This week I heard journalist Emma Alberici relate the story of a fourteen year old boy who had been thrown out of home after ‘coming out’ as gay to his parents. Young people, it appears, are still vulnerable despite huge community advances in understanding.
Proponents against marriage equality rest their objections primarily on the potential harm done to children of same-sex parents but I suggest these proponents should research a little more deeply if they are truly concerned about young people.
The marriage equality debate suddenly shifted mood and emphasis this week when the government threw its support behind a postal poll to determine support for same-sex marriage. Former PM Tony Abbott was quick to manipulate the discussion as a debate on freedom of speech, religious liberty and ‘political correctness.’ I thought: ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ What had simply been a vote for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ now felt for me like an attack on who I am as a human being.
When I ‘came out’ in 1980, it involved also leaving behind what had been a very satisfying career in the Catholic Church, abandoning many friends and starting over again in a less secure employment. I found myself in those years having to defend my life choices. Now after living in a satisfying same-sex relationship for 32 years, I feel I have to once again defend the choices that make me who I am now and with which I have become very comfortable.
Imagine how it is then for younger LGBTIQ people struggling to make similar transitions and having to be subjected to a non-compulsory, non-binding postal poll, forced to defend their life choices as mere ‘political correctness’ and some sort of insult against religious freedom. The last survey we had like this was in 1974 to choose a national anthem- hardly comparable.
So given that currently 62% of Australians believe same-sex couples should be able to marry, where is this fierce opposition coming from? Are we seeing a last gasp resistance from conservative groups who would rather return to a 1950s Australia where minority groups knew their place and just shut up?
Tony Abbott clearly is one such centrifugal force-field attracting other right-wing politicians, shockjocks and others who are clearly uncomfortable with minority groups demanding equal rights. However, much of the resistance is emanating from many religious and traditional family groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance, National Civic Council and Australian Marriage Forum. David van Gend, president of that Forum, has written a book entitled ‘Think of the Child’ and is opposed to same-sex marriage because ‘such an institution would deliberately deprive future children of either their mother or their father, and that is an injustice we should never contemplate.’
Any circumstances which place children deliberately in situations of injustice should of course be treated seriously but it is incorrect to say that children of same-sex parents are more at risk of harm. Statistics generally place these children as no worse and sometimes even better than those in traditional family units.
We need to look seriously too at some statistics on the abuse of children generally if we are truly concerned about their safety. Our own government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies released figures in June this year which show that in 2015/16 there were 60,989 substantiated cases of family child abuse and 46,448 children placed in out-of-home care, a rise of around 12,000 since 2011/12.
These statistics are truly alarming and given the low percentage of same-sex parenting in Australia we are forced to conclude that the majority of these cases occur in traditional family units. The traditional family supporters named above also seem to fail to acknowledge the number of single-parent families and divorced families that make up 21st century communities. If these supporters were truly concerned about children, they would be better served looking into why some traditional family units have become so dysfunctional.
The other conservative bulwark opposing marriage equality is represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In 2015 they published ‘Messing with Marriage’, an attack on the proposition of marriage equality. At the time I wrote to the Conference objecting to their demeaning and non-compassionate attack on same-sex couples and was greeted with stony silence.
I fail to understand how this group of men who have no experience of sexual or intimate relationships (presumably) and whose own institution has been embroiled in cover-ups of clergy abuse of children could dare to take the high moral ground on this issue. A more appropriate response for them would be to take a vow of silence for around 200 years and do penance in sackcloth and ashes. Journalist David Marr also wrote succinctly about this misuse of power by these ‘Christian warriors’ yesterday. )
If these groups are truly concerned about the future of young people they might also include the children of same-sex couples who are not going to disappear even without marriage equality. Cruel and unthinking community attitudes have serious effects on the children of same-sex parents. ‘Beyond Blue’s report for the National LGBT Health Alliance in 2013 found that 55% of LGBT women aged between 16 and 24 experienced psychological distress compared with 18% in the nation as a whole and 40% of LGBT men aged 16-24 compared with 7%. Moreover discrimination and exclusion were seen as the key causal factors of LGBTI mental ill-health and suicidality. This is unsurprising given such comments like those of the Australian Christian Lobby in 2013 that gay marriage would create another ‘stolen generation’.
Now that Tony Abbott, ‘The Destroyer’, has opened the gates and given permission for ill-judged commentary, we can expect more of this ‘ad hominem’ abuse that can only increase discrimination and exclusion for young LGBTI people and the children of such parents.
In the end, if the future good health and prosperity of our children is truly our goal, there’s little to fear from an acceptance of equal marriage. As Penny Wong said so passionately yesterday in the Senate: ‘We love our children. And I object, as does every person who cares about children, and as do all those couples in this country, same-sex couples who have kids, to be told our children are a stolen generation. You talk about unifying moments? It is not a unifying moment. It is exposing our children to that kind of hatred.’