ANMJ Featured Story

Celebrate diversity: Marriage Equality matters. Lori–Anne Sharp, ANMF Vice President

Tuesday 24th October, 2017

Last month I received my postal survey asking me to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on changing the law to allow same sex marriage. What followed at home was many dinner table conversations with my three children as we watched and listened to the ‘debate’ around human rights for LGBTIQ Australians.

My children were curious and a lot of questions followed. I found myself explaining that our Australian government had failed to legislate on basic human rights for one section of the community and instead had decided to send a postal survey to the nation asking their opinion. A survey, that is hurtful, divisive, non-compulsory, non-binding and costing $122 million dollars.

Many in the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and queer (LGTBIQ) community did not want the scrutiny, this public commentary about the validity of their relationships, families and lives. It was no surprise that the next question around our dinner table was “so what are you going to do about it mum?”.

I explained that while a national opinion poll on basic human rights is a bad idea and the process is completely flawed, it’s still important we participate and vote ‘yes’, in favour of the amendment to the Marriage Act.

I explained it’s important that we all stand up and fight for equality. In the weeks that followed I talked with many friends affected by the survey and listened to their concerns, worries for their families and the greater community. I got active, went to organised rallies, family fun days, and encouraged the kids to come too. I joined supportive Facebook groups, bought t-shirts, badges, stickers, distributed amongst networks, plastered the street with posters; door knocked and encouraged all to vote. I met with like-minded straight ‘allies’ and advocated for the LGTBIQ community at every opportunity.

I am proud to be part of a union that actively supports marriage equality. After all, equality is union business. A core union role is to promote social justice and end discrimination. Unions work towards eliminating discrimination in our workplaces.

The postal survey has given some, particularly on social media, a platform to express views that are distressing and conflate debate.

Some have erroneously implied that religious freedom will be compromised – whereas the change in law is only relevant to civil marriage, a secular, not a religious issue. A ‘yes’ for same sex marriage acknowledges that same sex attracted people are equal in our society, to enjoy the privilege of marriage as public recognition of our relationships, and the security and binding nature of that union as seen in society and that many of us take for granted.

Homophobia, lesophobia and transphobia exist and is damaging for individuals and families, young people and the elderly. It affects many broad cross-sections of our community. When the elderly are forced to deny their lifelong partner, or live with anxiety and stress in having to ‘come out’ again – at times, in nursing homes that are not particularly supportive and respectful of their same-sex relationships – this is an issue we need to be mindful of. As health professionals, we all need to develop a supportive and respectful practice for working with people of diverse sexualities and family structures. This should be a principal focus of our professional practice. The postal survey reminds us all to be more thoughtful of our tacit views and beliefs, and in my view, should invite all of us to come together in the call for equality and anti-discrimination.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGTBIQ community and am confident that marriage equality will be achieved in Australia in the near future. We can then join the 25 other countries who have already taken this important step, which include:
Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005) Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2008), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010), Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Uruguay (2013), England and Wales (2013), New Zealand (2013), Brazil (2013), France (2013), Luxembourg (2014), Scotland (2014), Greenland (2015), Finland (2015), Ireland (2015), United States (2015), Columbia (2016), Germany (2017), Malta (2017)

As our dinner conversations continued, my three children observed my activism and started to engage. One night my 11 year old commented, “why are people asked to vote anyway, the government should just make a decision on what is best and do the right thing… there is no difference allowing gay people to marry, everybody else can”.

We must strive to live in a society free of discrimination and prejudice. I encourage those to reach out to the LGTBIQ community at this time and offer support. There are so many offensive statements and arguments being made about LGTBIQ families and individuals. There is no doubt that this postal survey has impacted on the LGTBIQ community and many will need extra support in the coming weeks. Let’s continue to stand up for equality, no matter what the outcome. Love will rule. Love is love.

To read more articles from ANMJ, view the full journal online at https://issuu.com/australiannursingfederation/docs/anmj_november_issuu