12 REASONS WHY MARRIAGE EQUALITY MATTERS
1. MANY COUPLES WANT TO MARRY
Same-sex couples want to marry for all the same reasons as their opposite-sex counterparts.
These reasons include: for legal security, to publicly celebrate their commitment, to provide greater legal protection for their children, or simply because they are in love.
According to a national study by researchers at the University of Queensland, 54% of Australian same-sex partners would marry if they had the choice. 80% of Australians in same-sex relationships support marriage equality even if they do not wish to marry.[i]
First, we will look at the benefits that flow to same-sex couples who marry. This is followed by the wider social benefits that come from removing discrimination from the Marriage Act and ensuring equality for same-sex couples.
[i] Dane, S., B. Masser, and J. Duck, Not So Private Lives: National Findings on the Relationships and Well-Being of Same-Sex Attracted Australians. The University of Queensland, 2009.
2. THE LEGAL BENEFITS THAT COME WITH MARRIAGE
Married partners have immediate access to all relationship entitlements, protections and responsibilities.
This contrasts to de facto couples who must live together for a certain period before they are deemed to have legal rights.
A marriage certificate also allows married partners to easily prove their legal rights if challenged, for example in emergency situations. The capacity to quickly and easily prove one’s relationship status is particularly important for same-sex partners because prejudice against same-sex relationships can mean legal rights are denied.
Another practical benefit of marriage is that it is a widely recognised legal relationship. The criteria for establishing de facto status, and the rights ascribed to de facto partners, are different between the Australian states and between Australia and other nations.
3. THE OTHER BENEFITS THAT COME WITH MARRIAGE
Allowing same-sex couples to be included in such a universal and valued institution as marriage will provide them and their families with real social and cultural benefits.
Landmark research led by Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, describes and quantifies some of these benefits in two different places that have allowed same-sex marriages for several years, the Netherlands and Massachusetts.[ii]
Badgett found that same-sex partners overwhelmingly:
• felt marriage had increased their commitment and their sense of responsibility, and had generally strengthened their relationships
• believed their children were better off after their marriage, chiefly through legal protection for those children and enhanced feelings of security, stability and acceptance in the children, and
• felt participation and acceptance in their extended families and communities had increased because of their marriage
Her conclusion was that,
“Overall, the experiences of same-sex couples in two countries, the United States and the Netherlands, suggests that same-sex couples and their families are strengthened by a policy of marriage equality for same-sex couples.”
There is also a growing body of research showing that married partners, including same-sex married partners, are, on average, healthier, happier and longer lived, than their cohabiting peers, or singles. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, even rates of heart disease, drug use and stress are lower among married partners.
[ii] Badgett, M.V., N. Goldberg and C. Ramos, The Effects of Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: A survey of the experiences and impact of marriage on same-sex couples. UCLA School of Law, 2009. Also, When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage. New York University Press, 2009.
4. AUSTRALIANS WANT TO BE TREATED EQUALLY
Australia’s ban on same-sex marriage doesn’t only disadvantage those same-sex partners who seek to marry.
It disadvantages all same-sex attracted Australians, including those who are not in a relationship, or who would not marry, even if they could.
It does this by treating them as legally unequal to their heterosexual counterparts, and by not allowing them the same life choices.
Governments restrictions on who gay and lesbian Australians can marry violates their fundamental human rights in the same way the rights of Aboriginal Australians of African Americans were once violated by laws which prevented from marrying who they wished.
The association between the equality in marriage and freedom from second-class status is well understood in the context of the struggle for the civil rights of people of colour.
In 1958, in the midst of the struggle for black civil rights in America, Martin Luther King Jr declared,
“When any society says that I cannot marry a certain person, that society has cut off a segment of my freedom.” [iii]
Consider all the other groups in society, along with people of colour and same-sex attracted people, who at one time or another have been denied the right to marry the partner of their choice: women, people from differing faiths, people with disabilities.
What they all have in common is that they have been regarded as too immature or irresponsible to make what is arguably the most important decision any individual can ever make, the choice of a life-long partner.
In the same vein, the gradual acceptance that members of these groups are fully adult, fully citizens and fully human, has been accompanied by an acceptance of their right to marry whomever they wished.
