Plebiscite – the over-politicised media mess of 2016.

Plebiscite – the over-politicised media mess of 2016.

Over the last few years’ gay marriage has been a hot button topic all over the world. In the last two years, both the USA and Ireland have delivered marriage equality, with major media outlets showing support for these decisions. We’re at a pivotal point on the gay marriage movement. Gay marriage has obtained overwhelming support from the Australian public, and has the backing from big businesses. Writing this article, I was even hard-pressed to find an article which was completely against marriage equality. However, the most interesting part about the whole debate, and probably most annoying, is how marriage equality seems to have taken a backseat to the political nightmare this is causing for both major parties.

Before examining some articles, and how they portray the politicization of marriage equality, it is worth looking at some of these headlines that have featured media over these last few months. The positivity to marriage equality is on show through all of these headlines, the negativity is pointed at the political process.

Apple joins companies backing same sex marriage as crack show in plebiscite plan – – July 26 2016

Plebiscite looks set to fail, but push for same-sex marriage will not – The Conversation Sep 12, 2016

Not voting for plebiscite is parliamentary democracy – Dean Smith SMH Sep 13, 2016

“WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?” – Josh Butler – Huffington Post

“same-sex marriage plebiscite politics turns dangerous” – Paul Kelly – The Australian

“The Marriage equality plebiscite message: our parliament can’t do it’s job” – Alan Joyce

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby wrote a piece for The Australian titled ‘Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws’. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he’s heading with this one. Michael Kirby, an openly gay man, asks readers by way of an evaluative argument, to consider his ten reasons as to why the Australian public should reject the plebiscite.

Kirby was a judge for over 40 years, so it is no surprise his article mostly deals in facts over baseless opinion.

“Complex, sensitive, issues are better decided after debate in parliament, not in the heat of public division and emotional campaigns in the community. If a plebiscite is held, it could become a bad precedent to be copied when other controversial questions come before parliament. This would further weaken our governmental institutions at a time when they need strengthening, not weakening.”

Kirby’s use of “complex” and “sensitive” in his description of marriage equality is a recurring theme in media’s depiction of the plebiscite. This is to appeal to people’s emotions as he continues to call it an “emotional campaign” spurring “public division”.

Although Kirby strays from fact throughout some of his points with mentions about how parliament might “weaken” if a plebiscite were used to decide this issue. He also furthers this point by saying that this could lead to more plebiscites in the future about any sensitive issue. This is a slippery slope argument and isn’t justified by any reasonable fact but is used to have the reader question the legitimacy of holding a plebiscite when the decision should be made by politicians in parliament following an election.

Statements the plebiscite on marriage equality is “sure to be carried” are doubtful in light of Brexit and Australia’s record on national constitutional referendums when these are required.

Another statement made by Kirby, brings about the same idea that came up quite a bit in my research of other articles. Namely, its comparison to the Brexit result and the false analogy associated with how both could carry the same verdict. The media seems to be obsessed with comparing any public vote with Brexit at the moment, while similar in the fact that they are both public votes, neither hold the same context and different variations of public support.

Where Kirby is successful in convincing the reader to come on board is how he effectively breaks down every argument against the plebiscite. He quotes how Ireland is often noted as a healthy comparison to us also having a similar vote on the issue. Although reinforces how Ireland actually had to legally hold a referendum to change their constitution whereas Australia does not legally have to have one.

He also notes how plebiscites have proven to be difficult for other countries, with “23 countries whose legal systems approximate that of Australia” have been defeated in marriage equality. Kirby believes this would delay marriage equality reform for decades.

Kirby ends the article where he began, with his central claim, stating ‘there is no constitutional reason for a plebiscite.’

While Kirby spoke about why the plebiscite shouldn’t be used, news journalism seems to have moved away from the actual issue of the plebiscite and more onto how politicized this whole situation has become.

Josh Butler, in his piece in the Huffington post “WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?” is written to a younger demographic, calling out the Prime Minister for shifting the blame of the failed plebiscite over to the Labor Party. Butler seems to be writing this to a left-leaning demographic who are Greens/Labor swing voters.

In the image Butler included of Turnbull, it depicts him as confused and paints a Prime Minister who is in turmoil. This is in contrast to the photo he shows of Shorten who is seems resolute and strong.




The CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce wrote an article in September for the Guardian titled “The Marriage equality plebiscite message: our parliament can’t do it’s job”. Joyce isn’t a human rights activist, nor a politician, nor a journalist for that matter, but his position on gay marriage reflects a longstanding support for marriage equality from QANTAS.

“From giving women the vote to repealing the White Australia Policy, the Australian parliament has an amazing history of taking the transformative decisions that make this country so great today.
On issues like economic reform and gun control, Australia was well ahead of its time and we’re still seen as a global leader.”

Like Kirby, Joyce is attempting to convince the reader that the vote should be held in parliament because decisions as controversial such as the White Australia policy and giving women the vote have not needed to go to such extreme lengths such as a plebiscite.

Joyce represents big business in Australia, as the CEO of QANTAS, his opinion echoes many other business’ in Australia coming out in support of marriage equality. QANTAS have been involved in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for years, so for him to go against the popular opinion would be unwise. He has also been highly commented on in mainstream media on this issue with SMH, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and other major media outlets quoting the CEO on his views.

Josh Butler, writing for the Huffington Post delivered the most thought provoking opening line to an article “Australia is the last English-speaking developed country in the world to not allow same-sex marriage” this was presented in his piece titled “WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?”. This is an alarming yet factual piece of information, Butler makes this weighted statement at the beginning of his article to define the ridiculousness of why the discussion is still going on. Butlers aim is to appeal to younger readers with his ‘text speak’ title in “WTF” and the title is presented similar to that of ‘Buzzfeed’ like journalism.

He then continues in the article to speak about the ‘blame game’ that is being played in Australian politics over this issue. He is well balanced in both his quotes of Turnbull and Shorten and provides an understanding of how politicized this issue has become.

Turnbull has put the pressure back on Labor. “What we’ve said is if you have something to put to us, we’ll listen carefully and consider it,” he said on Monday, of the Brisbane meeting.

“The ball is in Labor’s court on this issue. We’ve set out a plan.” Shorten has, in turn, taken aim at Turnbull, and said he will be pushing for significant changes to the plebiscite before agreeing to it. “We want to see if the Government is prepared to make concessions at all in the process. They want Labor to vote in the measure but they present a take it or leave it approach. It is the height of arrogance,” Shorten said on Monday.

This piece is a clear reflection on how politicized the issue of marriage equality has become. Both leaders pointing the finger at each other for halting the process.

Paul Kelly for his piece for The Australian “same-sex marriage plebiscite politics turns dangerous” believes the politics of “same-sex is marriage is now dangerous and unpredictable” if the Labor government doesn’t support the plebiscite. Kelly also states that Malcolm Turnbull and the LNP won the mandate at the election so should be able to dictate how the issue is presented to the public. While this is in part true, it is overlooking the nature of parliament and the slim majority that the LNP holds. Kelly is showing bias to the Liberal Party here by overlooking the actual issue of gay marriage and focusing on how the process should play out.

“If the same-sex marriage champions kill off the plebiscite then they are responsible for the consequences, not Turnbull, not the Coalition.”

Kelly’s political bias is on display here as he ridicules same-sex marriage supporters as being responsible for their own defeat on the issue that they support. Kelly’s political bias is extremely apparent in this quote as he contradicts himself, he suggests that same-sex marriage supporters will be to blame if the plebiscite is not realized although earlier in the article he supports the view that the government won the mandate to control the way in which this issue is presented to the public. He either supports that the government is responsible for all decisions made or not, it can’t be both ways.

Kelly then presents opinions from Former High Court judge Michael Kirby, he summises that opinions by Kirby are a “minority position”. There is no factual basis to this claim and is only seen to sway the reader to discredit Kirby’s opinion.

“Claims the plebiscite is useless because Turnbull has not got iron clad pledges from all his MPs to honour the vote are pure propaganda and media fabrication. The entire cabinet knows the plebiscite will be honoured and the ideological conservatives cannot summon the numbers to halt that.”

Kelly attempts to counter-claim that the plebiscite, even though not legally binding, will be honoured by the cabinet to appease the Australian public. While this may be true, this is too much of an assumption and if the Brexit comparisons are to be taken seriously it would evolve into more of a political mess if given the time to grow.

Lastly, the images that are depicted throughout all of these articles are that of what the public have become accustomed to when discussing gay marriage. The pride flag. Two men kissing. A rainbow.. etc.. These images are overused stereotypical images of how we perceive the gay community.

