One year on from the plebiscite we didn’t need


As I started to draft this article, I remembered another set of reflections I made in another LGB setting. (At that stage we didn’t really acknowledge the T and I, in LGBTI.)  This was a series of observations on (at that stage) a few decades of volunteering at what (when I started in 1981) was called the Homosexual Counselling and Information Service. It’s now known as Living Proud and is part of the national QLife collective of telephone and online counselling and information services.

So, a few of my thoughts and observations on the impact at an individual and community wide perspective on marriage equality and the plebiscite would be as follows;

I feel society doesn’t move forward by accepting the Status Quo or saying that “It’s always been done this way”. Whether that’s allowing women to vote and enter parliament; Repealing laws restricting consenting sexual activities between adults; Having universal superannuation and scheme’s like the NDIS for those who need it;   

To me it’s interesting that although Australia was one of the first countries to recognise same-sex couples for immigration purposes, we had to be (figuratively speaking) dragged kicking and screaming into allowing same-sex marriage, after many other countries;

One of the interesting footnotes to this episode was the idea that same-sex unions should not be called “Marriage”. However at least one piece of psychological research from the U.S. comparing couples who were “Married” versus being in some sort of “Civil Partnership” (remembering that there, State laws control marriage) “…suggested that full legal recognition of same-sex relationships through marriage might be an important legal and policy strategy for improving the health of same-sex couples. (American Journal of Public Health, 2015)”;

There were also the many negative aspects of the campaign, like the “Red Herrings”, distractions and unauthorised materials that showed up in the letter box and elsewhere;

Then there were attempts to use the bible to justify opposition to same-sex marriage. But trying to use the bible to justify one’s actions, can end up in scenarios like the “Letter to Dr Laura” that was widely circulated on the internet in years past;   

One of the good times as part of this episode in the countries’ LGBTI history, was joining hundreds of others at the Northbridge Plaza as the results were announced.

I’d say responses of those in positions of power in some of the churches have been a bit of a “mixed bag”. There was the recent ABC news report about the Sydney Anglicans seeking to ban anything that could (I’d say) be construed as “support” for same sex couples or marriages. Then at the other ideological end, was the recent OUTinPerth report of the event Welcoming Same Sex Marriage at Star St Uniting Church.

Unfortunately (at the time of writing) what we know about the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review comes from leaks in the press. From what I’ve seen reported, I think it’s a case where a report deserves to collect dust on a shelf in the Parliamentary library and not be acted on. I feel it is safe to guess that apart from anything else (like avoiding fallout for the election in Wentworth) it has become a “hot potato” the government is reluctant to release, although the leaks have, it seems, prompted potential (Federal) protections for LGBTI students. Time will tell if it is extended to employees of religious organisations, in a similar way to how they are protected in Tasmania.

I do wonder how much pressure (either directly or indirectly) will be, or is being applied to Gay and Lesbian couples (who may or may not have been living in a de facto couple relationship for some time) to actually get (legally) married?

Admittedly I remember when I was growing up, it was fairly rare (as I understand it) for hetero couples to cohabitate without a marriage certificate. Yet nowadays it is “normal” for opposite sex couples to live together, before formalising the relationship with a legal marriage. So now all those in de facto relationships have a choice we didn’t have before.

Also it would be interesting to see how much same-sex couples make use of pre-marriage services like Prepare-Enrich which can be used as a form of marriage education.  

Overall, we seem (to my eyes) to be moving a few steps forward, in terms of LGBTI rights, while still having to deal with those who for their own reasons are seeking to resist moves forward.

Unfortunately, I seemed to have been correct in my November 2017 OIP article when I wrote about being prepared for marriage equality and potential sour losers.

Colin Longworth

Colin Longworth is a psychologist in private practice and long-time volunteer counsellor with Living Proud and its predecessor organisations.

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