Same-Sex Marriage & Plebiscite Debate: Final Analysis
Political debate earlier this year regarding the issue of same-sex marriage, and a same-sex marriage plebiscite enforced by the Liberal government, was divisive to say the least. The Australian media was separated by the issue, presenting a number of different views that addressed a range of opinions for and against the issue. Articles considered the consequences of legalising same sex marriage, what changing the definition of marriage means for parenting, and both criticisms and commendations of the current government for palming the decision for same-sex marriage off to the Australian public to resolve. Communicative effects found within views journalism articles determine how audiences are positioned in relation to political issues such as same-sex marriage. This analysis will therefore assess aspects of a range of articles; sourced from a number of different news sites, in terms of their communicative effects that make them engaging views journalism pieces.
“Same-sex marriage: Australians assume ‘marriage equality’ has no consequences” is an interesting article written by Lyle Shelton, for TheSpectator.com published in October of this year. Shelton provides a hybrid argument that is causal, in the way that it posits the social and legal consequences that will develop as a result of legalising same-sex marriage, and evaluative in the way that he labels Australians as ‘assuming’ marriage equality has no such consequences. Shelton’s primary claim is advanced within a rhetorical question, where he writes, “I wonder how many other Australians have just assumed same-sex marriage has no consequences”. The article presents a number of justifications to support the primary claim, with a large majority of them as appeals to consequence. Claims such as, “Stripping marriage of the gender requirements sends a powerful legal and cultural message that gender is no longer relevant in the institution which is the building block of society,” and, “…our children are already being taught their gender is fluid at a “Safe School” near you,” use emotive language, such as inclusive personal pronouns, to convince the reader that marriage equality will demand a new definition for gender, and instigate more social and legal consequences than many Australians are aware of. Interestingly, an article written by Josh Manuatu titled “Shorten’s Stereotyping of Homosexuality is Offensive and Demeaning” sourced from the same site, Spectator.com, employs a different approach to an anti-same sex marriage argument, through the use of value laden language and appeals to consequence.
Manuatu’s primary claim is that Labour leader Bill Shorten’s comments that the marriage plebiscite could cause young gay people to commit suicide are founded on gross stereotypes and intolerance, and therefore should be condemned. The article is an evaluative argument, as it frequently uses emotive language such as ‘deeply demeaning’, ‘offensive’ and ‘belittling’ in order to negatively evaluate the politics surrounding anti same-sex marriage campaigning. In comparison to Shelton’s article, Manuatu employs different communicative tools such as justifications in order to argue a similar anti-same sex marriage article. For example, Manuatu makes regular appeals to morality and social norms in order to criticize and negatively evaluate Shorten’s political bigotry. Lines such as, “Mr Shorten’s continued push of the stereotype that all homosexuals are sad and impulsive…is not only offensive and demeaning but, I am sure, would be doing more harm than good”, makes an appeal to morality. The warrant that underlies Manuatu’s argument is essentially that to stereotype individuals is offensive, yet to push it onto the Australian public through political campaigning is immoral and demeaning. Through the use of emotive language and regular appeals to morality, Manuatu argues that Shorten’s campaign is founded upon unfair stereotyping and scare tactics, and recommends the reader condemn him for this. In comparison to Shelton’s article, and many others including some published in the Sydney Morning Herald, authors negatively evaluated the same-sex marriage debate for its divisive and offensive stereotyping for homosexuals and their families.
Similarly, “We don’t need one plebiscite question – we need 10” is an article written by Sydney Morning Herald columnist Alan Stokes that similarly argues the political side of the same-sex marriage debate. Stokes posits a highly evaluative argument that advances a central claim that essentially condemns the Australian government for their incapability in deciding on national issues such as same-sex marriage and for enforcing an extremely expensive plebiscite that in no way binds them to take make any new policies. Stokes presents a hybrid argument that is both evaluative, in the way that he perceives the Australian government to be inefficient and incapable of making national policies, and recommendatory in the way that he recommends we have a plebiscite that allows people to decide on not only legalising same-sex marriage, but for a range of other policies from Indigenous rights, to taxations and refugees. This article employed a significantly different approach to the Shelton and Manuatu articles, as it applies humour and sarcasm to strengthen the relationship with readers. In a way, the article mocks the plebiscite as something so ridiculous we might as well have 10 questions instead of 1.
Stokes’ initial justifications appear in the opening lines where he uses appeals to popular opinion in order to establish a strong relationship with the reader based on a similar view of politics. Through the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ in, “For starters, we don’t trust our politicians very much. They abuse taxpayer-funded expenses, accept money from companies linked to foreign governments…(Ed: for space reasons the next 20 examples have been removed)”, it is clear that Stokes is addressing an audience he perceives to be in general agreement with. This justification supports his claim that our politicians are untrustworthy, and therefore it’s identified as a good thing that we are able to decide on same-sex marriage and determine our own faith. This justification, and appeal to popular opinion, sets up for Stokes’ primary claim stated in the line, “So why not just ask voters clearly and directly what they want? To make this happen we need to turbocharge this plebiscite. I propose that we do not need one plebiscite, we need 10”. Whilst this claim is an appeal to comparison/analogy in nature, I believe that it is more metaphorical because there’s a sense of irony in Stokes’ argument. Whilst he knows a ‘turbocharged plebiscite’ will never happen, he entertains he idea to implicitly mock the government for being unable to decide on the issue.
