Marriage Equality Means Less Stigma and Discrimination
15 December 2011 at 10:34 am
I attended the rally outside Queensland Parliament House on the eve of the passing of the Civil Union Bill. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of a movement that has brought positive change and recognition for same-sex relationships. The Queensland Government deserves credit for doing what they can to bring equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Queenslanders. However full marriage equality is beyond their jurisdiction, the Marriage Act can only be changed federally, as it was in 2004 under the Howard Government to explicitly exclude same-sex marriages.
I was annoyed at Fr Frank Brennan’s opinion on gay marriage in the article ‘Gay Marriage Debate Has a Long Way to Go’.
His view that as a conscientious Catholic he wouldn’t vote for marriage equality, rather he would like to see a national law for civil unions similar to the United Kingdom (where the fight for full marriage equality is ongoing) is not as harsh as some of faith, but it concerns me that someone with compassion doesn’t comprehend the true meaning of equality and its affects on health and wellbeing.
I’m a gay man and I would like to be treated equally to my heterosexual brothers, sisters, friends and family in the eyes of the law. Fr Brennan seems to think that all gay and lesbian people are second-class citizens and only deserve civil unions not marriage, even though he points out churches will not have to marry same-sex couples if marriage equality is granted.
To categorise same-sex relationships as anything less than being equal to heterosexual relationships will only further stigma and discrimination and perpetuate the health and wellbeing issues that stem from minority stress. Perhaps we should just do away with marriage altogether and let everyone get ‘civil unioned’ since the majority of heterosexual marriages occur outside of churches in Australia these days anyway?
Fr Brennan’s article used the argument ‘affirming that the bearing and nurturing of the children of the union is a constitutive good of marriage’ to reinforce the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage. This is flawed as it also excludes heterosexuals who marry in older life, those that choose not to have children, or those that can’t have children from his definition of marriage. It also overlooks the fact that that in modern Australia, families come in all different forms, and many gay and lesbian people are parents and raise happy, healthy, well-balanced children and these families would only be strengthened by marriage equality.
I was raised Catholic and some of the values that I hold onto from my upbringing are to treat everyone with love and kindness, not to judge others, and give back to society and make a positive difference. I’ve worked in the Not for Profit sector in a fundraising capacity for over 11 years satisfied in knowing that my efforts are helping people and making a positive impact on this world. For the last three years I’ve worked for the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, an LGBT health and wellbeing charity. My job is not easy; in fact, it’s quite difficult to raise money for important LGBT health and wellbeing projects. I fundraise for projects that try to address the many issues that impact on the LGBT community.
Full equality is important for the health and wellbeing of LGBT people. Most research points to minority stress, or the effects of stigma and discrimination/homophobia/transphobia as one of the main causes of most of our communities’ health and wellbeing issues. It can cause mental health problems, internalised homophobia, social isolation, increased risk-taking behaviour, increased drug and alcohol misuse, increased HIV infection rates, suicidal ideation and increased suicide rates.
A few quick facts on LGBT health and wellbeing:
· 35% of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people have had suicidal thoughts in their lifetime compared to 13% of heterosexuals.
· 17% of LGB people have made suicidal plans compared to 4% of heterosexuals.
· 41% of LGB people have had a mental disorder in the past 12 months compared to 20% of heterosexuals.
· 33% of LGB people are smokers compared to 18% of heterosexuals
· 29% of LGB people drink at risky levels over their lifetimes compared to 20% of heterosexuals
· 51% of LGB people have had a chronic disease in the past 12 months compared to 47% of heterosexuals.
· 82% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people have experienced homophobic/transphobic violence or harassment in their lifetime. 53% have experienced this in the last two years including: 43% verbal abuse. 18% threats of physical violence, 9% physical violence and 3% sexual assault.
· 87% of transgender people had experienced stigma or discrimination on the basis of their gender issues.
If marriage equality is granted, it will do a great deal to reinforce the fact that LGBT people are a normal part of society and it will lessen the stigma and discrimination that our community faces.
With less of a reason to treat LGBT people differently or judge negatively, harsh homophobic attitudes will soften. And with less stigma and discrimination, our communities’ health and wellbeing will also improve.
Jason Russo is the Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator for Healthy Communities, which aims to promote the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Queenslanders. They are a not-for-profit, community based organisation, funded by government grants and community fundraising, donations and sponsorships.