as well as member check initial results during secondary interviews. Using contrapuntal analysis, I identified the following discourses at the three sites of meaning-making in the data: the discourses of marriage as symbolic and marriage as practical ; the discourses of traditional family structure and nontraditional family structure ; and the discourses of gay culture and gay fatherhood in addition to the discourses of heteronormative fatherhood and co-parenting. I argue that the couples’ talk reflected discursive struggles and, in one case, transformation, to generate relational meanings for their family identities.

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