Malcolm Turnbull has been promising Australia a "respectful debate" when it comes to the postal plebiscite on marriage equality. But less than a fortnight after the Prime Minister confirmed the survey plan Melbourne has been hit with vile homophobic posters from a Nazi website citing thoroughly debunked research about sexual assault in LGBTQ families.
Pictures of a poster reportedly spotted in the heart of the Melbourne CBD popped up on Twitter over the weekend. The material, headed by the screaming headline STOP THE FAGS, pictures a young child cowering before two rainbow-coloured belts, seemingly about to be punished. The image, HuffPost Australia has learned, seems to trace back to the message board of a neo-Nazi website called Iron March, with one version of the poster bearing the website's URL.
While the headline and image are vile enough to warrant repudiation, the statistics claimed above are in a field of their own. The claims about child abuse, depression and obesity in LGBTQ families come from a thoroughly rubbished study from D. Paul Sullins, which was published in an open-access journal which requires authors to pay for publication.
Sullins' article -- which claims children of LGBTQ families are at higher risk of suicide, depression and other health issues -- was a study of just 20 children.
"The comparison sample comprised 20 unweighted cases of adolescents with same-sex parents, consisting of 17 lesbian partners and 3 gay male partners," Sullins wrote.
Not surprisingly, the article has been thoroughly and exhaustively discredited (as have other reports from Sullins on LGBTQ families), but the vile 'STOP THE FAGS' poster is not the only anti-marriage equality material which has so far been linked to far-right groups.
It would be bad enough that such posters are appearing anywhere in Australia, considering Turnbull's repeated claims that the postal survey would include a "respectful debate". But the study from Sullins has also been used by the Australian Christian Lobby and government senator Zed Seselja.
"[R]esearch has shown, such as the 2011 report, For Kid's Sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney and studies by Douglas Allen (2015) in Canada and Paul Sullins (2015) in the US, that children do best on both emotional and educational measures when they are raised by their biological mother and father," Seselja wrote in a comment piece for Fairfax Media on August 18.
In a blog posted on the ACL's website in 2016, Kieren Jackson cited Sullins' debunked study and listed a link to it.
"Coupled with a more frequent history of abuse victimisation, parental distance, and obesity, the study casts serious doubt over the frequent claim that children are unaffected by the type of relationship their parents have," he wrote in citing Sullins.
"While there have already been dozens of studies alleging "no differences" in outcomes between children raised by same-sex parents and those raised by opposite-sex parents, [Sullins'] new study will be a challenge for the rainbow lobby driving the push for redefining marriage in Australia to brush off."
Labor leader Bill Shorten -- who recently excoriated Turnbull over the plebiscite and warned of the "filth that this debate will unleash" -- called out the posters on Facebook.
Just two weeks ago, Turnbull acknowledged there were negatives associated with a plebiscite, but poured scorn on a journalist who suggested -- as demonstrated by multiple LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts -- that a plebiscite would be accompanied by a harmful public debate which may further marginalise the gay community.
"There are arguments against having a plebiscite, I understand that. But the weakest argument of all, which I think has no basis, is that the Australian people aren't capable of having a respectful discussion on this issue," the PM said.
"Do we think so little of our fellow Australians and our ability to debate important matters of public interest that we say, 'you're not able to have a respectful discussion about the definition of marriage', which is a very significant, important, fundamental element in our law and culture?
"Australians are able and have demonstrated that they can have a respectful discussion."
As outlined by Australian Marriage Equality, "a plebiscite would give anti-gay campaigners the biggest stage they have ever had". AME cite research that LGBTQ communities worldwide had "suffered significantly during referenda debates on marriage equality", including one U.S. state where mood disorders, alcohol-use disorders and anxiety disorders dramatically jumped during a referendum on marriage.
It is just weeks into the plebiscite campaign, but it seems the "respectful debate" hope is already firmly out the window.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sullins' paper was not peer-reviewed before publication.