This weekend saw a joyous celebration of diversity in Australia as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people, along with their families and friends, took to the streets of Sydney to celebrate the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Marring this remarkable event, which each year demonstrates the progress that Australia has made in the area of equal rights, was the unfortunate broadcast of a paid advertisement on channels Seven and Nine. Produced by an organisation calling itself the Australian Marriage Forum, it was the controversy caused by the decision of SBS to withdraw the advert that has received much media coverage. I am not going to give this video any more air by linking to it here, but suffice to say its sole purpose was to argue against the rights of gay and lesbian people to get married under Australian law; and it did so by bringing children into the debate yet again.
We all know married people who do not have children, either through choice or circumstance. Any objective consideration tells us that insisting that children are an essential part of marriage is about as relevant to modern day Australia as giving Prince Phillip a Knighthood is! Yet those who continue to argue against marriage equality will tell you that it is all about the children.
This particularly insulting advert claimed that marriage equality deprives children of their ‘equal right’ to be raised by a biological mother and father. And further more in doing so these children are being fundamentally harmed. Even if we were to accept that the rights of children form the backbone of the arguments around marriage equality, there are many contexts where children are unable to be raised by a biological mother and father. Australia, like most developed countries, is seeing a growth in socially diverse families. One of the main sources of harm for children growing up in any non-traditional context is the harm that these kids and their families experience due the stigma that groups like the Australian Marriage Forum perpetuate.
This has been clearly established through our research at the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program. The Australian Study of Child Health in Same Sex Families demonstrates that kids with same-sex attracted parents are doing really well in terms of their health and wellbeing, and in some areas better than children from the general population. But all too often these families express concerns about the stigma they feel due to the fact that their parents cannot marry – a stigma that does have an impact on health and wellbeing.
Much has been made of whether SBS should have withdrawn the advert. Was it a breach of freedom of speech? Did it provide added exposure to a perspective that would have otherwise faded into the background? For my money SBS made the right decision. If we stand idly by and let stigma and discrimination perpetuate, those whom it affects are left feeling even more helpless and devalued.
Mardi Gras is a time for celebration. Let’s celebrate family diversity and ensure that those seeking to suppress difference are not given a voice that can be harmful to children wherever they live.
Dr Simon Crouch
Honorary Research Fellow and Lead Investigator, The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families, Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health