Strategic Human Rights Advocacy: Marriage Equality in Australia

One of the things that most struck me about Lee’s presentation was the discussion about strategic messaging and targeting your audience. The campaign for marriage equality is a great example of how this can be approached in different ways. Given that one of the major proposals for achieving marriage equality is a national plebiscite, it is essential that marriage equality has a broad base of public support. The campaign therefore needs to utilise a variety of messages in order to harness the necessary level of support. This post will look at several marriage equality advertisements in order to analyse the different messages being used in the campaign as a whole.

It’s only fair

The latest advertisement from Australian Marriage Equality is aimed at a specific section of the Australian public. It’s aimed at a section of society that Lee referred to as ‘the soft yes’ vote. It’s effective at reaching people for whom marriage equality it not one of the most pressing issues in their lives. It’s particularly aimed at people often referred to by politician’s as ‘Aussie battlers’. The ad deliberately frames marriage equality as being about fairness, playing into the idea of Australia as the land of ‘the fair go’. This message is likely to sway people who are concerned about fairness and inequality in their own lives, even if it is in a different context. In addition, the focus is on individuals, not couples or relationships. The ad deliberately minimises the visibility of same-sex relationships in order to keep the focus squarely on issues of fairness. While this may be an effective way to reach the target audience, it is not an approach that celebrates same-sex relationships.

Furthermore, the ad also plays into the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. It contrasts the hardworking nature of the individuals in the ad with the fact that politicians are not doing their job by refusing to have a parliamentary vote. There is a legitimate criticism that the focus on employment suggests that marriage equality should only be available if someone has a traditional job and contributes to society economically. This can be problematic as it suggests that rights are earned, not inherent and unconditional. However, the focus on jobs is for the purpose of highlighting the steps that the parliament can take to make marriage equality a reality.

This ad is extremely effective at reaching its target audience. However, it is not necessarily the strongest message to use to reach the community as a whole.


It’s time

This ad, produced by GetUp!, uses a markedly different approach to the ‘It’s only fair’ ad. This ad has a same-sex relationship as its centrepiece. By only showing one side of a loving, fulfilling relationship and revealing it to be a same-se relationship at the conclusion of the ad, GetUp! are combating the idea that same-sex relationships are somehow markedly different from heterosexual relationships.

Perhaps the most interesting contrast between the two ads is the fact that this ad has love as its central message, not fairness. This ad has a much more positive tone and focuses on relationships as opposed to economic contributions to Australia. The couple are shown with their families and friends, not at work. This means that the overall message of this ad is that marriage equality should exist because all relationships are equal. This is in contrast to the previous as which contends that marriage equality should exist because it’s a fair reward for their other contributions to society. This is an important distinction as the ‘It’s time’ ad does not place limitations or conditions upon the right to marriage equality.


These two ads are both in support of the same aim, however they use very different approaches. The difference between them highlight the importance of being able to present your message in a variety of ways. Given that human rights advocates often have to coalesce a broad range of support, knowing how to alter the language and messaging of a campaign is a vital skill. Nevertheless, it is important not to compromise too much on the central message and values of the campaign.






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