Our obsession with uncovering the identity of Melania Trump

Melania Trump is best known as the Slovenian supermodel wife of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and for famously plagiarising Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention.  Yet Melania is considered by the media as somewhat of an enigmatic figure, choosing to stay at home rather than parade the campaign trail with her husband. Despite her mystique and preference for privacy, she has been swept up in the chaos sparked by many of her husband’s scandalous feuds and controversial remarks. Most recently, defending her husband against leaked footage from 2005 where he boasted that because of his celebrity status he could grope and kiss women without their consent.  Melania’s response to the vulgar discussion that saw many Republicans denounce their support for Trump was that it was “boy talk” and that “he was … egged on to say dirty and bad stuff.” The fixation with exposing the clandestine personality of the potential First Lady, who is Spartan with her words and content with maintaining her private life in the Trump Tower, has led to the rising media storm that has encircled Melania since her husband rose in the polls.

 

In the quest to uncover the character of the next potential First Lady of the United States, various publications have strived to expose what they believe to be the real Melania Trump to their readership. One article by the The New Yorker in particular echoes the obsession with unearthing Melania’s past and familiarising the world with her personality, asking in its headline, ‘Who Is Melania Trump?’.  The article is written by Lauren Collins and presents a fantastical narrative of a young, beautiful, promising Slovenian woman in desperate pursuit of the “American dream”, suggesting that Donald Trump was her ticket out of communist Yugoslavia.  The article draws on the mysteriousness of Melania, lamenting, “Her story is so vacuous as to almost require the imagination to spackle its holes.” With not much information to go on, the author constructs a narrative arch of Melania as a formidable and aspirational woman, longing to exchange her humble town life for a more glamorous existence. The author achieves this by juxtaposing Melania’s modest beginnings to the excessive wealth that awaited her as the wife of a multi-millionaire businessman.

 

“She was born in Novo Mesto, in what was then Yugoslavia, in 1970, and raised in a Communist apartment block in Sevnica, a pretty riverside town where a smuggled Coke was a major treat.

Now Melania, who once lived a quiet life in the Zeckendorf Towers, on Union Square, lives a quiet life in the Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue. House rules require that guests don surgical booties, so as not to scuff the marble floors.”

 

The extravagance of Melania’s life in New York is harped on throughout the article to present a sort of ‘rags to riches’ narrative. This story angle serves as an explanation of Melania’s motives for remaining in a marriage with a man 24 years her senior, who is loathed passionately by many worldwide. Yet the author does not call for her audience to pity Melania, and crafts a characterisation of her that is cold, robotic and callous, asserting that she is both “un-American” and has “no affinity for her homeland”. The article presents a character assassination of Melania where she is described as “aspirational, playing ice queen rather than soccer mom”, arguing “If we take the office of First Lady seriously, then it’s worth trying to figure out who Melania is as a person, versus a product to be placed.”

 

The author uses “we” to unite herself with her readership, which she assumes is the American people. She writes in a persuasive tone, attempting to convince the reader that it is critical that the nation unearth Melania’s personality, the claim being that Melania is rebuffing her responsibility as a prospective First Lady to gain conference with the nation. The author’s negative construction of Melania as a reluctant participant in the campaign and as a sheer “product” lacking personality, is solidified through the comparisons to other First Ladies such as Michelle Obama.

 

“We marvelled at Michelle’s arms, because it seemed that they could be ours, if only we were willing to work as hard as she did, but you don’t hear anyone (other than her husband) talking about Melania’s legs.”

 

The author presents a superficial comparison of Melania to Michelle that is purely based upon physicality. She argues that Melania does not measure up to the same standard as First Lady, Michelle Obama, by contrasting their physical attributes. However, the author then contradicts her own emphasis on Melania’s physical attributes by criticising Trump for reducing Melania to a sexual object in their “inegalitarian” marriage.

 

“Her husband seems to define her largely by her physical advantages, which confer upon him an aura of sexual potency. ‘Where’s my supermodel?’ he yelled from the stage, at a town-hall meeting at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1999, shortly after ushering Melania onto the Howard Stern show to discuss the couple’s ‘incredible sex’ and her lack of cellulite.”

