Note: Since writing this blog the ALP party in Australia decide to support a change to its platform to make same-sex marriages possible. This is a small step towards legislating same-sex marriages.
Gay relationships have come a long way in Australia over the last couple of decades. Same-sex couples are receiving more legal recognition and the stigma of homosexuality is slowly shifting in Australia. This post explores why this current political issue also has significant consequences for the mental health of gay and lesbian (GLBT) people in Australia.
I usually reserve this blog for advice, tips and information about how to create an effective and long-lasting relationship and I have tended to steer clear of political discussions and controversy for the most part. However, the same-sex marriage debate is very much at the forefront for Australians at the moment. The ALP will be debating the issue at it’s national conference this coming weekend. Along with the release of a touching video from the organisation getup.org.au that has gone viral across the world on YouTube (the video is at end of this post), the web is abuzz with debate and discussions in the lead up to our parliamentarians discussing this issue.
What the polls say
The legalisation of same sex marriage in Australia has been under discussion for quite some time now. The country has been flooded with polls and opinions regarding this issue.
According to recent studies, the public’s response shows a significant shift towards the acceptance of gay marriage. A recent poll that was conducted by Alternative Census in mid July 2011 revealed that 7 out of 10 people in Australia support same sex marriages. The vote was fairly constant throughout the country and same-sex marriage had the strongest support in Tasmania and Canberra. What’s astounding is that even the least enthusiastic states, namely Queensland, Northern Territory, and South Australia, had two-thirds of the voting party in favour of giving same sex couples a chance to be allowed to marry.
Roy Morgan Research also conducted a poll in early August 2011, in an effort to contribute to this hot national topic. The poll asked a group of 543 people if gay people should have the right to get married. Almost 68% of the group responded positively which clearly reflects that Australia is ready to accept same-sex marriages. This is a drastic change in opinion from the 2004 figures, when an SBS commissioned News poll revealed that only 38% of the Australian population supported this stance.
A Galaxy research poll released in August 2011 found that 53% of Australians who identify as Christians support same-sex marriage, while 41% oppose. 67% of non-Christians support it.
Currently, Australia allows gay couples to enter into civil unions in Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory. Although this gives gay couples the right to access most relationship entitlements, it isn’t a fully legal status. This limited status can make couples feel like second class citizens in their own homeland.
Celebrities support same-sex marriage
The matter has become a topic of interest among celebrities and sport stars as well. Rugby Union star David Pocock has refused to tie the knot with Emma Palindri until the government legalises same sex marriages. According to him, “It comes down to equal love. I don’t think it’s the government’s role to tell people that their love is right or wrong”.
Although the topic is still under discussion, the Australian Labour party (ALP) is facing international pressure, from human rights and Labour figures, in favour of the legalisation of this controversial issue. According to the Australian Marriage Equality National Convener, Alex Greenwich, “Labour parties and human rights organisations around the world will be watching the ALP National Conference and hoping the ALP upholds its fundamental values and by supporting equality”. Moreover, the ALP’s national president Jenny McAllister has also said yes to the legalisation of this clause.
Most gay couples have experienced adversity in Australia
This discussion would not be complete without reflecting on what these changes might mean for gay couples. Many gay people have experienced the following in their process of coming out:
- external homophobia- bullying, teasing, and taunts in school, online and in the workplace
- internalised homophobia- feelings of self-loathing about being gay
- physical abuse in schools
- internalised shame from growing up gay in a straight world
- depression and suicide resulting from a lack of support for their sexuality
- fear of rejection from friends, family members or their church
Not all gay people experience all of these things, but many have experienced some of these struggles. This can effect their sense of self-worth, confidence and their ability to develop intimate relationships and participate fully within society.
What are the mental health benefits for gay couples if same-sex marriage is legalised?
While the upcoming debate is a political issue, there are important social outcomes that would relate to the legalisation of same-sex marriages and giving GLBT people the same rights as heterosexual couples. These include:
- reduction in shame for those that identify as having a different sexuality from the majority
- increasing self-worth through the normalisation and validation of gay relationships
- reduction in social stigmas related to being in a gay relationship
- an increase in self-esteem as GLBT people have the same legal rights that heterosexual people have
- a decrease in homophobic attitudes as the Australian public becomes more accepting of same-sex marriages
- lowering rates of depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use and suicide within the gay population
- important social recognition and validation of same-sex couples leading to a more cohesive society that can hold greater diversity