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Jun 23, 2016

Penny Wong is right: plebiscite hate speech will hurt good parents

The overseas experience suggests a same sex marriage plebiscite will be a forum for unfounded, debunked and deeply damaging claims about same sex parents and their kids.

Penny Wong

Overseas experience suggests a plebiscite on same-sex marriage will be dominated by claims same-sex couples harm children and that only heterosexual couples provide a healthy environment for children to be raised in.

The claim that children raised by same-sex parents somehow suffer harm compared to peers raised by heterosexual couples is a myth that has been repeatedly and comprehensively debunked. Studies date back to the 1970s; the American Psychological Association states, “the results of existing research comparing lesbian and gay parents to heterosexual parents and children of lesbian and gay parents to children of heterosexual parents are quite clear: Common stereotypes are not supported by the data” and that “not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents”. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has an extensive paper exploring overseas and Australian peer-reviewed research that show little difference in outcomes for people raised by same-sex (mainly lesbian) couples compared to their peers — if anything, the children of same-sex couples appear to perform better academically than others. In an amicus brief filed with the US Supreme Court, the American Sociological Association stated:

“There is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just, as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse.”

There are a wealth of peer-reviewed US studies backing this statement, while the one recent academic study claiming children of same-sex couple fare more poorly has been discredited. A 2014 University of Melbourne study provided some further Australian results that align with US experience.

[Don’t make gay people beg for equal rights]

Nevertheless, opponents of same-sex marriage — invariably religious groups — continue to maintain, in the face of all evidence, that same-sex parenting somehow harms children, and thus that all same-sex marriages should be banned. In fact, this is the key tactic used in campaigns against same-sex marriage in other jurisdictions. Anti-gay marriage groups in the US and in Ireland have relied heavily both on arguing that same-sex marriage harms children and that it would somehow lead to parents losing control of the values inculcated in their children.

Australian anti-gay groups, which are strongly influenced by US evangelical organisations, have adopted exactly the same tactics. The fundamentalist Australian Christian Lobby insists, despite the evidence, that children need their biological male and female parents to thrive. One-time Family First election candidate Wendy Francis, who is now a director of the ACL, has called same-sex marriage “legalising child abuse“; ACL head Lyle Shelton says same sex marriage would create another “stolen generation”. The ACL, in alliance with reactionaries at News Corp, has also aggressively attacked the Safe Schools program by arguing it deprives parents of control over what values their children are taught.

[Your guide to groups that think marriage equality would bring on the apocalypse]

There’s a deep irony in all this: Christian groups have been responsible for systematic child abuse and its cover-up over the course of decades in Australia and around the world, but they are now seeking to use the welfare of children to fight same-sex marriage (Shelton in fact has defended George Pell, who played a key role in moving a paedophile priest around Australia, and who was forced to admit the Catholic Church had covered up child rape).

A plebiscite will almost certainly mean that same-sex couples with children — according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 there were more than 6000 kids living in same-sex households — and those planning to become parents will be repeatedly attacked as harming their children, not for any failures of parenting, but simply because of who they are. According to the ACL and other opponents of same-sex marriage, they will harm their children simply by virtue of their identity, regardless of how much they might love their kids or how well they raise them; the ACL’s preferred view, presumably, is that gay and lesbian people not be permitted to bear children, given the importance of heterosexual biological parents.

Along the way, of course, single-parent families — there are around 900,000 of those, according to the ABS — will be collateral damage, victims of same-sex marriage opponents’ insistence only a biological father and mother can raise children properly.

As Irish LGBTI people discovered during the referendum in Ireland, a national vote has the effect of elevating attacks on them to an unavoidable topic of public discourse, with claims about their failures as parents plastered all over public property and publicly discussed by media desperate to maintain the appearance of balance.

[Stop calling us bigots, whine bigots]

A subsidiary tactic of same-sex marriage opponents will be to claim they are the real victims, that their rights are being suppressed to benefit LGBTI Australians, and that criticism of their views amounts to a form of bigotry. The latter claim might have some substance if there were any evidence to support their argument that same-sex couples automatically harm the children they raise, instead of the rank denialism it actually is. We had a taste of this yesterday from Treasurer Scott Morrison, who equated himself with victims of homophobia when he complained that he had been the subject of bigotry for his opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Morrison, criticism of one of the most powerful men in the country, the Treasurer, a white middle-aged conservative male occupying one of the most senior political positions in Australia, was comparable to the abuse and bullying endured by a gay or trans teenager, or same-sex parents called child abusers by Christian fundamentalists.

The lack of any sort of intellectual rigour in Morrison’s comments, however, will probably be the least offensive aspect of a same sex marriage plebiscite. For Australia’s LGBTI communities, the plebiscite will be a highly personal attack on them about the thing that all of us prize above all else — raising our kids well.

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20 thoughts on “Penny Wong is right: plebiscite hate speech will hurt good parents

  1. Poopsie Deutschland

    Thanks Bernard; another thoughtful and well written piece from you on a topic dear to my own heart.

    While I do not have children, many of in the LGBTIQ community are sick with worry about this plebiscite. Many of us have taken years to overcome the school yard bullying we endured as kids and teens to live as out and proud adults. But sadly, for some (including teens and young people), the out and proud thing is still a struggle. Giving the bigots open licence will be horrible for those people.

    The anti “YES” crowd in a plebiscite certainly won’t limit their campaign to families and we’ve already had a taste of what’s to come during this federal election campaign. We know there are hostile individuals in the federal coalition whose default is not diplomacy. They are much more comfortable applying a blow torch.

