John Bartlett

‘Think of the Child’

‘Think of the Child’

By on Aug 10, 2017 in Blog | 6 comments

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.’


  1. John argues strongly in defence against hurtful commentary on the most personal aspects of family life for gay and lesbian couples; against the reduction of their personal life to a political football; and against narrowly focussed judgements from the whole spectrum of institutional religion. Hopefully John’s arguments will go some way toward mitigating the pain caused to a large sector of Australian society. Meanwhile, the negativity will continue at least until, and probably beyond, the postal survey, driven by ideologues like Tony Abbott who won’t even allow sibling love to dampen his tirade.
    According to opinion polls, the majority of the Australian electorate are in support of reversing the John Howard amendment on the definition of marriage to again refer to the couple who marry simply as adults. And yes, Maurice, most of us would agree that “union of a man and woman” is part of the time-honoured understanding of marriage; but that is insufficient reason to allow the word, ‘marriage’ to be a roadblock on the way to complete recognition of LGBTQI people as full members of our community.
    While respecting the position taken by Justice Michael Kirby, I would urge all who support John’s arguments to vote in this survey. Remember Brexit; remember Trump’s defeat of Clinton. Both in UK and in USA, many who were so sure that their choice would win, as predicted in all the opinion polls, didn’t bother to vote. They are the ones who lost the victory for the majority. Don’t let that happen in this postal survey, no matter how flawed it is.

    Ian Fraser

    August 11, 2017

  2. I will be voting YES and I am a practicing Catholic, not one of the sheep that follows blindly to the dictates by the hierarchy of Catholicism.


    Lorraine Lee-Pearson.


    August 11, 2017

  3. Being a Catholic priest and having worked among gay and lesbian Catholics and others through the church group Acceptance and the Catholic AIDS Centre in Adelaide and on the board of the SA AIDS Council of South Australia I am caught in the middle in the gay marriage debate. When I did my Masters on Being Gay and Catholic back in the early 90s, none of the liturature – secular or church – talked about gay marriage, but civil partnerships. Through history in diverse cultures and religions marriage has been understood as the union of a man and woman. I am not sure that we can just change that meaning because we want to. On the other hand, we live in an age where gay and lesbian relationships are rich in meaning, expressions of heartfelt love and respect. These relationships have a right to be protected and honoured by the law. Civil Partnership is cold and clinical and unsatisfactory. Could there be another word which would honour the relationship in the way gay and lesbian people desire while continuing to honour the time honoured meaning of marriage? I wish i had the answer.

    Maurice Shinnick

    August 10, 2017

  4. Jack, Thanks for your article. I don’t know how the church is going to get around to rethinking its understanding of the ‘natural law’. As you point out, some quite thinkers have long since done what might have been the beginning of a dialogue. Using ecclesiastical power to remove their voice from mainstream church dialogue has more or less worked for 50 or so years but I doubt such a tactic has a chance of continuing to be effective as the only way the Catholic Church will be able to participate creatively in shaping a post-Christendom society is in the context of dialogue and mutual respect. It seems, judging by a comment in the editorial at the link below, that some work will have to be done on removing some distortions introduced by Augustine of Hippo. I have the impression that there is at least an undercurrent within the church that is bursting to become part of intra-church dialogue and search. Reflections such as yours encourage us to be part of this undercurrent. Cheers, Peter

    Peter Woodruff

    August 10, 2017

  5. Well said John, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. The money spent on a postal vote, is a complete waste of resources. If Australia has such a surplus of money, then let`s spend it on Health and Education!

    John Peck

    August 10, 2017

  6. I have many friends who are in same-sex relationships and I believe they can be as much loving and caring parents as family situations with a more traditional flavor.

    Tim L

    August 10, 2017

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest


Your Cart