 

As the quote above demonstrates, the author thrusts doubt upon Melania’s decorum as a prospective First Lady by including quotes by Donald Trump where he overtly sexualises her physical advantages.  This serves as a warning to readers that Melania is incapable to fill the role of First Lady as her depth of character is ignored by her husband and is deemed unimportant, locked away from the public eye. The author also compares Melania to Donald Trump in order to turn the reader against Melania and paint a negative image of her character. This suggests that the article is intended for those who are unsupportive of Trump becoming president. The author attempts to lessen Melania’s likeability by portraying her relationship with her husband, arguing that Donald Trump’s crude and aggressive rhetoric has rubbed off on Melania. The underlying warrant cautions the reader that just as Donald is not fit to be president, Melania is not fit to fulfil the role as First Lady of the United States.

 

Yet Melania appears to have internalised many aspects of Donald’s culture: his ahistoricism; his unblinking gall; his false dichotomies between murderous scofflaws and deserving citizens, women who ask for nothing and nagging wives. Like Donald, Melania doesn’t drink… She has taken on her husband’s signature pout, in a connubial version of people who grow to look like their dogs.”

 

These comparisons are largely speculative and are derived from the author’s observations of the couple, rather than on a factual basis. The suggestion that the author concedes to is that Melania, the model, has been branded by her husband and mirrors many of his unflattering qualities. This is a contrast to the independent woman portrayed earlier in the piece who pursued her own interests, compared to the meagre characterisation placed upon the married Melania. Seemingly, the author conveys the opinion that Melania has shed her past self to fit into Donald’s American world and become his wife.

 

This article from The New Yorker leans on the assumption that a reader is bewildered by Melania Trump and is interested in her true identity. It relies mainly on evaluational claims rather than facts to create a compelling narrative about Melania that is derived from the author’s interpretations of her upbringing, marriage and career. The author is consistent in her traditional and patriotic standpoint that deems the role of the First Lady as quintessential to the US presidency, presenting a negative characterisation of Melania where she is painted as “cold” and “un-American”.

 

The New York Post presents a slightly different take on Melania, where she is offered to readers in an erotic light, as the so-called sex symbol of the Republican campaign. The hyper-sexualisation that is glued to Melania’s image perpetrates a sense of shame about her past dealings as a naked model, distracting from her personality as readers are directed to focus merely on her physicality. The New York Post released a naked photo of Melania as a 25-year-old model on the cover of their July issue, sparking controversy and a barrage of criticism. The provocative headline read ‘Ogle Office’ and the caption, “You’ve never seen a potential First Lady like this!” Many questioned the relevance of this image and argued that it was placed out of context, considering the image is over 20 years old and its original intention was to be sold to a European audience who may hold sexuality in a vastly different light to Americans. The appeal to comparison with previous First Ladies in the caption reveals the underlying worldview of the publisher who suggests that it is taboo and unprofessional for a potential First Lady to have posed naked in this manner.

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The Ogle Office front page by The New York Post, 2016

The spread included other shots of Melania in erotic, canted positions which the magazine censored, indicating that the average reader would find the images too graphic and confronting for everyday consumption. The images were accompanied by an interview with the photographer who commented “I am completely against this world, and I don’t understand why the girls f- -k with old guys to afford a Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès bags…The fashion industry has become the biggest pimp ever.”

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An image of Melania Trump (then Melania Knass) taken from The New York Post spread

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Another image in The New York Post spread from the 1996 photo shoot

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The final image from The New York Post spread which was originally shot for Max Magazine

These quotes were presented wildly out of context, the photographer describing his general experiences with the fashion industry, rather than targeting Melania directly who he said in a separate article was “a true professional… always smiling, with a very pleasant personality and was polite and very well educated”. The fact that the publisher chose this particular quote to complement the seductive images of Melania misconstrued the photographer’s statement, suggesting that Melania “pimped” herself out by marrying Donald Trump. The piece renders her in a negative light, as a trophy wife and “gold digger” who has sold herself out for fame and money. There is no factual basis for this claim and it is merely evaluative, where a nude image from 20 years earlier is depicted as a palpable signal that Melania is morally inept. This reveals the publication’s worldview, where the naked female body is seen as scandalous and uncouth, especially considering the prestigious and morally-sound position that the First Lady is idyllically expected to represent. The images are arranged and captioned in a manner where audience shock and discomfort is not just anticipated, it is a blatant expectation, as they ‘ogle’ the image which carries flagrant overtones of slut-shaming and hyper-sexualisation.

