The message is clear. Damage will be done to the mental health of the LGBT and their families. There's simply no other outcome to a gov funded no campaign, as would be the requirement in such a debate.
A lot is being written about the cost to the taxpayer of half a $billion to have a plebiscite. However the cost to our heads will be far greater than a simple dollar amount. How do you put a value on that anyway?
The negative campaign would disproportionally affect the LGBTIQ community and their families. Young LGBTIQ people, in particular, already experience high rates of verbal and physical aggression, prejudice, and related higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Children of LGBTIQ parents would be exposed to messages that their families are not worthy of the rights and recognition that other families have. Emerging evidence from Ireland indicates that such campaigns are distressing to LGBTIQ seniors who have already suffered greatly due to historic discrimination, and seniors whose children and grandchildren become a topic of debate, misinformation, and denigration. Already in Australia there are indicators of a spike in the need for mental health support for LGBTIQ people distressed by the negativity and hostility of even the pre-pre-plebiscite debate.
Broadcaster Alan Jones recently spoke against the plebiscite: "It could be angry and spiteful and divisive, the last thing we need." Forty religious leaders urge the Prime Minister to drop the plan, warning it would "provide a platform for disparaging LGBTI people", "distance leaders from laypeople, marginalise faith communities from broader society and alienate LGBTI individuals within religious communities". They emphasise that "after decades of legalised discrimination ... LGBTI Australians will face an angry, drawn-out debate, one likely to multiply existing disadvantages and stigma". Parents and Friends for Lesbians and Gays spokeswoman Shelley Argent reports they "are concerned about the 'hate campaigns' that will occur with the lead-up to a plebiscite ... It is distressing not only for our children but us, their parents". Journalist Amy Coopes writes: "When I think about having to live through this plebiscite, I feel ill. I imagine sitting on the bus, talkback radio blaring, averting my eyes ... To run this debate in full view and voice of ... will come at a steep personal cost ... Please, hear us. Before the damage is done."
Not surprisingly, a main theme in submissions to the Senate committee's inquiry was that social and psychological harm would be inevitable.In addition to noting, along with numerous other legal, human rights, and health organisations that as "marriage equality is a human rights and equal opportunity issue" it "should be a matter for Australian law and our parliamentary system, not a popular vote", the The Australian Psychological Society's (APS) submission states "a public vote is likely to present significant risks to the psychological health and wellbeing of those most affected". It warned of risks and detriment, particularly to two groups of young people – those who are gay and lesbian themselves, and those whose parents are gay or lesbian. The APS reported "a suite of studies confirms that the process of putting marriage equality to a public vote can be harmful to the psychological health of gender and sexual minorities" who "not only have to contend with the possibility of having rights to marriage denied through a public vote but also the stress associated with the campaign itself".
The Rainbow Families Council emphasised that it "would be a particular risk because ... It brings the debate into the streets, the schools, the swimming pools, these sports clubs and neighbourhood houses. ... it would be impossible in this media-saturated age for parents to enforce any kind of a media blackout as a way of trying to minimise the exposure of their children ... to a publicly funded no campaign." The Human Rights Law Centre warned that a public debate would "invite hatred and discrimination towards LGBTI people".
Polls indicate a plebiscite would result in marriage equality, but a win via a plebiscite would not undo the harm done along the way. Along with the strong economic, legal, and human rights reasons not to hold a plebiscite on marriage, the Turnbull government needs to attend to the health evidence and heed the warnings. Parliament needs to have a vote on marriage, in which Coalition members have a free vote, as soon as possible, for the good of LGBTIQ and other Australians, and our country. The Age