Morality and Gay Rights Discourse
When Aristotle discussed the material premises of enthymemes as being important in rhetoric, he was prescient of the kind of appeals that would be tendered by opponents in the discourse over gay rights issues long after his time. Smith and Windes express the nature of this conflict accurately when they write, “symbols expressing fundamental cultural values are invoked by all sides” (1997: 28). Similarly, Sarah S. Brown describes the participants in a “struggle to stake out symbolic positions of good and to frame their side in terms of morally powerful conceptions of right and wrong” (2000: 458). Fascinatingly, she suggests, “even people with deeply conflicting opinions appeal to the same moral concepts for the force of their arguments” (458). In fact, these same moral concepts are ubiquitous to all discourse and to life. They penetrate the social order at the most fundamental level. They are not static, however, and their malleability gives rise to a constantly shifting landscape of debate wherein, as Smith and Windes (1997) assert, the adversaries literally have so much impact as to drive the process of self-definition for one another.
Related to that process is the way in which the landscape itself is defined, which Haider-Markel and Meier see as consequential in terms of “what resources are important and [what] advantages some coalitions [in the struggle] have over others” (1996: 346). (See also: Kintz, 1998; Smith and Windes, 1997). Particularly, they demonstrate that models of discourse which conceptualize gay issues in terms of morality (or culture) as opposed to politics or civil rights offer a rhetorical upper hand to proponents of anti-gay arguments. It is the objective of this paper to explore that edge and to deal with prescriptions that have been suggested as remedies for it. To begin with, however, we turn back to enthymemes.
Terrence Cook (1980) identifies eight categories of standards that are referred to in the justification of political appeals – prudence, tradition, the supernatural, (human) nature, law, public opinion, prestige suggestion, and ideals. He writes, “Sometimes standards are implicit in myths or metaphors, symbolizations which are more than decoration when they tap through concretization of otherwise cold cognitions” (516). In fact, he may be referring to the power of fundamental, (almost) universally accepted principles that are woven into the constitutive ‘myths’ and stories of social realities. Only tacit allusion to these principles is required to trigger them within an audience and engage that audience in their own persuasion.
Certainly, this is the phenomenon that Brown (2000) encounters when she notices how opposing factions of the debate surrounding same-sex parenting each make claim to the same value-laden concepts in their arguments. For example, both “pros” and “cons” reference the utmost importance of family, believe that human rights...