    Abbott’s intention, as prime minister, was to use this vote to defeat the issue (remember the republic referendum?) but he didn’t contemplate being rolled from the job before he could do that. We now have a prime minister beholden to the Right wing of his Coalition who, despite his personal support, lacks the authority to do the right thing and make this an issue the parliament can resolve.

    Our cousins in New Zealand shake their heads and laugh at us that this issue has come to this – and rightly so.

    This plebiscite will be damaging to us all and if I could hide under a rock until it’s done and dusted I would, because I can’t bear to think of what lies ahead.

  2. Draco Houston

    Oh word? How about the part where the plebicite is sure to return a yes vote and wedge the entire political class into passing it? The queer lib movement started with confronting the police, this notion that everyone is too fragile to have a damn vote on it is stupid. Who is going to be the most rude during this debate? The political class we’re supposed to be trusting with this. Let’s debate it in parliament so the same people can make the same claims while getting no closer to passing same-sex marriage.

  3. Tony Ryan

    “Nevertheless, opponents of same-sex marriage — invariably religious groups”
    This comment by Bernard Keane is typical of those whom support the “same sex marriage” push and, in my opinion, is an untrue generalisation. My objection to “same sex marriage” is not a moral or religious objection at all, it is simply my view. Many others I know share my view, simply because we believe “marriage” is the union of a male and a female. Same sex couples are just that, “same sex couples”.

    1. John Newton

      it’s the ‘whom’ that gives you away Tony.

    2. phonakins

      But what shapes that view of yours?

    3. Yclept

      Quite true. There are many homophobes and intolerant people who aren’t religous, nor Christian. Most of this current government for instance.

    4. leon knight

      No one is telling you what you should think Tony….why not keep your views quietly to yourself?
      BK’s generalisation is pretty close to spot-on…

    5. Matt Hardin

      So you believe that the law should forbid others from doing something and yet you have no moral or religious reason for this belief. Is that correct? If it is true, then what is your rationale? Or is it just “I just think it should be this way”? What other things should be banned because you believe they should?

    6. Alistair Hay

      So you have a view without any basis and think it should count for something?

  4. Dog's Breakfast

    The plebiscite speaks to the idea that the right generally seek government by scaring and dividing the community. The plebiscite should do the trick nicely for them, and in these times of great division, we don’t more change, like a change in government, so vote for the LNP. Brilliantly, scarifyingly cynical.

    The right play the fear side of the human psyche, and then exploit that, and then sow more fear. This has always been the thing I dislike most about the right. None of their positions have rational thought processes behind them, all of them exhibit cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. All of them play to the lesser parts of us.

  5. AnisaS

    The key expression used by Bernard in this article is ‘despite the evidence’. I am continually flummoxed by why this expression is needed, as it surely is. Its need is demonstrated in part by the willful disregard/dismissal of evidence in this particular discussion and so many others. Examples given in this article indicate the purity of conspiracy peddling that is based on opinion, not uncommonly with conversation stopping gaps in logic.

  6. Paul

    Hey let’s have a plebiscite on this, on going to war, on changing of mind after an election, trans pacific partnership, changing a PM mid term, action on climate change and in light of the actions of various “faiths”, the right to be a member of a religious order.
    I would like to add the right to be a bigot, but Turnbull and his thugs would win that hands down.
    Sorry, screwing the planet, blowing people up, harming the poor and abusing children are all respectable activities, so there is no need to justify them.

  7. mikeb

    I’m more than happy to accept same-sex marriage. I do however also believe that the most important role model for a child is the same sex parent. That doesn’t assume the LGBTI parents are inferior in any way, it’s just that I think a boy needs a good male role model and a girl need a good female role model. Hopefully others in the family group can take that responsibility on. Of course I do emphasise the “good” part.

  8. Darren

    I am am Catholic and I do not believe a union of same set couples should be called marriage. It is my right to believe that.
    However I also firmly believe in the separation of church and state. In our case, the state is the people, and the people overwhelming believe we should change the rules and move on. I accept that is the price of a secular state, and a democratic society.
    And then there is the big one, which in simplicity says “Love thy neighbour”. This is a core of the faith and has been taken to mean we shall not discriminate in any grounds. We should leave it to God to judge if society is right or wrong.
    But with absolute certainty I can say that this plebiscite will see many people on both sides act with complete disregard for the harm and inciting of hatred they cause. We all must live together and respect each others beliefs and treat each other as God intended – with kindness and compassion.
    This plebiscite will undoubtedly cause great pain and is clearly not needed, given the overwhelming support for same sex marriage in the general populace.
    Politicians are supposed to reflect the wishes of the people, and on this issue they should stand and be counted.

    1. leon knight

      I wish therewere more Christians like you Darren, just a couple in the LNP would be nice…..

  9. zut alors

    With appallingly high divorce statistics it’s a mystery why anyone would even risk marriage – same-sex or heterosexual. But I digress…
    Should a plebiscite return the ‘yes in favour’ vote is there any guarantee that an LNP government will carry through with legislation? I thought Abbott left that unconfirmed but can’t recall Turnbull undertaking to honour the result. Or did I miss it amongst the announcements of lavish football stadiums, ‘saving’ the Barrier Reef funding et al….

  10. Blue True

    Way to go Zut. I am just so sick of reading about gays wanting to get married. Why would any sane mind want to do that? Even the more mature gay people I know very well are saying it’s reprehending and censuring the bigger issues and they wish this thing would just go away. So, who’s pushing it? Must be the divorce lawyers .

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