Living in the upside down


I had an article ‘The undead past‘ published on Friday on the Overland blog. It is a reply to people who argue ‘one way or another’ a plebiscite is our best chance for same sex marriage. We all know it’s inevitable, but how it happens really matters.

Here’s the thing, though: when we do finally get the right to marry, we have gone past the point where we can celebrate it. Winning this right no longer fits the usual rhetoric – righting an historic wrong, recognising all love is valid – because the fight itself has given lie to all of that.

The piece has been shared a lot on Facebook. Compared to twitter, people are a bit more circumspect about what they’ll share on Facebook, because they often have old school friends and extended family members who hold divergent political and religious views.

For this piece to be shared so widely in a relatively conservative social media space suggests, to me, a growing consensus against a plebiscite. Indeed, the Guardian reports a Galaxy poll finding support for a plebiscite ‘continued to decline with only 38% of voters in favour and 44% against.’

Today, Australian researchers from University of Queensland and Victoria University have released results from a survey of 1,458 people in Ireland, asking about their experiences of that country’s same sex marriage referendum in 2015.

As reported in the Guardian, when asked if they would go through the process again, knowing how it felt like the first time, 15% were undecided and 54.5% said no.

Among the qualitative responses, as reported in the SMH, respondents said ‘”I hope no other country has to go through that … it was a dark time to be a LGBTI person”, while another felt as if they were “in shark-infested waters”.’

Among the quantitative responses, when confronted with materials from the ‘No’ campaign, 64% rated feeling distress at 5 or above on a seven point scale (from ‘not at all’ to ‘very much’) for posters/flyers and 67% for TV and radio messages. Those numbers jump to 77% for comments from local community and 80% for comments from family.

I focus on distress because it is a known predictor of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, particularly in young people. Depression is not a confounder, here, but part of the causal pathway: same sex attracted people are three times more likely to be living with depression, and the risk correlates with exposure to homophobic prejudice.

We know there is a substantial minority of people who are vulnerable; we know the plebiscite will cause them distress; we know distress is a predictor of depression, suicidal ideation and attempt. It would be irresponsible and unsafe to proceed with a plebiscite.

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