Same-sex marriage and the case against homophobia

Historically, in a society based on Judeo-Christian values, homosexuals were denied the right to marriage. Today, with so many countries moving to legalise same-sex marriage, it is uncertain as to which country might just be next in line. The media landscape is manifold but there appears to be a slant towards journalistic support of same-sex marriage, particularly in mainstream media outlets, more specifically, new media. This slant is not explicit, but evident through angles and quotes which are put forward in most articles. A myriad counter-opinions arise as well, ranging from the world’s prominent thought leaders and politicians, to representatives of the church. It is worth unpacking these arguments to examine the motives behind them, and how audiences are positioned by authors.

In this analysis I’ll be looking at 3 articles. The first is I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I’m not a bigot), written by Michael Jensen and published on 28 May 2015, on ABC’s The Drum. The second is Same-sex marriage ‘no’ is not unloving by Mark Brown, published on 25 August 2016 on Fairfax-owned news platform The Examiner. The third is Being against gay marriage doesn’t make you a homophobe by Brandon Ambrosino, published on 13 December 2013, for The Atlantic. Authors of the first two articles are against same-sex marriage, whereas the author of the third article, Brandon Ambrosino, is for gay marriage, himself being gay. However, all three writers aim to convince readers of the fact that those opposing same-sex marriage have been heavily misrepresented, each employing different persuasive strategies in their articles.

The first article written by Michael Jensen, a local rector, aptly titled I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I’m not a bigot), unpacks the allegation that being against same-sex marriage renders one a ‘bigot’. In laying out plausible arguments regarding his beliefs that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Jensen aims to show audiences that he has been strongly misunderstood as an anti-revisionist. He treats it as a given that anti-revisionists are thought of as ‘bigots’, and throughout the article he works at convincing readers otherwise.

Jensen’s central claim is that traditional marriage laws should not be amended to include same-sex marriage. Through an appeal to customary practice, he demonstrates that traditional marriage has been around for centuries, but only in the past 15 years have people begun to seriously advocate for legalisation of same-sex marriage. For this claim to be plausible, a reader might be expected to believe that same-sex marriage households and heterosexual marriage households are fundamentally unequal. As such, changing the laws regarding marriage would cause a massive unprecedented stir in society, where the primary social unit has always been that of a heterosexual family.

Jensen appeals to ethical and social norms when he says that the primary purpose of marriage is to have children, because of the biological differences which distinguish men from women. This argument only holds if readers believe that procreation based on sexual specificity is central to marriage.

In this article, Jensen also weighs up the views of pro-revisionists and their arguments for demanding a change in the legal definition of marriage, claiming that they have not been reasonable in making their case. To justify this claim, he points out a common either-or fallacy which pro-revisionists voice out, whereby anyone not in support of same-sex marriage is automatically labelled a ‘bigot’. He treats this issue as a given, not going any further to provide evidence, assuming his audience is aware of the labelling. This argument works if the reader sees the harsh consequences of being labelled a bigot – nobody listens to bigots. Jensen wants his readers to see that his opinions might be dismissed because of ad hominem attacks against him.

Jensen also stresses that the language used by pro-revisionists in making their case is so emotive that a proper civil discussion cannot successfully take place. This argument appeals to social and ethical norms, and only holds if readers believe that reasoning in any debate should not be tainted by emotion. However this argument could also be a hasty generalization as some pro-revisionists do in fact argue on the basis of equality and autonomy in demanding a change in marriage laws.

Jensen also justifies his claim that pro-revisionists are unreasonable by arguing that they have not provided sufficient reasoning to back up their demand for same-sex marriage. Jensen doesn’t treat this as a given, instead he works to convince readers to agree with him. He claims it is not enough to settle for marriage based only on an individual’s sexual and emotional choice, given that it would render the concept of procreation in marriage as unimportant. For this evaluative argument to be plausible, readers must, akin to Jensen, believe that procreation is central to the purpose of marriage.