 

The media places a great emphasis on Melania’s history as an immigrant and foreigner, casting doubt on whether she is an American citizen and how she obtained the highly sought after H1B visa. An article by St. Louis Dispatch titled ‘Melania Trump’s ‘Extraordinary Ability’ To Gain Special Immigration Status’ accused her of being unfairly granted a visa because of her relationship with Donald Trump, a well-connected businessman.

 

The modelling profession will never require bending immigration rules so that our country doesn’t get out-modelled by foreign competitors.

The only reason this needs clarification is because Melania Trump, who could become America’s next first lady, somehow finagled a coveted H1B visa in 2000 (the same year she began appearing in public with Donald Trump) under the guise of being a model.”

 

This accusation interrogates the premise that Melania Trump was awarded an immigration visa based on her “extraordinary ability” as a model. The article’s warrant is that an “underfed” model shouldn’t be awarded a visa before an engineer, scientist or someone in the high-tech field. It also doubts the talents of Melania and implies that she could not have achieved the successful visa outcome without someone working behind-the-scenes to assist her. However, these claims are not supported by evidence and are somewhat impetuous, consisting of sheer speculation. The claims present unsupported conclusions, as article has gaps in its information, refraining from defining what constitutes as “extraordinary ability”, how Melania failed to qualify for this specification and finally, the number of visa applications granted that year and how many were denied.

 

The article reads as if it was written as a smear on Donald Trump, who is notorious for his anti-immigration policies, arguing that his views are hypocritical as his wife is an immigrant herself.

 

“Trump lives and breathes by a double standard on immigration in which it’s perfectly fine to bend the rules when it suits his needs. When it’s other people’s lives, families and staffs on the verge of being split up, he shrugs his shoulders and pronounces, ‘Get ‘em outta here’.”

 

In this quote Melania is an invisible actor with the sole focus resting on Trump who is assumed guilty and the sole individual responsible for “bending immigration rules”. This article is clearly positioned towards a reader that possesses anti-Trump sentiments and who does not require great convincing in order to label Trump a hypocrite. Melania’s foreign background is manipulated to attack Trump as she is portrayed as a passive and compliant partner who is an extension of Trump rather than a separate individual who holds her own vices and sense of accountability.

 

A copious portion of what has been written about Melania Trump paints her in a negative light. She is viewed, first and foremost, as Donald Trump’s wife, a Slovenian supermodel with an elusive past who has climbed her way to recognition. The quest to piece together Melania’s character has been sparked by her reluctance to appear on the campaign trail and her preference for privacy. These three articles speculated on various aspects of Melania, constructing narratives about her identity drawing on her foreignness, marriage and mere observations of her character. Melania has been hyper-sexualised, framed as un-American and presented as a trophy wife who opportunistically married Donald Trump to gain American citizenship and a percentage of his hefty fortune. Often she is compared to previous First Ladies to argue that her lack of modesty is not compatible with the role of the First Lady, who is viewed as an icon of American femininity and class.  Yet the mystery remains unsolved, as little is known about Melania, the articles showboating the manic pursuit to uncover the personality of the potential First Lady of the United States. The questions remains, who is the real Melania Trump? Is she the immigrant who fraudulently was awarded a visa, an erogenous model, or a young woman from a modest town who stopped at nothing to achieve her American dream, or a combination of the three? An astute reader may be sceptical as to whether the articles are disingenuous in their attempt to unearth the real Melania Trump. In fact the bigger question remains unanswered as to whether these articles borrow from a political agenda, acting to injure the presidential campaign of her husband, the infamous Donald Trump.

Eden Gillespie, MDIA2002, F12A, z5059936

For: The Columbia Review

Words: 2495

Representation article Step One: Plan of attack!!

