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Doctors Lead Call On Australia To Legalise Same-Sex Marriage

Structural discrimination has significant health impacts for the LGBTQ community.

20/05/2017 10:45 AM AEST | Updated 18 hours ago
Niyazz
The Australian Medical Association has thrown its weight behind the push for same-sex marriage.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called on the Turnbull Government and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia.

AMA President Dr Micheal Gannon has written to the Australian Parliament asking both leaders to take a bipartisan approach to legalising gay-marriage.

Gannon cites on-going structural discrimination as a cause for significant mental and physical health risks to the LGBTQ community in his letter.

"Discrimination has a severe, damaging impact on mental and physiological health outcomes, and LGBTIQ individuals have endured a long history of institutional discrimination in this country," he said in a statement.

"This discrimination has existed across the breadth of society; in our courts, in our classrooms, and in our hospitals."

To combat this, the AMA is lobbying the Government to have same-sex relationships recognised under the 1961 Marriage Act. The association has also called for the removal of discriminatory practices by businesses and doctors to ensure the health of people who identify as LGBTQ is of primary concern both in hospitals and in daily living.

Since its launch on Saturday, the new push has gained widespread support from LGBTQ activist groups, medical associations and even the Australian Labour Party.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek welcomed the idea that gay-marriage should be legal in Australia.

"I think it's terrific that the AMA have come out in support of marriage equality," she said.

"That's the way forward."

The Australian Medical Student's Association (AMSA) and The NSW Medical Students Council (NSWMSC) have rallied behind the AMA's movement in their support for marriage equality.

AMSA President Rob Thomas said that "LGBTIQ people suffer poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population. The stigma and discrimination against sexual minorities plays a significant role in the higher rates of mental health issues."

"Further, it has been shown that discriminatory policies, such as those relating to marriage equality, have been shown to have negative health effects in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. These populations are at greater risk of suicide, depression, anxiety and alcohol and other substance dependence," he said in a statement.

The NSWMSC echoed a similar sentiment saying that, "as future doctors, we have a duty of care not only to our patients but to our colleagues as well."

"Marriage equality is a vital step towards celebrating the LGBTQ members of our community, who have every right to have their love recognised in the same way as heterosexual couples," NSWMSC said in a statement.

Activist group The Equality Campaign, who focuses on achieving marriage equality in Australia, has welcomed this support.

Independent MP and the Campaign's Co-Chair Alex Greenwich said that the "AMA's support for marriage equality highlights the important health and well being benefits of treating all citizens equally and fairly."

"Doctors know from first hand experience the tragic consequences of medical emergencies that come from the lack of equal legal recognition of same-sex partners," he said in a statement.

The AMA cites research from mental health organisation Beyond Blue as support for their argument. They say that on-going discrimination against the LGBTQ community results in engagement in high-risk behaviours such as illicit drug and alcohol abuse. People who identity as Queer also have higher rates of suicide.

The AMA says that these health issues are a result of discrimination and stigmatisation of people who are LGBTQ, not as a result of sexual orientation itself.

The association believes the removal of structural discrimination, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, will ease these problems significantly.

All three of the medical groups say that the lack of formal recognition of same-sex couples in Australia also leads to complications when dealing with patients within medical systems.

"The lack of legal recognition can have tragic consequences in medical emergencies, as a person may not have the right to advocate for their ill or injured partner, and decision-making may be deferred to a member of the patient's biological family instead," Gannon said.

In October 2016, the Federal Parliament considered the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 which aimed to create the legislative framework for a vote which would ask Australians, "Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?"

While the Bill passed through the House of Representatives, it was defeated once it reached the Senate.

The same-sex marriage debate will undoubtedly remain active in Australia until another attempt to legalise it is introduced to Parliament.

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