The second article, Same-sex marriage ‘no’ is not unloving, written by Mark Brown also works to unpack misconceptions surrounding those opposing gay marriage. From early on in his opening paragraphs, Brown asserts that those saying no to same-sex marriage are typically labelled ‘anti-gay’ by the media. He treats this as common knowledge, and doesn’t do much to convince his readers. Then he presents his central claim – that saying ‘no’ to same-sex marriage is a way of showing love and not rejection. From here onwards, he appears to assume his audience is not on his side, as such he works at convincing them of this claim, through three supporting justifications.

He first justifies this claim by stating that it’s loving to tell the truth about marriage, and makes the evaluative argument that heterosexual marriage is the truth. Brown states that heterosexual marriage is unique from homosexual marriage for reasons of biology, sociology and anthropology. For this argument to hold sway, readers would have to believe in the plausibility of the biological, sociological and anthropological reasons that back up heterosexual marriage, as touched on by Brown. Readers would also need to believe that there is some sort of incentive in believing the ‘truth’ about marriage, in order for Brown’s argument to work.

His next justification is that it’s loving to prioritize children’s rights. The rights she refers to here are rights to experience love and care from both a mother and a father. The warrant underlying this justification is that children need parents of both genders, to experience a healthy upbringing. Only if the audience shares this same underlying world view with Brown, will this justification hold sway. However, Brown does little to convince his readers of this either via factual evidence or appeal to authority. Here, Brown also appears to present a false analogy to his readers, by comparing same-sex parenting to a child growing up with only one parent. While in both cases children would only have parents of one gender, the two cases are still vastly different. The single-parent family and same-sex household would both undergo a different dynamic because of the different number of parents heading the household. As such it appears to be an invalid parallel for Brown to make, which subsequently fails to convince readers of his standpoint.

Brown also states that opposing the legalisation of gay marriage is loving, because redefining the marriage laws would paradoxically take freedom away from most of society. This justification is made by appeal to authority, with reference to atheist columnist Brendon O’Neill who says “everywhere gay marriage has been introduced it has battered freedom, not boosted it”. It is interesting that Brown opts to quote an atheist who is an acclaimed writer in his article, yet select the “atheist” part of his identity to be most prominent whilst quoting him. Perhaps he is trying to prove a point to his audience, that even reputably ‘rational’ atheists see the possible dire consequences following the legalisation of same-sex marriage. For this argument to hold, however, readers must believe that the rights held by all of society to freedom of conscience, speech and religion, are fundamentally more important than the freedom of a homosexual couple to get married.

Brown also makes another big claim towards the end of his article, that the Australian media is biased towards legalising same-sex marriage, as such the issue is blown up to be bigger than it actually is. He presents an appeal to factual evidence, discussing how lobby group Get-Up! found same-sex marriage to be the issue of lowest priority to Australians, following a survey. Here, Brown seems to be warning his audience of misrepresentations in the media, which perhaps influences his final statement – that whatever one’s opinions are, they can be presented in love. This appeals to emotions, and works to persuade the audience that he is not coming from a place of malice or hate. Overall I found Brown’s article less persuasive than Jensen’s, because of his lack of evidence and tendency to make evaluative presumptions, which left me sceptical regarding his justifications.

The third and final article is different from the previous two, in the sense that it was written by someone on the yes-camp of the same-sex marriage debate. Brandon Ambrosino, a prominent writer based in the US wrote Being against gay marriage doesn’t make you a homophobe for The Atlantic Magazine in December 2013, to ward off misrepresentations of people who do not support marriage equality. His central claim, similar to that of the prior two articles, and as mentioned in the title of his article, is that being against gay marriage does not mean that one is maliciously against gay people. Ambrosino appears to believe his audience does not agree with his worldview, as such, he works at convincing them of his opinions all throughout the piece.

Ambrosino presents a personal anecdote, with much appeal to emotion, when he says, “As a gay man, I found myself disappointed with this definition – that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay.” This works well to engage the reader, and persuade them to take on another point of view. Here the reader is not only invited to look at the issue of same-sex marriage as a debate, but rather, to also look at the individuals implicated as potential subjects of dissent, in this heated debate. Ambrosino succeeds in humanizing those in the yes-camp of same-sex marriage whilst also bringing the reader to carefully deliberate whether or not it is acceptable to label someone ‘anti-gay’ simply because they do not support same-sex marriage.

