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.