[iii] King (Jr), M. L., Carson, C., Luker, R., and Russell, P. A., (2000) The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Symbol of the movement, January 1957, University of California Press, Berkeley. Page 436.
5. MARRIAGE INEQUALITY FOSTERS DISCRIMINATION
Exclusion of same-sex attracted people from marriage also sends out the message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is acceptable.
This negative messages is amplified by the fact that, since 85 federal laws were amended to recognise same-sex de facto partners in 2008, the Marriage Act is the only remaining federal law which still discriminates, and because marriage is considered an important legal and social institution.
The negative message sent out by discrimination in marriage foster prejudice, discrimination and unequal treatment against same-sex relationships in the wider community.
There is a substantial body of Australian social research which shows the vulnerability of same-sex attracted people to prejudice, discrimination and unequal treatment. These surveys have consistently found that same-sex attracted people experience unacceptably high levels discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in other aspects of their lives including at school and in their families, and hate-motivated assault.[iv] Studies have also directly linked bans on same-sex marriages to higher levels of discrimination.
While marriage equality will not remove all prejudice, discrimination and unequal treatment against same-sex attracted people, it will be an important step towards this goal.
[iv] For workplace discrimination see, “The Pink Ceiling is Too Low: workplace experiences of lesbians, gay men and transgender people”, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, 1999. For hate crime see Mason, G., Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men, Australian Institute for Criminology, 1993.
6. MARRIAGE INEQUALITY HAS AN ADVERSE IMPACT ON HEALTH & WELLBEING
Worst of all, Australia’s ban on same-sex marriages disadvantages same-sex attracted people by sending out the message that they are less capable of love and commitment than heterosexual people.
It says their relationships are less stable, less resilient and of less value to the partners involved and their family and friends.
These negative messages, plus the devaluation and discrimination already cited, have a profound impact on thehealth and well-being of same-sex attracted people and their families.
Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflictwith peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]
A number of researchers have shown there is a direct link between legal bans on same-sex marriage and higher levels of stress and anxiety, lower self esteem, and greater incidence of mental and physical health problems among same-sex attracted people.[vi] This has prompted the American Psychological Association to support marriage equality. It has also been confirmed by the University of Queensland study mentioned above. This study found that the more same-sex attracted people felt their relationships were valued in the same ways as opposite-sex relationships, the greater their sense of overall well-being.
Because not allowing same-sex couples to marry disadvantages all same-sex attracted people by infringing their fundamental rights, fostering discrimination against them and impairing their physical and psychological health surveys have consistently shown that support for marriage equality among same-sex attracted people, including those who do not wish to marry, is as high as 80%.
[v] For more on health risk in young people see “Writing Themselves in Again, the 2nd national report on the sexual health and wellbeing of same-sex attracted young people”, Australian Centre for Sex, Health and Society, http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf
[vi] Herdt, G., and R Kertner, “I Do, but I Can’t: The Impact of Marriage Denial on the Mental Health and Sexual Citizenship of Lesbians and Gay Men in the United States”, Journal of Research and Social Policy, March 2006, also, D., Hasin, et al, “The Impact of Institutional Discrimination on Psychiatric Disorders in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: A Prospective Study”, American Journal of Public Health, Jan 2010
7. THE BENEFITS TO THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE
The debate on same-sex marriage often focuses on the benefits of equality for same-sex partners, but there are also benefits for marriage as a legal and cultural institution.
Allowing same-sex couples to marry will admit many more couples who seek to uphold the core values of marriage and are enthusiastic for the institution. It will send out the message that marriage is defined by love and respect not prejudice and discrimination. It will also prompt opposite-sex couples to re-value wedlock as an institution in which the over-arching values are love, devotion, and not least, social inclusion. Allowing same-sex couples to marry will show that marriage is relevant and resilient enough to embrace changing social attitudes in the same way it did last century when married women were given legal equality and interracial marriages were allowed.
Evidence that marriage equality uplifts marriage can be found in those places where the recognition of same-sex relationships has a relatively long history. In Scandinavia the formal recognition of same-sex relationships has been in place for a generation and same-sex marriage is now widely allowed. At the same time, marriage rates among heterosexual couples have increased by as much as 30% and divorce rates have gone down. Similarly, those US states that allow same-sex couples full marriage rights have the lowest rates of divorce among heterosexual partners (the state which has had marriage equality the longest, Massachusetts, has the lowest of all). A review of these examples published in The Wall Street Journal in 2006 agrees none of this is not a coincidence.