Ambrosino makes an argument by appeal to analogy when he asks “If the word ‘homophobic’ is exhausted on me or on polite dissenters, then what should we call someone who beats up gay people, or prefers not to hire them?” Here Ambrosino is claiming that disagreement is not the same thing as discrimination, and that it is important to distinguish the two. This argument holds sway only if his readers believe that it is alright to disagree on a topic and still be civil about it.

Ambrosino’s next justification in claiming that being against gay marriage is distinct from being against gay people, is based on his understanding about identity. He makes the recommendatory argument that gay people should not reduce themselves or their identity to merely their sexual orientation. This argument holds sway if Ambrosino’s audience believe that gayness is simply one aspect of one’s identity. This argument is based on an appeal to ethics, but Ambrosino also appeals to authority in using Pope Francis as an example to demonstrate that it is possible to love a gay person without endorsing same-sex marriage. Ambrosino also discusses how this point applies in reverse, to those on the no-camp of gay marriage. He argues by appeal to analogy that one’s religious or theological identity is separate from their human identity, bringing up the example of his friend Rob Schenck, a religious person who Ambrosino has found to be far from homophobic.

Finally Ambrosino argues that the people thinking through the issue of same-sex marriage, whether in the yes-camp or no-camp should be commended simply for their efforts in carefully deliberating their beliefs, and their thoughts on the issue. “To demonize as anti-gay the millions of Americans currently doing the difficult work of thinking through their convictions is, in my opinion, very troubling,” he writes. Here we see an appeal to ethics, as it is wrong to condemn a people who are facilitating civil discussion around such a contentious topic. It is by this world view that the reader would agree with Ambrosino’s points. Here we see those opposing same-sex marriage painted in a good light, a common theme in all three articles discussed.

Overall, I found Ambrosino’s piece to be highly convincing and plausible, because of the soundness of each of his arguments. Brown’s piece made several evaluative claims which lacked backing and would likely leave readers feeling sceptical, whilst Jensen’s piece provided sufficient justification for each claim made. The representation of those opposing same-sex marriage in views journalism is vastly different from their biased portrayal in news journalism, but with tolerance and civil discussion Australia would be able to escape the same-sex marriage debate gridlock for sure.

 

Australia’s trend-setting refugee policies – Should we be proud or ashamed?

Two years ago, according to the UNHCR, 59.5 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide – the highest number since World War II. There’s no doubt that this number has soared far beyond expectation since then, given the large-scale migration crisis that currently plagues the globe. In light of this, the media has steadily seen more and more debate regarding how the world should respond to this crisis. My analysis of media coverage regarding the issue of Australia’s refugee policies reveals a dichotomy between negative and positive attitudes, from the Daily Telegraph’s “Tony Abbott’s Legacy is Keeping Us Safe” by Tim Blair, and The Guardian’s “Australia’s Refugee Policies: A Global Inspiration for all the Wrong Reasons” by Antony Loewenstein respectively. A parallel claim in both articles is that Australia’s policies to stop refugees arriving in boats have been implemented successfully, with massive implications both domestically and internationally. However while Blair considers the success in implementing these policies as something to be celebrated, Loewenstein regards them as something to be ashamed of.

These two articles each say something about the views held by Australians, given that both writers are Australians and both publications intended for Australian readership. It would be worthwhile to dig deep and uncover the underlying world views by which the authors communicate their ideas across. Such study revealed that Blair assumes his readership mostly agrees with him, in thinking that Abbott’s policies of stopping the boats has left Australia much better-off, compared to countries in Europe which loosened border control and are now struggling with a plethora of socio-economic issues. This is evident by Blair’s nonchalant tone even whilst making remarks that not only appear racist and outrageous, but also depict Australians as shallow. Loewenstein, on the other hand, appears wavering on the question of what his readers think. He does not make much of an effort to persuade his audience that Australia’s refugee policies are envied, even being mimicked by leaders across Europe. However, as the article goes on, Loewenstein appears to assume his audience isn’t in agreement with him on the notion that these policies are ethically and morally questionable, and consequently, that mimicking them is wrong. This is clear in the increase in persuasive strategies he employs towards the latter half of the article.

