Marriage equality in Australia is an emotive issue for many. There are those who fear that marriage equality will have a negative impact on Australian society and that it will threaten the values of traditional marriage. Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum; those whom this issue personally impacts – the LGBT members of Australian society who would like their country to remove the last vestiges of inequality that they face. Most Australians fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views.
Queensland has long been considered one of, if not the most, conservative state in the country. According to data from Roy Morgan Research, 1 in 3 Queenslanders believe that homosexuality is “immoral.” However, these attitudes are gradually changing, particularly among 18-24 year olds. According to recent opinion polls 81% of Australian young people are in favour of marriage equality. 98% of Australian LGBT people support gay marriage. On a more general scale, 64% of Australians are in favour of marriage equality while 75% of Australians believe that it is ultimately inevitable. So, if we believe that it is inevitable, why not just go ahead now?
Those who are vocally opposed to gay marriage often return to the same points. The most common argument against marriage equality is that is will lead to children being raised by same-sex parents. Certain opponents of gay marriage feel that allowing same-sex couples to have children will have a negative impact on the lives of those children. However, the argument for or against gay parenting is actually quite separate from the argument for or against gay marriage. Same sex couples are already allowed to adopt in all Australian states and territories with the exception of Northern Territory. 1 in 1000 Australian children are already growing up in same sex families. Additionally, statistics show us that gay people tend to have a higher level of education than their heterosexual peers with more holding Bachelor’s degrees or equivalent. As a result, same sex couples typically earn more money and can provide more financial security and overall stability for their families than their straight counterparts. Marriage equality will not have a negative impact on the lives of these children or future children being raised in same-sex families. It will reduce opportunities for discrimination and provide further stability in their lives.
Those behind the Australian Marriage Forum are also concerned that if we change the definition of marriage to be between two people regardless of gender then that will open up the floodgates for incest and polygamy. It’s important to note that we are not changing the definition of marriage in Australia – we are simply expanding it to be more inclusive. It is not an unalterable definition – it has already been reformed to remove discrimination faced by interracial couples. However, if the argument against gay marriage is simply that it is not how marriage is defined then the argument becomes about language – not about marriage. Languages develop over time. New words are constantly added and removed from the vernacular and the definition of words changes as time goes on.
Furthermore, as Australia is now the last developed English-speaking country to legalise gay marriage we have the benefit of looking elsewhere to see the impact of marriage equality on society.
In 2015, Ireland made headlines globally by becoming the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. Since then there has been an overall decrease in divorce rates. Same-sex marriages account for 1 in 20 marriages performed in the republic – which corresponds with an average global estimate of homosexuality prevalence of 5%. According to the Central Statistics Office of Ireland, the average age of same-sex couples choosing to marry was 41 whereas for heterosexual couples it was 34-36. They are, typically, in stable, long-term relationships. There has been no move to legalise incest, beastiality or polygamy.
The Centre for Human Potential in Brisbane has conducted extensive research into the impact of societal homophobia on the mental health of LGBT youth and have found high levels of minority stress and internalised homophobia. These lead on to feelings of defectiveness, hopelessness and a lack of human connection. Gay people are 4 times more likely to have experienced homelessness and are 5 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. However, the research has also found that when heterosexuals value homosexual relationships outcomes improve. Research from the US shows us that suicide attempts among LGBT youth decreases by 14% in states where gay marriage has been legalised. There was also a 7% reduction in all suicide attempts in youths, regardless of sexual preferences. In Australia, this would correlate to saving almost 3000 lives.
In Australia, 1.6% of teenagers are in gay relationships versus 0.1% of older people. Statistics show us that, globally, homosexuality has a prevalence of 5%. These lower figures seen in Australia is not typically interpreted as a low rate of homosexuality – rather a high rate of homophobia. As societies become more accepting those identifying as homosexual increases. This is not due to a sudden change of mind – rather a gradual absence of fear.
Marriage equality is not a quick fix for homophobia in Australian society but it is a step in the right direction. It provides legal protection, security and stability for our LGBT members of society and their families.