Marriage Equality Isn't A Rainbow With A Pot Of Gold At The End

10/09/2015 8:32 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Marriage equality won't fix the big issues in the GLBTIQ community that relate to violence, homelessness and mental health.

There. I've said it.

This might make me unpopular but I'm prepared to wager I'm not the only person who believes that the idea of equality in its purest sense is being lost in the collective rush to the marital alter.

I'm a great supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Australians; it's long overdue and I look forward to a day when I can get married in my own country.

But will marriage equality solve some of the bigger issues in our community? The issues relating to violence, homelessness and mental health that continue to percolate away in Australia receive minimal reportage and even less funding whilst the conversation about marriage equality only gets louder.

So let's take a look at some of the real issues the GLBTIQ community presently faces.

Violence in same-sex relationships in Australia is currently described as a silent epidemic. Approximately one in three lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex couples experience domestic violence.

Within this cohort, it's women and transgendered people who experience violence at a higher rate than gay men. This is a frightening statistic and yet, very little of this is mentioned in mental health planning or funding initiatives.

GLBTIQ individuals also face a particular set of challenges in relation to finding a safe place to live and continue to be overrepresented in the reporting of homelessness in Australia. Often young people experience homelessness when they have declared their sexuality or are gender questioning and report higher incidences of negative experiences associated with being homeless; with homophobia and transphobia a common experience in accommodation support services. Violence towards homeless GLBTIQ youth is also continuing to rise.

This speaks to a knock-on effect on the mental health of the GLBTIQ community. GLBTIQ people typically experience much higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and feelings of social isolation. This is particularly acute in rural areas.

Many young people struggle with their sexuality whilst others experience disruptions to their mental state due to a sense of isolation experienced in their family or workplace. Discrimination, both overt and covert, still exists which creates a substantial impact on rates of depression, anxiety and alcohol and other drug use all of which are higher in the GLBTIQ community than in the heterosexual community.

Given the social issues facing GLBTIQ people in Australia I can't help but think that it seems foolish to put all of the equality eggs in the marriage basket and believe that an amendment to the Marriage Act will make these problems evaporate or suddenly become repaired.

It's fair to say that many mainstream services have a history of being non-inclusive of GLBTIQ folks or are not appropriately skilled in responding to the issues relating to this group. At the very least there needs to be a federal imperative that requires services to create policies around governance and diversity training to better respond to the needs of our community.

But again, does marriage equality impact on any of this? I've heard people tell me marriage equality will force people to be more responsive, it will make us feel better in terms of our mental health or we'll feel safer. I tend to think this is a bit Pollyanna and suspect that anyone in a violent relationship or someone who is homeless or experiencing depression doesn't have marriage equality at the forefront of their thoughts.

So what's the solution here?

I believe if we removed the word 'marriage' from the lobbying equation, the concept of acknowledging the rights of GLBTIQ folks would be more palatable because it becomes more of a civil right and less of a moral debate. The problem lies with a Federal Government, which refuses to acknowledge the rights of GLBTIQ people, which is no surprise given that Australia is led by a man who's on the record as being 'uncomfortable' with being around the gays.

If this is who leads us and continues to not only gag his troops but also rules based on an outdated personal belief system, I think marriage equality is not close, it's really far away.

Without the civil right of equality, GLBTIQ Australians will continue to be seen as second-class citizens. If our rights were on par with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, we would be more visible and in an ideal world, considered worth the investment when it comes to our rights to safety and good health.

It's time to change the conversation. Let's redirect the focus to keeping young people safe, services accountable for being inclusive and promoting equality based on improving the health and wellbeing of all GLBTIQ Australians.

That's a better equality outcome to my mind.

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