I was nine when it happened. Mum introduced my brother and I to her girlfriend and told us that she was going to move in. I remember the feeling I had in my stomach. It churned. I felt sick.
‘Lesbian’ was the worst insult in Year 4. It tarnished you. It made you dirty; disgusting.
I kept my mother’s sexuality a secret. It was a shameful burden that isolated me. I avoided inviting people over to my house. I tried not to talk about home.
That’s the power of stigma. It needs no rational basis. It just is and it sucks.
Spurious arguments against marriage equality are grounded in stigma and they serve to entrench the discrimination against same-sex attracted (or LGBTI) people and to legitimise its extension into so many areas of life.
As just one example, have a read of this patronising article from Father Frank Brennan, ‘Four preconditions for supporting marriage equality‘. Essentially, Brennan (who ‘has gay friends, don’t you know?’) argues that before he would support ending blatant discrimination against LGBTI people, he wants assurances that this won’t mean that (religious) people can’t continue to discriminate against LGBTI people when it comes to ‘the performances of professional or artistic services’, accessing reproductive health services, adoption, or the ordering of their (tax exempt & government funded) religious and church affairs (presumably including schools, hospitals, accommodation services, social services, etc…). How magnanimous of him!
Please don’t tell me that this is about religion. Anyone who defends discrimination in the name of a man who deliberately associated himself with lepers, sex workers and tax collectors is a bloody idiot and has no place engaging with a serious policy debate.
Similarly, anyone who claims that this is about protecting children is either lying or stupid. We’re already here. Denying marriage equality doesn’t stop people from being same-sex attracted and it doesn’t stop their children from existing. All it does is perpetuate damaging stigma, which is bad enough for the children of same-sex attracted people, but can fatal for LGBTI children themselves.
According to Beyond Blue, ‘LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicidality of any population in Australia. … Same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14x higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers.’ They also found that, ‘[m]any LGBTI people who attempt suicide have not disclosed their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to others, or to only very few people.’ And, finally, the most important finding:
The elevated risk of mental ill-health and suicidality among LGBTI people is not due to sexuality, sex or gender identity in and of themselves but rather due to discrimination and exclusion as key determinants of health.
These lives should weigh heavily on the minds of our federal politicians. There is only one conscientious choice here and that is to support equality. Everything else is just bigotry. And it’s dangerous.