Rhetorically self-sufficient arguments in Western Australian parliamentary debates on Lesbian and Gay Law Reform


Correspondence should be addressed to Mark Summers, School of Psychology, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch, Western Australia, 6150, Australia (e-mail: m.summers@murdoch.edu.au).


Western Australia's Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Bill 2001 delivered a measure of legal equality in such areas as property transfer, superannuation, inheritance and discrimination, and more controversially, adoption, lesbian access to IVF, lowering the age of consent for sex between men from 21 to 16, and incorporating information on homosexuality into high school sex education classes. This paper examines the use of various moral principles within parliamentary speeches supporting or opposing the legislation, and the extent to which they were treated by members as beyond question, or ‘rhetorically self-sufficient’. The resources of ‘equality’, ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’, ‘the interests of the majority’ and ‘the interests of children’ were given a kind of beyond-question, self-sufficient status, but their use was able to be undermined in a number of ways, relating to members' management of what the Bill was ‘about’, and the flexibility of these social constructs. It is argued that rather than pitting one set of resources against another, members on both sides of the debate faced a rhetorical pressure to adopt and mobilize all of the same self-sufficient moral resources, due to the flexible, constructed and non-hierarchical, yet often rhetorically self-sufficient nature of common-sense moral principles.