While the link between marriage equality and health is well-established in the US context, it has received less attention in Australia.
For this reason it’s worthwhile unpacking the issue.
The mental and physical health of same-sex attracted people is measurably poorer than for the population generally. There are higher levels of substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Same-sex attracted people are five times more likely to have had suicidal plans and four times as likely to have attempted suicide.
These issues are not a result of same-sex attraction. All psychological evidence demonstrates that being same sex attracted is not a disorder.
Poor health outcomes are the result of the high levels of psychological distress experienced growing up surrounded by negative attitudes and behaviours to same-sex attraction.
Growing up same-sex attracted is to grow up as something you’ve been taught to hate. These ‘homophobic’ messages continue to occur into adulthood and can intensify the distress.
They can take the form of hate crime, workplace discrimination and being excluded from ‘normal’ society.
Worst of all, this homophobia can be internalised leading same-sex attracted people to hate and harm themselves.
The link between improving gay and lesbian health and marriage equality is well established.
Studies from North America and Europe have shown that feelings of well-being, security and acceptance among same-sex attracted people and their family members increases dramatically when same-sex couples have the choice to marry.
This is for two reasons.
First, some of the most negative messages internalised by same-sex attracted people are about the instability and worthlessness of same-sex relationships.
Second, marriage, with its emphasis on care, commitment and fidelity, continues to define the meaning of love and relationships in our society.
The government couldn’t have found a better way to re-inforce the very worst stereotypes about gay and lesbian people than to exclude them from marriage.
I can best illustrate the link through describing a teenage client I recently had. Unfortunately, his case is similar to many others.
The client came in to see me with his mother. She was very distressed, speaking of how she found him just in time to save him from an overdose which could have killed him.
This intelligent, creative and caring teenager was much loved by his family and friends, and had his whole life ahead of him. I asked him why.
He said the worst words to be called at his school yard were ‘fag’ or ‘poof’, his pastor said “they” won’t be welcome in Heaven, and his father said, ‘all poofters should be taken to an island and shot’.
But what hurt him most was what people said about gay relationships: that they don’t work and that all gays are just interested in sex.
“For me, being gay was the worst thing in the world”, he said.
“A little while back, I finally got the guts to come out. My friends and family were surprisingly okay and I started feeling some hope. Then one night I saw a prominent politician saying that marriage is only for a man and woman. I suddenly felt that everything people had said about gay relationships is true. I always dreamed of being with someone for all of my life, so I thought… ‘What’s the point?’
He wasn’t blaming anyone else for his actions, but his story clearly demonstrates how easily discriminatory laws and the leaders who defend these laws exacerbate psychological damage and confirm internalised homophobic beliefs.
When our leaders allow same sex couples to marry, this will send out the most powerful message possible that same-sex relationships are just as valid and valuable as heterosexual ones.
Equality in marriage for all Australians will improve the psychological wellbeing of many thousands of Australians.
This article was originally published on the Punch