By Bridget Murphy 5062047

Q: Briefly indicate the general subject area of the items you plan to cover and indicate, as best you can at this stage, what sorts of conclusions you anticipate you will be reaching with respect to this data. If you anticipate you will be focussing on just a few items – i.e. four or fewer, provide links if possible to this material and very briefly describe their content.

I am planning to continue with the same general topic area as article one, that being issues relating to the Generations. Specifically, I am going to look at how Generation Y and Z are represented in the media.

I am planning on discussing Triple J as the ‘voice of the youth’ or the national youth broadcaster and how they operate in terms of targeting Gen Y and Z so well by projecting the interests of the youth and “siding” with the youth on many issues.

One item I will concentrate on specifically is the Triple J HACK program, and snippets from their feature investigation “The War On Young People”, which provided a young person’s response to issues such as why young people can’t afford houses, why young people are so passionate about climate change and other key socio-political issues.

In terms of other articles to compare and contrast with the aforementioned ideas, I am looking for a range of articles from different publications that target various demographics (I feel that concentrating on social class as well as generational age is important to this discussion) and how they discuss the youth. I am considering delving a little further back into some archived articles to possibly see whether or not some of the negative idea’s of the contemporary youth have travelled over time. For example, say if an article published in 1989 called the youth of the day ‘lazy and entitled’ in the same way that article’s published in 2016 have. A possible discussion on whether this is influenced by engrained social ideas of ‘age = wisdom’ may ensue.

Also, after completing the tutorial preparation for this week (wk 12), I found the idea of collecting ‘research’ of sorts to weave into my article in order to gain some sort of reactionary detail. As my focus area is regarding the generations, and specifically how GenY and Z are represented, it would be quite easy to gather this as I can easily ask the opinions and reactions of my friends (and compare this with my own interpretations), and contrast this with the opinions of my parents or even my grandparents. This is just a thought, but I think it would be interesting to discuss.

Parliament v Plebiscite? By Lindsay Stevens (z5061616, F12A).

In 2015, Australia saw its then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, spark debate that that the Coalition would seek law reform on the issue of same sex marriage via a public vote. Since then, there has been constant public discourse from all sides of the argument within our mainstream media, with no signs of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backing down. The issue of whether or not to hold a public vote on the matter and if so, how and when this would happen is still alive and well in the Australian political landscape.

Public discourse within our mainstream media proves as insightful in helping us to gauge an understanding of the worldviews underlying each side of the argument. This article will provide analysis of views journalism pieces that similarly argue against holding a plebiscite in very distinct ways; “Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws.” by Michael Kirby, published in The Australian, “Will there be a ‘Brexit trap’ in the same sex marriage plebiscite?” by Ryan Goss, published in The Conversation. These articles seem to operate under the assumption that their audience will be for a plebiscite regardless of their viewpoint on same sex marriage. Perhaps this is the result of media representation of democracy as an ideal that society should strive for, or perhaps it is reflective of our Western ideologies of free speech and liberalism. Either way, we must analyse these pieces of views journalism in order to gain further insight.

It is imperative to consider the difference between the authors, the publications and their worldviews that may warrant their argument. However, comparison of these views journalism pieces, along with many more seem to suggest that there is growing support against holding a public vote (especially in the form of a plebiscite) on the issue. These opinions are considered below.

In “Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws.” We see Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, attempt to persuade his audience that there is no need for a plebiscite. Inherently, his journalistic work is therefore grounded in a strong legal basis. The primary claim of this article appears to be that Australians should not support a plebiscite on same sex marriage based on the structure of our legal system and need to uphold the notion of representative government. This claim seems to be justified through his explanation of a plebiscite in the context of our Constitution and parliamentary sovereignty, which is warranted with the expression of underlying worldviews that Australians should be respectful of our legal system and in support of the implementation of human rights. In doing so, Kirby provides effective argumentation for his opinion.

“Australians should reject the proposal to hold a plebiscite as a precondition to the enactment of same-sex marriage legislation by the federal parliament. The elected politicians should get to work on what we the people elected them to do — to decide on the law, one way or the other, in parliament.” [Emphasis added].

