'We want same-sex marriage without hearing in the playground that I am not normal’: Why marriage equality is a child rights issue

11 August 2017

At first glance, marriage equality is about the right of consenting adults to get married. But it is also very much about the rights of children.

There are thousands of ‘rainbow families’ in Australia getting on with the everyday business of raising and loving their kids. And there are thousands of same-sex attracted and gender-diverse children and young people looking for acceptance and support as they grapple with growing up in a hetero-normative world.

These children have a stake in this debate.

Children in rainbow families, or who are themselves same-sex attracted or gender-diverse, are deeply affected by the 2nd-class status of LGBTQI Australians accorded by our marriage laws. Whether or not people in same-sex relationships want to get married, the law prohibiting it is a powerful message that their relationships are not equal and that LGBTQI people are not equal.

This is an important human rights issue for Australia and a test of our commitment to equality. Australians have come a long way and have passed that test.

We already know – without a plebiscite – that a large majority of Australians consistently supports marriage equality.

Giving rein to views that denigrate children, their parents and their families through a popular vote will harm kids.

That this survey is now to be conducted by the Bureau of Statistics instead of the Electoral Commission is especially worrying, because it sidesteps the protections provided by election law. Unauthorised campaign material with harmful messages about rainbow families may be circulated without legal consequences.

Australia must respect and realise the human rights of every child within its jurisdiction, without discrimination based on his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We must take all appropriate measures to ensure that children are protected from all forms of discrimination against their parents, legal guardians or family members. These are our legal obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Our current marriage law is discriminatory and the rights of children (and adults) can be protected by introducing marriage equality.

All laws affecting children must give primary consideration to children’s best interests (CRC, article 3).

Do our MPs have children’s best interests in mind in resorting to a plebiscite?

How can holding a hurtful plebiscite be in children’s best interests when it is wholly unnecessary?

And vitally, children must have a say in the debate. They have a right to speak and be heard in all matters affecting them (article 12). Yet children will not be included in this survey.

Thirteen-year-old Eddie Blewett (pictured) from a rainbow family in Tathra, NSW, took his views to parliament last year and ALP deputy leader Tanya Plibersek amplified his voice by quoting him in Question Time:

‘Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?’

Prime Minister Turnbull construed this rare instance of a child given voice in parliament as Plibersek ‘using’ Eddie and ‘taking advantage’ of him. It is hard to credit this, given Eddie travelled to Canberra expressly to have his views on marriage equality heard by parliament. He was present in the House of Representatives for the debate and wrote to Turnbull afterwards, saying that what he witnessed ‘really upset me. Please do your job. We want same-sex marriage without hearing in the playground that I am not normal.’

Malcolm Turnbull claims a public debate about marriage equality ‘will be respectful. It will be civil. And then the nation will respect the decision.’ Evidence suggests the opposite. A minority of Christians have sought exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation that limits hate speech, while the survey now upon us will be non-binding. How can Turnbull assure us the debate will be respectful and the outcome respected by ‘the nation’?

A large majority of (adult) LGBTQI Australians don’t want a plebiscite on marriage equality, even if the question were ‘fairly framed’ and had ‘a good chance of success’. They fear the harm it will do, especially to children and young people. Most would rather wait for marriage equality to be introduced by parliamentary vote. LGBTQI rights activist Rodney Croome says: ‘The LGBTI community understands a plebiscite will delay marriage equality, not expedite it, and will damage the lives of vulnerable LGBTI people, not improve them.’

It is in the best interests of children to end discrimination and the exclusionary terms of the Marriage Act, and it is in their best interests to do so without a national survey.

We await an expedited High Court challenge to determine whether or not the survey will go ahead.

Whatever the outcome, no LGBTQI organisation appears to be advocating a boycott. Former Greens leader and medical doctor Bob Brown warns that boycotting the survey will play into the hands of those who seek to delay marriage equality.

If we must have the survey, enrol to vote (by 24 August), be sure to vote and vote for the dignity, equality and rights of all, including our children.