Let’s firstly examine the Tim Blair piece. Blair kicks off the article by applauding Abbott’s policy to keep Australia’s borders tightly controlled and ‘stop the boats’, which he labels a “spectacular accomplishment”. He brings up how veteran political correspondent Mungo MacCallum in 2013 remarked that “the best Abbott can hope for” was a continuing “slowdown in arrivals”, but it turns out MacCallum was wrong; the boats ended up stopping completely. Blair seems to use this disproved statement as a counter-appeal to authority, showing that Abbott one-upped an authoritative figure and as such he must be a man of at least some substance, and so his policies can’t be all that bad.

Blair then goes on to state his main claim: Australia is a better place because of these policies. He buttresses this claim with a combination of evaluative, factual and causal arguments. Blair first prompts readers to consider an alternative world where borders were open for refugees.

Consider now just how different Australia might be if the people-smuggling trade to Australia had not been successfully ended. Consider what may have occurred if maritime channels to Australia were still open when the latest Middle Eastern exodus got underway.

He then brings up the analogy of how an “army of asylum seekers and their Islamic mates attacked hundreds of terrified women.” Blair’s choice of words here – “army” and “attacked” – not only bring about negative connotations, but are bound to spark fear and panic in the minds of readers.

Blair also discusses ongoing tensions in Germany, quoting a teen girl who was sexually harassed and took to social media to express her fear following the incident, which “authorities and media did their best to conceal”.

You have no right to attack us because we are wearing T-shirts. You also have no right to rape.

From this second analogy, Blair again appears to be invoking fear in his readers, and he does so by cherry-picking emotive quotes from the girl in the video. So we have seen two examples by Blair implying that if Australia had not implemented its refugee policies, Australians would be suffering a similar fate. The element of fear thus prompts readers to reconsider any sympathy they might have felt towards refugees, prior to engaging with the article.

This may look like an argument by appeal to negative consequences such as rape. But, by connecting this string of unwanted events happening in Europe to an imagined fate for Australia, Blair more likely appears to be employing an informal fallacy in his article – more specifically, a slippery slope argument.

Another argument demonstrating Blair’s support for Australia’s refugee policies is one which demonises refugees, claiming that they corrupt the leisurely Australian way of life. The following quote is rather self-explanatory.

In Australia, thanks to Abbott’s asylum-seeker policies, we’re free to worry about such issues such as a rugby league player’s dog-fondling hobby and some red-topped pirate’s plan for a republic. In Germany, young girls are begging for a bodyguard.

This evaluative claim operates on the assumption that Australians are shallow and only want to live comfortable lives. The claim, and many others, are thus only plausible given that a reader shares Blair’s world view.

Blair’s sarcasm becomes more apparent towards the end of the article when he satirically refers to Sweden as “caring, sharing Sweden”, describing how it was praised for its “enlightened attitude” towards refugees, or as he calls them, “country shoppers”. Of course Blair thinks Sweden is far from caring, sharing or enlightened. The term “country shoppers” is also completely outrageous but given that Blair puts no effort whatsoever into explaining his use of these terms, he evidently assumes his readers will not only understand the sarcasm he employs, but also share in his lack of respect, particularly towards refugees.

Here Blair also makes another argument by appeal to analogy, when he discusses Sweden’s decision to reconsider its refugee policy, aiming to expel some 60,000 – 80,000 refugees. This analogy is meant to buttress his claim that keeping refugees out is the best thing to do; perhaps even hinting that Sweden is following in Australia’s footsteps.

Blair ends his piece with an evaluative statement, and another implicit claim that bringing in more refugees will be detrimental to the Australian way of life. He also employs sarcasm to convey anti-Muslim sentiments.

Australia would be a troubled place if those boats hadn’t been stopped. Instead of the Mitchell Pearce matter, we’d be discussing the difficulty of balancing the budget in a nation where the only growth industry was mosque construction.

In summation, to the extent that Blair’s arguments are logical, a reader needs to have a similar world view. Given that his arguments are plausible, Blair is suggesting that some part of Australian society, at least, is antipathetic towards the plight of refugees.

