Imagine for a moment that purely due to who you fall in love with you are among the group of Australians who have the poorest mental health and higher suicide rate. Imagine being in the group of Australians who are more susceptible to elicit drug addictions and becoming alcoholics. Picture a scenario where you and your partner have been raising a foster child for years but because you are unable to legally marry, only one of you is legally allowed to adopt this child. How would it feel to be discriminated against, acted violently toward and sometimes murdered because you love someone of the same sex and are told you are not afforded the same legal rights as your heterosexual counterparts? This is the reality that tens of thousands of Australian couples face day to day who are not given the legal right to marry their partner purely because that partner is the same sex as them. Marriage equality is a human right and Australia needs to legalise it to help improve the mental health of people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual or intersex, to help increase their legal rights and to increase a sense of belonging in society and reduce the terrible discrimination they face every day.
As of the 2011 census there were over 33,000 same sex couples living within Australia (Australian Bureau of statics, 2013) which due to the current marriage equality laws, means there are over 60,000 Australians who cannot marry their partner. Within these 33,000 couples were 6,300 children who were either born into previous opposite sex relationship, conceived with the help of reproductive technology or adopted or fostered into the same sex relationship. In August this year Queensland joined New South Wales, Victoria, The ACT and Western Australia in making it legal for same sex couples to adopt children. However, this means that in South Australia and The Northern Territory same sex couples can foster children but not become their legal parents. In these states, it is legal for a single person to adopt but only for same sex couples to foster children. The outrageousness of this law was made apparent in Victoria before the adoption law was amended, when a couple who had been fostering an 11-year-old child and were wanting to adopt him. Due to the inability to adopt him as a couple it was decided that one of them would apply as a single person. They were granted a court order to allow this adoption but only because the legislation wording stated ‘one person’ not ‘single person” (Sifris & Gerber, 2011).
Artificial contraception methods and surrogacy also add to the complexity of parenting laws for same sex couples. While there are legislations in place to assist with the recognition of parentage in assisted contraception procedures, recognising the non-birth mother in lesbian relationships and the legalities of surrogacy arrangements, allowing same sex couples to be legally married would streamline these laws, ensure clarity and stop heartbreaking disputes from occurring.
Many opposers to the legalization of same sex marriage cite the well-being of children as justification to this opposition, however there has been research carried out to dispel this view. In her 2012 submission to the Australian Senate Legal and constitutional affairs committee in regards to Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, Dr Lee Badgett stated that the children in same sex marriages in Massachusetts felt more secure and protected once the marriage was legal. These families reported that their children felt their family was validated and given legitimacy and gained a greater sense of stability. There was also a feeling of increased connection to family members and relationships were solidified (Badgett, 2009)
According to the Australian Human Rights commission (2011) there are 11 in every 100 Australians that are of diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender and in a briefing report released by Beyond Blue in 2013 it was stated that the mental health of these people is among the poorest in Australia (Rosenstreich,2013,p.3). In 2015, 3027 Australians died from intentional self-harm (suicide) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), and while it is advised that it is difficult to ascertain how many of these people were of the LGBTI community because sexual orientation is not often reported at time of death in Australia (Skerrett, Kõlves & De Leo, 2016, p.8-9), it is reported that LGBTI people are fourteen times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. It is also reported that 24.4% of gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Australians meet the criteria for experiencing major depressive episodes, twice as many homosexual/bisexual Australians have anxiety disorders and 15.7% of Lesbian, gay and Bisexual people have had suicidal thoughts compared to only 6.8% of the general population. The statics for Transexual people is staggeringly higher with 50% actually having attempted suicide. While confusion about sexuality and gender are key factors in these mental health issues, the main reason for these high statistics is due to discrimination and exclusion which is referred to as Minority Stress (Rosenstreich,2013, p3-4). Continuing to not allow marriage for same sex couples only increased this discrimination and exclusion and therefore adds onto the stress these couples face and add to their mental health struggles.
Homophobia and transphobia are the fear and prejudice of and against people who identify as homosexual, transsexual or do not conform to gender norms. Heterosexism is discrimination in favour of heterosexual and against homosexual and bisexual people as well as those who challenge assumptions that there are only two genders. In Australia, 80% of those within the LGBTI community have experienced public insult and 18% have experienced physical abuse and there have been deaths due to this homophobia and heterosexism. Despite huge improvements to legislation in Australia and advances in the acceptance of the LGBTI community, these people are still marginalised and still feel exclusion and discrimination within broader society (Rosenstreich,2013, p4). Affording same sex couples the same rights as opposite sex couples will work to decrease this marginalisation and decrease the discrimination they face. If they are given the same rights as opposite sex attracted Australians it will work to decrease the homophobia and heterosexism as it will show there is no difference between the LGBTI community and their heterosexual counterparts.
The Australian Human rights commission (2012) state “that the fundamental human rights principle of equality means that civil marriage should be available, without discrimination, to all couples, regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Same sex couples need to be afforded the same legal marriage rights as heterosexual couples to increase their legal rights and ensure children within these relationships are protected and the family can feel a greater sense of togetherness. Marriage equality will also help improve mental health in the LGBTI community as it will lessen the minority stress experienced and will also lead to lesser discrimination and marginalization. The debate still rages here Australia recently speaking on ABC’s Q&A actor and openly gay Madga Subanski clashed with Nations Senator Fiona Nash who advised her view of marriage was of a traditional one, she then continued on saying that she respected Subanski’s view and desire to see that as equality to which Subanski replied “But you won’t give me my rights, thanks for nothing” (ABC news, 2016). The hope is that in the future we will no longer have the discussions of same sex marriage and opposite sex marriage it will simply be marriage. To end are the words of Whoopi Goldberg who stated “It’s a no brainer, If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.”
Addressing sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity discrimination: Consultation Report, 2011, Australian Human Rights Commission, viewed 2 October, 2016, < https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sexual-orientation-sex-gender-identity/publications/addressing-sexual-orientation-and-sex>
Australian Social Trends, 2013, Australia Bureau of Statitics, Viewed 1 October 2016, <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10July+2013>
Sifris, A & Gerber, P, 2011, Victorian Court circumvents prohibition on adoption by same-sex couple, Australian Journal of Family Law, 35(1), p. 275-283.
Ramos. C, Goldberg. N, and Badgett. L, 2009, The Effects of Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: A survey of the experiences and impact of marriage on same-sex couples, Williams Institute. <http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Ramos-Goldberg-Badgett-MA- Effects-Marriage-Equality-May-2009.pdf>
Causes of Death Australia, 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, Viewed 2 October 2016. <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2015~Main%20Features~Intentional%20self-harm:%20key%20characteristics~8>
Rosenstreich. G, 2013, LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney, P. 3-4
Skerrett, D. M., Kõlves K., & De Leo, D. (2015). Suicidal Behaviours in LGBT Populations. Final Report to beyondblue p. 8-9
Marriage Equality in a changing world, 2012, position paper on Marriage Equality, Australian Human Rights Commission, viewed 2 October 2016 <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/pdf/human_rights/MarriagePositionPaper2012.pdf>
ABC News, 2016, Q&A: Magda Szubanski and Fiona Nash clash over same-sex marriage plebiscite, Australian Broadcasting Commission, viewed 2 October 2016 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-20/qanda-szubanski-fiona-nash-clash-qanda/7859660
ABC News, 2016, Adoption by same-sex couples, singles to be legalised in Queensland, Australian Broadcasting Commission, viewed 6 October 2016 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-06/same-sex-adoption-laws-change-single-ivf/7697074>