In yesterday’s issue of The Age, in Melbourne, three of the first five pages, including the lead article on the front page, were devoted to the same sex marriage issue. The content was almost totally in favor of same-sex marriage.

The previous day, all day, the mobile version lead item on the ABC news website, which normally changes several times in the course of a day, was a piece about “conservatives” in the Liberal Party blocking the same-sex marriage lobby. In fact 82 of 123 Liberal members are publically opposed to gay marriage.

Such inflammatory journalism is not in the interests of our society. An obvious rule of life is that one does not make important decisions when emotions are inflamed. It appears that news services are seeking to emotionalize this issue either by dint of policy or by a lack of editorial leadership, or both.

This is not a decision that should be rushed.

The barest knowledge of history tells us that no society in the world has ever considered same-sex marriage beneficial for the welfare of its people. No national leader, president or king, in the history of mankind has promoted same-sex marriage – until a couple of years ago.

The barest knowledge of sociology tells us that the great religions and philosophies of the world have always supported the traditional understanding of the family. Neither Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, or Christianity have supported or support this challenge to social structure.

Psychology and neuroscience explain the vulnerability of human beings to emotional arguments. At the heart of all motivation (be it for video gaming, study, favourite foods, raising children, and even pet political ideals) are conditioned reward expectations consolidated through imitation or our repeated choices.

These preferred actions, and also beliefs, breed an expectation of dopamine rewards in a self-fulfilling closed circuit where prior behaviors facilitate future behaviors.

Beliefs can be fueled either by serious evaluation or by media and peer imitation. Emotions are contagious. When our emotions are aroused, our neural plasticity and readiness to learn are heightened. Putting all this together: media emphasis on emotional issues utilises the same neural principals as the crass propaganda of a totalitarian regime. Our capacity for rational reflection is much reduced. All too easily we are convinced by a seven-second grab or by an indignant headline.

Social commentators like Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan remind us that debate driven by the media is impoverished. Tabloid psychology is effective. News services that utilise tabloid psychology are not services, but self-serving. And a self-regulating media industry is incapable of remedying this.

There is no unanimity whatsoever amongst sociological, political, medical, researchers is about the social benefits of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, or adoption of children by gay couples.

Why then, with all of these reasons to step cautiously, is the media throwing fuel on this firestorm?

Dr Andy Mullins, author of Parenting for Character and an occasional contributor to Mercatornet, is past headmaster of two Sydney schools, Redfield and Wollemi Colleges. In his doctoral thesis he investigated the neural substrates of virtue. He is currently working in Melbourne. He holds an adjunct professorial position at University of Notre Dame Australia.  

Dr Andy Mullins now works with parents and university students in Melbourne and teaches the Formation of Character course at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney. He is the author of Parenting for Character...