Loewenstein’s article, in contrast, tries to condemn Australia’s refugee policies. His central claim is that Australia’s policies are denying refugees their basic human rights. This piece seems to be a wake-up call, imploring his readers to see that such policies are ethically and morally questionable. Loewenstein bases this claim on a combination of factual and evaluative arguments.

In the first half of the article, Loewenstein is rather emotive in the language he uses, choosing words and phrases such as “chastised”, “international pariah”, “sad reality”, “brutal reality” and “bitter pill”. The statements he makes initially are more opinion-based than argumentative, revealing that he is not specifically trying to convince his audience of anything just yet. Loewenstein simply argues that times have changed and so have international attitudes towards refugees.

Policies that years ago seemed unimaginable, such as imprisoning refugees on remote Pacific Islands, are the norm and blessed with bipartisan support.

The word “unimaginable” conveys the severity of this shift; seemingly from one of trust and cooperation to one of hostility and fear.

In the second half of the article we see a shift in his expectations of his readers – assuming his readers are not on the same page as him; thus trying hard to persuade them of his views. Loewenstein brings in examples of European countries mimicking Australia’s refugee policies such a Denmark and Sweden reintroducing border control. Here we see a factual argument that Australia’s refugee policies are being envied and copied by European nations, because they’ve been good for the nation, but this is the very belief Loewenstein tries to dispel.

Where Australia does bring in refugees, Loewenstein argues, they are not treated well. He brings this to light by paralleling Europe’s slack attitude in relocating its refugees, with Australia’s similarly lacklustre efforts in resettling refugees in its onshore detention camps. Another justification is therefore presented by appeal to analogy, where Europe envies and is copying Australia’s refugee policies.

Loewenstein also discusses the reality of Australian refugee camps, where refugees spend an average of 443 days behind barbed wire:

In both Australia and Europe there’s general acceptance of these situations because those seeking asylum have been so successfully demonised as potential terrorists, suspiciously Muslim and threatening a comfortably Western way of life.

Here we see an appeal to popular opinion, where Loewenstein talks about how bad treatment of refugees is tolerated and has become the new norm, based on another collective opinion that refugees are ‘troublemakers’ and bad for society. What is alarming, according to Loewenstein, is how this new norm is being propagated in several powerful European countries.

Brussels has proposed an Australian-style border force to monitor the EU’s borders and deport asylum seekers. Germany and France support the move. This proves that the most powerful nations have little interest in resolving the reasons so many people are streaming into Europe (such as war and climate change) and prefer to pull up the drawbridge.

Here we see a semi-factual, semi-recommendatory argument as well, with the claim that powerful nations should instead of closing their borders, try to fix the root issue of why so many people are currently displaced from their homelands. But that isn’t the reality of the situation, Loewenstein claims, swaying readers back from a path of idealism. Reality is that European countries are following in Australia’s lead of keeping refugees out of the country, as much as possible.

Loewenstein also makes an interesting point regarding media representation of rights of refugees, contrasting them against issues pertaining to gender equality.

None of this worries Rupert Murdoch’s Australian. In light of the New Year’s Eve sex attacks in Cologne, the paper editorialised in early 2016 that Europe must avoid “reckless idealism” and embrace an “enlightened world” where gender equality is accepted by all. The outlet has not expressed similar outrage with the immigration department’s blatant disregard for refugee lives.

Loewenstein seems to be putting forth this argument, based on analogy: If Murdoch’s Australian is outraged by the blatant disregard for women’s rights, why is similar reaction not given towards blatant disregard for refugees’ rights as human beings? The warrant here is that refugees are human beings too and should be treated with dignity and respect, and it is by this warrant that a majority of Loewenstein’s arguments appear plausible.

Loewenstein’s central claim becomes all the more evident in the way he ends his article. This evaluative statement is used to tie up all his arguments.

Australia has become an inspiration for all the wrong reasons.

In summation, Loewenstein’s piece, for the most part, demonstrates his assumption that Australian audiences are ill-disposed towards welcoming refugees. This is similar to the view Blair holds towards his own readership. However by the end of the article, it is evident that Loewenstein’s efforts are all geared towards swaying his readers towards a pro-refugee stance.