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.


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