Kirby opens with a very explicit presentation of his primary claim. Not only does he use overly assertive language like ‘should’ in order to persuade his audience, he follows his claim with the justificatory support of “The elected politicians should get to work on what we the people elected them to do…” This justification appeals to facts on the basis that our government in Australia is democratically elected to represent its citizens in parliament. This is a Constitutional matter and has been entrenched in Australian law since federation. As this is a matter of the law, this justification could also appeal to authority and precedent – and in placing this as the opening par of the article, Kirby creates a strong, assertive and authoritative position with his audience, ensuring that his argument will be persuasive.

Mostly, we see in this article a combination of factual and causal claims, with few evaluative interpretations and recommendations (they are still present, just not as strong).

“The Constitution provides for a parliamentary system of representative government. A plebiscite… is a totally exceptional…” [Emphasis added].

Again, Kirby’s primary claim is here justified with an appeal to facts (those facts being the structure and nature of our Constitution) and authority. This further demonstrates the warrant that Australians should value and respect the legal system that governs their country and whilst some might be skeptical of Kirby due to his involvement in the public law sphere, one cannot deny that the Constitution is not an entrenched factor in our legal system. This is what provides strength in his argument.

Accompanying an appeal to facts and authority, we see Kirby use appeal to precedent, and appeal to consequence in the demonstration of what might happen should we actually hold a plebiscite on this issue.

“The only relevant precedents, in 1916-17 on overseas compulsory military service… The proposed plebiscite on marriage is the first such attempt in nearly a century.” [Emphasis added].

“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…” [Emphasis added].

After convincing the audience that there is no legal reason for Australia to hold a plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage, Kirby then further supports his claims in illustrating the political consequence this might have on our country. Kirby is definitely operating under the assumption that the reader agrees with him on the state of political affairs – whether or not this is a legitimate warrant is debatable on both side – thus, we need to consider that this might not be a convincing justificatory support to the far right of Coalition supporters.

There is so much depth to this article in regard to views journalism techniques that it is impossible to thoroughly cover it in the word limit. However, it is important to recognise that Kirby also employs the use of;

a) appeal to emotion – “A plebiscite campaign unfortunately would be likely to bring out hatreds and animosities…”,
b) appeal to ethics – “It is exceptional and wrong in principle to commit decisions on the basic human rights of minorities to a majority popular vote” and
c) appeal to comparison/analogy – “But Ireland was obliged to have a referendum for constitutional reasons.”, “Brexit is an illustration of what can happen where a popular vote is chosen contrary to a nation’s democratic and parliamentary tradition…”[Emphasis added].

Kirby eloquently focuses (for the most part) on the government’s actions, rather than any personal agenda – in generally avoiding ad hominem fallacy, he presents his argument as balanced and non-biased to the audience that in turn, allows it to seem more persuasive. There is an inferred ad hominem argument in insinuating that the Coalition is pushing a plebiscite for “internal party political reasons”, but as this is not a strong and direct attack, it allows Kirby to remain as though he appears completely neutral on a personal political level. A large amount of his argument might be considered circular, but is done so in an articulate way that allows us to view this as re-enforcement of his points. There is also large amount of evaluative presumptions to be seen in the choice of his language. Language such as “exceptional and wrong”, “controversial” and “bad” elicit emotion in the audience whilst allowing them to determine the underlying worldview that Kirby holds that warrants his claims. In effectively placing these words in such a slight and subtle way throughout his argument, Kirby is able to persuade his reader of his opinion.

In analysing Kirby’s views journalism piece, the audience gains a greater understanding of not only his personal opinion, but also the worldview that warrants such opinions and the effect that this has on readership.

Kirby’s article can then be compared to that of Goss’. “Will there be a ‘Brexit trap’ in the same sex marriage plebiscite?”, which sees Senior Lecturer in Law at ANU, Ryan Goss provide us with a different perspective on why Australia should not hold a plebiscite in solving this matter. Alternate to Kirby, Goss articulates his opinion more so with the use of a combination of causal claims, evaluation and recommendation, as opposed to a strong emphasis on the factual. In doing this, Goss still provides his reader with his own personal view on the plebiscite being a bad idea, but does so in a suggestive way (in offering a solution), as opposed to a simply authoritative and assertive form that would suggest we totally scrap the idea.