Marriage Equality in the media in 2016 has seemed to lose sight of the foundations of the movement. At the very heart of the campaign is two people of the same-sex who would like to have equal rights, just as two people of the opposing sex have with each other. The fact that politicians have over politicised the issue devalues the core message and is why it is portrayed in the media in this way.



Marriage Equality: How has the debate changed?

Marriage Equality: How has the debate changed?

By Luke Thomas


Australia is now seen by the rest of the world as lagging behind in marriage equality. Recently, the debate has kicked into overdrive with the now controversial plebiscite being questioned in parliament. While this is where we are now, it wasn’t that long ago that the attitude towards gay marriage wasn’t as positive in the media. It is interesting to look back at two pieces of views journalism from 2011 and 2012 when the opinions of politicians and journalists were just changing to be more in favour of marriage equality.

The two opinion pieces that I have chosen to analyse are by prominent commentators, one by ex-Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett in the Herald Sun  titled ‘Australians must embrace marriage equality’ and the other which appeared as an introductory segment on The Project narrated by Charlie Pickering ‘Aussie conservatives rally against marriage equality’.

Both pieces of views journalism rely heavily on the fact that people watching/reading will agree with the view that marriage equality is a foregone conclusion and it will happen eventually. One interesting point to note firstly is that these two articles would never have been in mainstream news/television ten years ago. The conversation on marriage equality has shifted in the last 5 years because it is seen that public opinion has also shifted as well. Both of these pieces are an evaluative argument, suggesting that both Kennett and Pickering have a predetermined view of marriage equality which stems from their emotional ties to the subject.

Firstly, let’s take a look at The Project, it is obvious from the start that Charlie Pickering is out to discredit the opinions of conservative commentators to gay marriage. His use of melodramatic music and overall sarcastic tone throughout the whole introduction implies his bias opinions and belief that those opposing marriage equality are ridiculous. This is evident in the use of soundbite from ‘Conservative Commentator’ Rebecca Hagelin describing marriage equality as “under attack, there is no greater evil” followed by more sarcastic narration from Pickering questioning “really?” we are then shown images of Adolf Hitler, the KKK etc. to make Hagelins point seem ridiculous in comparison.

“Today more than a thousand conservatives descended on parliament house hell bent on keeping marriage between a man and a woman”

Conservative is a term generally used in a negative way, so to begin with a narration that labels “a thousand conservatives” it becomes even clearer that Pickering would like the audience to disagree with their views. The use of “hell bent” has negative connotations and further labels the conservatives as ‘crazed lunatics’ and sets the tone of the statement as one that disagrees with the conservative commentators’ view.

“Even Mr. Katter got in on the action, albeit in a slightly confusing way”

At the time of this segment going to air, Bob Katter was quite a prominent figure in federal parliament due to the Gillard minority government, he was also lampooned as an extreme right wing conservative. Katter’s presence at a rally of this nature isn’t surprising although The Project have picked soundbites from his speech that add no weight to his opinion against gay marriage and deliberately make him sound unintelligent.

“it won’t stop at homosexual marriage, look for polygamy and marriage between adults and children to be legalised. There is no greater dream for a pedophile then to legally acclaim a child as his own”.

Hagelins soundbite here is used by Pickering to showcase the ‘slippery slope’ argument that is regularly used by commentators opposing gay marriage. It is also used as a point of ridicule for Hagelin with an audible laugh track played in the background midway through her comments.

“debating a claim that recent polls suggest majority of Australians support”

Pickering then produces a mix of statistics to appeal to popular opinion with facts, showing a visual that claims over 60% of Australians agree with same-sex marriage.

“53% of Aussie Christians support gay marriage… so is this just a vocal majority clinging to the dark ages or would civilisation as we know it really collapse if all Australian love was recognised.”

This is a rhetorical question by Pickering, the use of exaggeration can be seen as an informal fallacy, Pickering realises that civilization is not going to fall apart, but he uses this to further highlight his belief of the ridiculousness of the opposing sides view of marriage equality. This statement further highlights Pickering’s view that even people of Christian faith who oppose same sex marriage are in a minority in their own circles.

Pickering’s primary claim is that “Gay marriage should be legalised and anyone who disagrees is out of touch with the Australian public.”  If people watching are to agree with Pickering they are going to have to subscribe to the world view that all love should be treated equally. They would also need to disagree with radical Christianity, as Pickering isn’t lampooning all Christians, as he clarifies with statistics recognising 53% of Christians in favour of gay marriage.