“There is no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry weakens the institution. If anything, the numbers indicate the opposite”.[vii]
[vii] Spedale, D. R., and William N. Eskridge Jr, W. N., “The Hitch”, Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2006. Reprinted at http://www.law.yale.edu/news/3708.htm
8. THE BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN
The legal and social benefits of marriage flow to the children of marrying couples as well as to the couples themselves.
In Australia today many opposite-sex couples decide to tie the knot to provide their children with the legal security and social recognition that comes with having married parents.
Children being raised by same-sex couples benefit from marriage in similar ways. Indeed, the research cited above shows that they benefit more, because when their parents have the right to marry the prejudice, stigma and discrimination against families headed by same-sex couples is reduced.
It is because of these links that support for marriage equality is highest among same-sex couples with children and is well above the national average among opposite-sex couples with children.
Surveys have shown that about 30% of female same-sex couples, and about 15% of male same-sex couples, are raising children, a figure which rises to almost 50% of female partners over 36 according to a recent national study.[viii] In Australia this amounts to many thousands of children who are currently denied the same opportunities as their peers.
Marriage equality is in the best interests of those children being raised by same-sex couples.
[viii] See, Prof Jenni Millbank, “Meet the Parents”, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, 2002http://glrl.org.au/images/stories/meet_the_parents.pdf
9. ENHANCING RELIGION FREEDOM
In Australia some religious organisations and officials wish to legally marry same-sex partners in the same way as they legally marry opposite-sex partners. Denominations that seek the religious freedom to legally marry same-sex couples include the Unitarians, Progressive Synagogues, the Metropolitan Community Church and the Quakers.
At its national conference in 2010 the Australian Quakers,
“…agreed to practise full marriage equality within Quaker Meetings around Australia, including celebrating the spiritual aspects of same sex weddings, and expressed their hope that the Marriage Act will be amended as soon as possible to allow Quakers to support such couples to full legal recognition”.[ix]
Laws which prohibit same-sex marriages violate the religious freedom of groups like the Quakers by not allowing equal legal recognition of their religious practices.
Melbourne-based evangelical Baptist Pastor and marriage equality supporter, Rev Nathan Nettleton, puts it this way:
“the doctrine of separation of church and state, for which some of my Baptist forebears endured violent persecution, teaches us firstly that it is a Christian duty to defend the right of others to follow their own conscience before God, free from coercive attempts to impose conformity of belief or practice; and secondly that the stateshould not privilege the convictions of any particular religious tradition, even a majority tradition, over the convictions of those who dissent from it.”
Allowing same-sex couples to marry will enhance religious freedom in Australia.
[ix] “Quakers call for legal recognition of same sex marriages”, Newsmaker, 11 Jan 2010, http://www.newsmaker.com.au/news/2189
10. THE BENEFITS TO THE ECONOMY
Allowing same-sex couples to marry would be a financial boon for both the private sector and state governments.
We know from university studies that 54% of same-sex couples would marry if they could. If each of these couples spent about the same amount on their marriage ceremony that other Australians spend on theirs, they would inject at least an extra $700 million dollars into the economy. This amount includes an injection of many millions of dollars into state government revenues through marriage license fees.
There is virtually no off-set to this cost, as the same-sex couples who are most likely to marry already have spousal benefits, as de facto or civil union partners, in tax, superannuation and pensions.