Whilst it is evident that opinion pieces regarding same-sex marriage and the same-sex marriage plebiscite in Australian media implore different communicative tools, they each use emotive language in order to attract and convince readers. The Shelton and Manuatu articles for example regularly use appeals to consequence and social norms in order to negatively evaluate the issue, yet use different claims regarding different aspects of the issue. Comparatively, the Stokes article was sourced from a primarily left-wing media source, the Sydney Morning Herald, so this would explain his political bias in a kind of ‘mockery’ of the plebiscite. Whilst many articles I found were politically motivated, some articles were similar to the Shelton article in that they utilised appeals to morality and consequence in order to argue the emotional side of the debate.
“Why a plebiscite on same-sex marriage is dangerous and divisive” is an opinion piece sourced from The Sydney Morning Herald. Written by two registered psychologists, Dr Liz Short and Dr Sharon Dane, this article advances the primary claim that media campaigns that argue against same-sex marriage will cause serious psychological damage to LGBTIQU Australians and their families. Whilst this article is still an evaluative argument that condemns the plebiscite, it is also causal in the way it argues the emotional consequences for those involved. This article references more than 6 registered organisations and experts in different fields to support facts and evidence used, demonstrating why the plebiscite is detrimental to the wellbeing of LGBTIQU communities. An appeal to precedent and fact in, “Emerging evidence from Ireland indicates that such campaigns are distressing to LGBTIQU seniors who have already suffered greatly due to historical discrimination…” advances a warrant that suggests we shouldn’t endorse an opportunity to further discriminate against already marginalised groups in society. I believe that due to continuous appeals to facts, such as this, the authors are attempting to convince the audience at least in some respects, of the emotional consequences of the plebiscite. It presents a starkly different article to Shelton and Manuatu and others that I found, and was one of the only easily accessible articles that included the insights of registered health professionals to advance their argument rather than the somewhat bias perspectives of columnists for left-wing media organisations such as the SMH.
Furthermore, Dr Liz Short and Dr Sharon Dane advance claims that act as appeals to consequence in order to further argue that the plebiscite campaign will escalate already growing demands for mental health support in LGBTIQ communities. “Already in Australia there are indicators of a spike in the need for mental health support by LGBTIQ people…” has an underlying warrant that suggests, like mentioned before, that you shouldn’t purposely worsen an issue that is already of concern, such as the marginalisation of LGBTIQ people. However, whilst this article presents an interesting argument compared to most same-sex marriage arguments I found, I think to a degree it is a circular argument due to most of the minor claims basically being the same, that the plebiscite will cause emotional distress for already marginalised communities. Each warrant is essentially that you shouldn’t worsen an issue that is already of concern, and it failed to mention a diverse range of minor claims to strengthen the primary claim.
Evidently, the same-sex marriage and plebiscite debate in Australia has resulted in a number of different views journalism pieces. The majority of articles produced were extremely politically driven, acting as evaluative arguments that criticised the government for their incapability to decide on national policy. However, I noticed a significantly smaller amount of articles actually focused on the emotional consequences of the debate, and those that acted as causal arguments were few and far between. I believe the majority of more evaluative arguments may be due to the fact that readers are more likely to side with an author that shares the same political view, and is able to form a stronger relationship with readers based on political criticisms toward our government. It’s interesting to note however that I found it extremely difficult to locate articles that were in support of the plebiscite, and the only one I found was essentially a mockery of it. This may ultimately demonstrate that Australia stands in general agreement that the same-sex marriage plebiscite is detrimental to society, and the negative aspects far outweigh its benefits.
Whilst it is extremely interesting to analyse the linguistic and argumentative techniques employed by authors, I also found the illustrations and photographs used in articles intriguing. ‘Why a plebiscite on same sex marriage is dangerous and divisive” included a graphic of a red heart with the following caption, “Polls indicate a plebiscite would result in marriage equality. However, it would do great harm to LGBTIQ Australians and their families”. I believe the symbolism of the heart is greater than love, rather I think it is used to imply the duty Australians have to remain compassionate and to act with the interest of all Australians at heart. The colour and tone of the image is complex, with contrasts to create a 3D like image. This has the effect of demonstrating the complexity of the same-sex marriage debate, and represents the need for all Australians to understand the consequences of what it means for those whose rights are being debated.
Contrastingly, the article “Shorten’s stereotyping of homosexuality is offensive and demeaning” by Josh Manuatu employs a photograph of Bill Shorten featured at the beginning of the piece (featured below). I believe the choice of image was measured and deeply considered by the author, as Bill Shorten’s emotions in the photograph assist in the author’s vulgar descriptions and evaluations. The image captures Shorten with an expression that can be associated with ignorance, and assists the readers to picture Shorten in this light.
In conclusion, it’s evident that this political issue has disseminated Australian media. Whilst many articles present different claims, there are some similarities between them, most of which I have discussed. It is clear that the Australian media don’t all share the same view, but the general consensus is that the same-sex marriage plebiscite is detrimental to Australian society. Whilst most believe in this, and argue this point, they each use different communicative devices in order to advance their beliefs.