A Private Matter Made Public: The Psychological Impact of a Public Gay Marriage Debate

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A Private Matter Made Public: The Psychological Impact of a Public Gay Marriage Debate

Despite the best efforts from court cases and public outcry, it seems that the plebiscite on gay marriage will continue as scheduled. Instead of stepping up to the plate and doing their sworn duty as elected officials. The administration, led by warring factions of the Liberal Party, have decided on a $122 million dollar solution. Which nobody, least of all the LGBTI community wants; a national mail-in vote.

gay marriage, men staring into a large mirror

Mounting Criticisms

The unprecedented decision to leave a highly personal, human rights issue in the hands of the general public, through a non-binding, non-compulsory vote is disconcerting. To say the least! Many Australians have spoken out regarding the unusual and unscientific nature of the survey and the enormous expense being undertaken.

A nationwide postal vote on an issue like this has no precedent, experts said, and that unfamiliarity is one reason supporters are wary and apprehensive.

What is further indignant, is that in itself the vote won’t change the law and it won’t be binding on lawmakers. Such a public, rancorous debate, however, about whether they are equal and worthy of being allowed to marry creates an atmosphere that can cause mental and emotional turmoil in LGBT individuals.

Echoes of Ireland

While this survey has no historical precedent within Australia, a similar vote was held in Ireland back in 2015. But that referendum was conducted in person and legally binding.

In a study, conducted by Australia’s University of Queensland and Victoria University. Where 1657 Irish LGBTI individuals were surveyed regarding the psychological impact of the referendum. Nearly ¾ of those asked agreed that the “No” campaign had created a highly adverse effect on the lives of LBTI adults, families and especially on highly vulnerable teenagers.

Despite the eventual success of the vote in favour of gay marriage. Many respondents said that the advertising put out by opponents of marriage equality, which included images of straight couples as ideal and respectable, caused considerable distress. Only 23 percent of respondents expressed an interest in going through the difficult ordeal again.

Australia gay marriage, Gay street protest

image credit: Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dangerous and Divisive

Now in Australia, we face a similar public debate that’s even more controversial in nature. Already you have public figures like Liberal MP Chris Miles approving pamphlet campaigns. Proclaiming how children of the same-sex marriage are more likely to become unemployed or drug addicted. Meanwhile, former MP has taken the lead in arguing against marriage equality, deriding a “yes” vote as a vote against freedom of speech and religion.

Brining outright prejudice and discrimination into the public eye as something to be supported is clearly harmful to the mental and physical health of LGBTI individuals. Most medical, and psychological and bodies have issued statements in favour of marriage equality for this very reason. At greatest risk, are younger members of the LGBTIQ community, many of these teens and young adults are already subject to bullying, and physical abuse. And this sort of divisive public rhetoric only drives home those messages.

Reach Out, an online mental health service aimed at young Australians and their parents has reported a 19 percent increase in visitors over the past couple of months, as teenagers express growing anxiety, and reach out for help and advice. Other gay health sites have reported a similar uptick in visitors as vulnerable gay men and women look for answers.

It’s clear that no matter which way public opinion tilts, the scars left by this controversial vote will be felt by the gay community for years to come. Let’s just hope that the wounds are worth it.

Hannah is a freelance travel and fashion writer who prides herself in finding the perfect tours and operators to make your journey as authentic and memorable as possible.

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