Goss’ primary claim is that Australians should not support a plebiscite on same sex marriage based on lack of clarity around the consequences. The bulk of his justification stems from the basis of appealing to emotion, popular opinion and consequence. Of course, we do see Goss provide his audience with justification based on facts and/or authority;

“This plebiscite is constitutionally unnecessary. The High Court ruled in December 2013 that the Federal Parliament has the constitutional ability to pass legislation providing for marriage equality.” [Emphasis added].

However, this is essentially the crux of factual justificatory claims provided. We can see here, that much like Kirby, Goss assumes his audience doesn’t really know the inner workings of Australian Constitutional law, and thus provides them with facts. However, the extent to which he provides factual information about this issue is far more limited than that of Kirby, as we then see Goss divert straight into evaluative claims and provision of recommendations.

In supporting his primary claim, Goss provides his audience with a justification that appeals to precedent and consequence. In doing this, he is catering for his assumed audience, which seems likely to be unsure of how plebiscites work. In creating the analogy between a potential plebiscite and Brexit, it could be argued that Goss is potentially distracting his audience from the reality of how it would work – after all, they are completely different issues in completely different contexts.

On the other hand, this is quite an effective method for illustrating his primary claim to his audience – that Australians should vote against a plebiscite unless there is more clarity provided. As Brexit is something that the general public are likely to be very aware of and therefore, they are likely to resonate with his warrant that an unorganized, unstructured public vote will lead to political chaos.

The underlying casual claim is also supported in evaluative claims of the government’s attempt at effectively reforming the law.

“The plebiscite will therefore be an unnecessary and costly vote, with potentially damaging consequences for many Australians.” [Emphasis added].

“The plebiscite is unnecessary and it may well prove divisive.” [Emphasis added].

In using an assertive tone and evocative language to demonstrate his evaluation, Goss appeals to emotion and potentially, popular opinion. This kind of language used in the sphere of political journalism is effective in persuading the general audience and in turn, Goss assumes that his intended audience will be able to be convinced of his argument.

As well as this, Goss uses the majority of his article to provide recommendations to both the public and the government as to how an effective plebiscite would be run, despite ultimately concluding that we should not have one.

““When designing the plebiscite, the parliament should bear in mind Britain’s recent vote on leaving the European Union.” [Emphasis added].

“So, here is a proposal for the plebiscite’s design. While it may not be perfect, it will help Australia avoid the Brexit trap.” [Emphasis added].

The federal parliament should pass a single new law. That law should do three things: …” [Emphasis added].

“These three elements ensure the Brexit trap is avoided.” [Emphasis added].

Again, Goss is strong and assertive in his tone, which helps to persuade his audience. Potentially, such use of language might prove as a distraction in allowing the audience to recognise or question the validity of his claims. However, he does provide justificatory support that appears to appeal to facts or authority, and very definitely appeals to consequence, emotion and potentially, popular opinion.

Across the board, Goss’ argument could be classified as ‘slippery-slope’ or ‘either-or’ throughout the entire piece. He doesn’t really provide much of an insight into the alternative, but simply just states that it might be bad. His claims are certainly more implicit as opposed to Kirby’s, although there is some similarity in how these authors have produced their texts.

Upon analysis, it is evident that both texts discuss the reasons why a public vote in the form a plebiscite on same sex marriage should not occur. Both Kirby and Goss seem to hold the worldview that democracy and liberalism are still key – yet they discuss how and when this should or shouldn’t happen in opposing ways. The warrant underlying Kirby’s argument has a strong legal basis in support of parliamentary sovereignty and shows concern for issues of human rights. Distinctly, the warrant underlying Goss’ argument is that perhaps we shouldn’t trust our government to execute reform on this are as they wish for concern for the public. Ultimately, through the use of journalistic techniques, both authors argue their opinion well in the form of views journalism, and it is through in depth analysis, that the audience can understand their claims. Essentially, this is what will determine the success of their persuasion.

Article One – http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/parliament-is-the-proper-place-for-enacting-laws/news-story/7844f4c295e8549e4f12def06c7d5c36

Article Two – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-02/goss-will-there-be-a-brexit-trap-in-same-sex-marriage-plebiscite/7682768