11. THE GROWING SUPPORT WITHIN AUSTRALIA & AROUND THE WORLD
As the following list shows, the number of places overseas where same-sex couples are allowed to marry is not only increasing but accelerating:
• The Netherlands (2001)
• Belgium (2003)
• Canada (provincially beginning in 2003, nationally in 2005)
• Massachusetts (2004)
• Spain (2005)
• South Africa (2006)
• Connecticut (2008)
• Iowa (2009)
• Vermont (2009)
• New Hampshire (2009)
• Norway (2009)
• Sweden (2009)
• Mexico City (2009)
• Argentina (2010)
• US District of Columbia (2010)
• Portugal (2010)
• Iceland (2010)
• New York state (US) (2011)
Support for marriage equality is also increasing in Australia. A 2004 Newspoll found that 38% of Australians supported marriage equality while 44% opposed and 18% were undecided.[x] In 2007 a Galaxy Poll found that 57% of those surveyed support marriage equality. A Galaxy Poll conducted in 2012 showed 64% of those surveyedwere in favour of marriage equality, with a clear majority of support among voters for all three parties currently represented in the national parliament. Support was highest among young voters and among parents of young children.
In Australia, the number of corporations, unions, community groups, local governments and churches that recognise same-sex marriages is also rapidly increasing. These include Telstra, QANTAS, the Commonwealth Westpac and National Australia Banks, the Kogarah City Council, the Australian Maritime Union and the Quakers. Even Government agencies are beginning to acknowledge the reality of same-sex marriages; in early 2008 the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed it will count same-sex married couples in the next national census.
Among same-sex attracted people, support is also high. The most recent study on this issue, Not So Private Lives, found that 80% of same-sex partners support their right to marry and a majority – 55.4% – would marry if they had the choice.
Clearly, those who declare the Australian people do not support marriage equality, or the gay and lesbian community is divided on the issue, are wrong.
In Australia supporters of marriage equality are increasingly active and come from across the social spectrum. In 2009, a Senate inquiry received 11,000 submissions in support of marriage equality – most of which were from heterosexual Australians.
[x] A copy of this poll can be found at http://www.newspoll.com.au/image_uploads/cgi-lib.17497.1.0601_gay.pdf
12. CIVIL UNIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH
To address the practical legal problems faced by unmarried same-sex partners, some people advocate civil unions.
“Civil union” is a generic term that includes a registered partnership, a civil partnership, and all other formally-recognised personal union. However, civil unions do not offer the same legal benefits as marriage, even when the law says they should. This is because they are not as widely understood or respected. Several recent reports into the operation of civil schemes in Europe and North America confirm that civil unions are not always recognised by hospitals, schools, insurers and even government officials.
Lack of recognition is also a problem when civil union partners travel inter-state or internationally. But even if a solution can be found to these practical problems, legal unions other than marriage do not give same-sex couples the same social and cultural recognition that comes with marriage. In the words of American marriage equality advocate, Beth Robinson, “nobody writes songs about civil unions”.
Worse, according to the reports mentioned above civil unions may actually encourage discrimination against same-sex partners and downgrade the status of their relationships by entrenching a second-class status .
Civil rights historians like Barbara Cox have drawn the parallel between civil unions and former “Jim Crow laws” in the American south.
“…restricting same-sex couples to civil unions is reminiscent of the racism that relegated African-Americans to separate railroad cars and separate schools. Our society’s experiences with ‘separate and equal’ have shown that separation can never result in equality because the separation is based on a belief that a distance needs to be maintained between those in the privileged position and those placed in the inferior position.”
Civil unions have not only not fulfilled their promise of equal rights and respect for same-sex couples, they appear to have made matters worse. Instead of eliminating discrimination they have entrenched it. Instead of removing stigma they have inflamed it. Instead of being a step towards full equality they are a step away.
This is probably why same-sex couples consistently show they prefer marriage to other forms of legal recognition. In US states where both marriage and civil unions are available to same-sex couples the result is always a higher take-up rate for marriage.[xi]
This is consistent with Australian research which shows that only 25.6% of same-sex de facto partners would chose to be in a civil union, and only 17.7% would remain as de factos. Of those currently in a state same-sex civil union 78.3% would prefer to be married under Australian law.
Alternatives to marriage are important for providing legal security and/or formal recognition for those partners who do not wish to marry. In Australia we are lucky to have strong legal protections for cohabiting de facto couples and some of the best state civil union schemes in the world. But there is one piece missing from the jigsaw of legal options available to Australian couples. That piece is marriage for same-sex partners.
[xi] “Marriage, registration and dissolution by same-sex couples in the U.S.”, The Williams Institute, July 2008, http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/marriage-and-couples-rights/marriage-registration-and-dissolution-by-same-sex-couples-in-the-u-s/