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Statement on Marriage Equality

Statement on Marriage Equality

The National Mental Health Commission (the Commission) recognises that discrimination of any kind, based on race, gender identity, relationship status, age, political opinion, disability or sexuality is detrimental to mental health. The Marriage Act currently denies individual choice and discriminates against same sex attracted people in Australia by defining marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”[1].

As a minority group, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) people disproportionately face negative mental and physiological health outcomes compared with the general population. LGBTIQ people continue to experience routine discrimination, prejudice, stigma, and exclusion in the community. It is difficult to determine suicide mortality rates for the LGBTIQ population as sexuality and/or gender identity may not be known.[2] However, a number of studies have found that members of LGBTIQ communities are more likely to experience mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts and self-harm than their non LGBTIQ peers[3],[4], as a result of negative social experiences such as homophobia and bullying[5].

The current debate about marriage equality has received growing support from many members of the community. However, many LGBTIQ people are personally affected by the continuing debate, encountering unacceptable sentiments and behaviour in their workplaces, their communities, and in social and public media. The Commission is concerned about the potential negative health impacts these debates about marriage equality will have on individuals, couples and families as they are exposed to continued scrutiny and judgement.

The Commission notes that the marriage equality debate is not about same sex parents having children. However, many opponents to same sex marriage have claimed that children from same sex parent families experience poorer health and social outcomes. Research in this area contradicts such claims. A review published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2013 reviewed and synthesised Australian and international literature on same sex parented families and its findings challenges the claims that same sex parented families are harmful to children[6]. This and other research evidence confirms that children raised in same sex parented families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families. Recognised protective family/parental factors that influence child wellbeing and resilience include a strong parent/child relationship, family cohesion, knowledge of parenting and child development, and concrete support for parents. These findings are supported by commentary from the leading professional bodies such as the Australian Medical Australia and the Australian Psychological Society.

An Australian review of international literature confirms that marriage equality does have positive effects, improving the health outcomes – mental and physiological — for LGBTIQ people [7] . In research conducted in the United States of America, state-level same sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts, providing empirical evidence for an association between same sex marriage policies and positive mental health outcomes. [8]

Sources:
  1. Commonwealth of Australia (2004) Marriage Amendment Act, No. 126, 2004.
  2. Dempsey, D. (2013).Same-sex parented families in Australia.[Child Family Community Australia Paper No. 18]. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  3. Dyson, S., Mitchell, A., Smith, A., Dowsett, G., Pitts, M., & Hillier, L. (2003). Don’t ask, don’t tell. Report of the same-sex attracted youth suicide data collection project. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society.
  4. Pitts, M., Smith, A., Mitchell, A., & Patel, S. (2006) Private Lives: A report on the wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.
  5. Leonard, W., Pitts, M., Mitchell, A., Lyons, A., Smith, A., Patel, S., Couch, M., and Barrett, A. (2012) Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Australians. Monograph Series Number 86. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.
  6. Hillier, L., Jones, T., Monagle, M., Overton, N., Gahan, L., Blackman, J. and Mitchell, A. (2010) Writing Themselves In 3: The third national study of the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people. Monograph series No. 78. Melbourne, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
  7. Kealy-Bateman, W., and Pryor, L. (2015) ‘Marriage equality is a mental health issue’. Australasian Psychiatry. Volume: 23(5): 540-543.
  8. Raifman, J.; Moscoe, E., Bryn Austin, S., McConnell, M. (2017) ‘Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts’. JAMA Pediatrics. Volume: 171(4): 350-356


[1] https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004A01361: accessed 14 August 2017.

[2] http://www.glhv.org.au/sites/www.glhv.org.au/files/dontaskdonttell.pdf: accessed 13 August 2017.

[3] http://www.glhv.org.au/sites/www.glhv.org.au/files/private_lives_report_0.pdf: accessed 13 August 2017.

[4] http://www.glhv.org.au/sites/www.glhv.org.au/files/PrivateLives2Report.pdf: accessed 13 August 2017.

[5] http://www.glhv.org.au/files/wti3_web_sml.pdf: accessed 13 August 2017.

[6] https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/sites/default/files/cfca/pubs/papers/a145197/cfca18.pdf: accessed 3 September 2017.

[7] http://ro.uow.edu.au/smhpapers/3476/: accessed 11 August 2017.

[8] http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2604258: accessed 11 August 2017.

"Even the most disadvantaged Australians should be able to lead a 'contributing life,' whatever that means for them and this simple goal will be our touchstone and yardstick."

Chair Prof Allan Fels AO
National Mental Health Commission

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