The second article “Australians must embrace gay marriage” by Jeff Kennett. This is a very clear opinion piece, as Kennett makes many assumptions throughout the article with little factual evidence. The primary claim is quite obvious here, and like many opinion pieces can be found somewhat in the title, the primary claim is ‘Marriage equality should be legalised and the community (Catholic church in particular) should embrace it’.

The sanctity of marriage has changed substantially in my lifetime. Vows given are so often quickly forgotten.

In many ways we have become a disposable society, where self is so often more important than the responsibilities we agree to enter into or take upon ourselves.

This argument relies on an appeal to precedent, customary practice. Kennett is pointing out that marriage has changed, although the shift in the ‘sanctity’ of marriage is an argument that doesn’t apply to reason. This is a distraction from his central claim, it doesn’t add any justification because the diminishing state of marriages shouldn’t justify marriage equality, it would justify marriage being abolished entirely.

Kennett uses justificatory support of his central claim by comparing the Catholic Church’s treatment of women.

“The Catholic Church has suggested to women they should, in effect, lower their standards and marry the second or third-best male available”.

This argument is a form of red herring informal fallacy, its comparison highlights Kennett’s view that the Catholic Church is not an institution that should be taken seriously anymore. It is also an indirect way of supporting his claim, by making this comparison he is able to appeal to women who might emphasise with the way the LGBT community has been treated by the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, from this, the justification by Kennett is that marriage isn’t held in high regard anymore by citizens so why shouldn’t marriage equality be legalised. The underlying warrant being that if marriage is changing and people are no longer taking it as seriously, then marriage equality should be legalised. He states:

In 2010 there were 121,176 marriages registered and 50,240 divorces granted. Just over 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce.

Twenty years ago the average age at marriage for a male was approximately 28 years, whereas today it is 31.4 years.

The median age at marriage for females in 1992 was approximately 25 years, and in 2010 it was 29.2 years.

That anyone or any institution should suggest we turn the clock back, that people should accept less than their ideal, represents an amazing failure of relevance.

 This is also echoing his view that the catholic church is no longer relevant. He is also making many comparisons as to the changing nature of marriage throughout this article, although this provides factual analysis of how the divorce rate is higher and the average age is also climbing. He asserts that people are more idealistic and less likely to stay in a marriage, or get married, for religious aspects, so to claim that the catholic church has a relevant argument against its legalisation isn’t warranted. This is a clear distraction by Kennett to make use of other statistics on marriage so that you link it to his initial argument and make a conclusion that this might be a reason why marriage equality should be legalized even though it has no connection.

“As long as we all respect each other, and obey the laws of the country, surely that is all that matters. If I want to live my life with Tom or Harold, surely that should be my right as much as it is if I want to live my life with Felicity or anyone else of the opposite sex. And if I choose a partner and wish to marry, why should anyone be denied that comfort?”

 It is interesting to note Kennett’s point here as he suggests obeying the laws of the country is enough to guarantee you the right to marry in Australia. He seems to overlook the fact that gay marriage is illegal and therefore the argument holds no weight.

“President Barack Obama has announced his support for gay marriage.

I changed my view (on gay marriage) because of the way discrimination against so many in the gay and lesbian community has caused so much stress, anxiety, depression and suicide

Again, this issue risks dividing communities, and that I guess is understandable. But it is an issue that reflects the changing society in which we live.”

By likening his own stance to President Barack Obama, Kennett elevates his view with more legitimacy, appealing to popular opinion. President Obama is quite a popular figure in Australia and his stance on marriage equality was seen as quite progressive for a sitting U.S. president to have, so by comparing himself to Barack Obama he assumes the audience think positively of Obama which piggybacks on his popularity and places their views in line with each other.

In conclusion, Pickering and Kennett’s pieces both highlight the views of most commentators of gay marriage in the media at present. The use of the ‘foregone conclusion’ argument that anyone opposing should immediately change their views to be one the right side of history. Pickering delivers his views by use of comedy of his overall sarcastic tone when referring to opposing commentators delivers an obvious viewpoint that he supports legalisation of gay marriage. Kennett is less indirect in his delivery and calls on the greater community to accept gay marriage.