HAVE you ever had someone talk about you behind your back? What about a group of people discussing your relationship?

Well, have you ever experienced an entire nation discussing your relationship, not behind your back, but openly, aggressively and with little consideration for your privacy?

This is the experience of the entire LGBTI community in Australia right now.

Our relationships and our lives are being discussed right in front of us: on breakfast TV, on blogs, on radio, on The Project, every Monday night on Q&A. Flyers are being handed out at sporting events. Total strangers on the street are discussing the intimate and personal aspects of our relationships.

And it’s the same discussion, the same questions, the same script, over and over again.

Whether or not people of the same gender should be allowed to marry. Whether same-sex couples should be allowed to have children. Whether members of the LGBTI community are too promiscuous to deserve marriage. Whether or not marriage equality will undermine marriage as it currently stands.

These discussions are happening constantly, and, if you watch any of these panel shows discussing marriage equality, you’ll probably notice the LGBTI community are rarely asked for their input.

But sometime soon, perhaps in February, perhaps later than that, over 15 million registered Australian voters will be asked to use their opinions formed from these discussions, and turn them into a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on a plebiscite. Can you imagine if it were you in this situation?

Knowing that the ins and outs of your relationship had been haphazardly dissected by an entire nation, and now, 15 million people will be deciding whether or not you should be granted permission to get married…

It’s offensive when one or even a small group of people cast their opinions of your personal relationship. But to have 15 million people, almost all of them complete strangers, go to the ballot box with their personal thoughts on the lives you and your partner have built together? I wish it were only insulting. It is damaging. It is invasive. It is nothing short of an assault on the each member of LGBTI community.

In truth, it doesn’t really matter how many people proudly announce they’ll vote ‘yes’, or what the result is in the end, the damage will have already been done and felt across the community. The LGBTI community has long been a target for intolerance, and now, we are experiencing the indignity of seeing our personal, private relationships pulled apart and analysed for the purpose of national discussion and debate. Unfortunately, with 2016 being The Year of the Unqualified Opinion, it seems every Australian feels the right to express their thoughts, no matter how uninformed and how divisive they may be.

And after the votes have been cast, and the parliament has voted on the issue, will we be able to embrace true equality? How could we possibly be equal to the wider community after the most intimate aspects of our lives have been pulled out and paraded about for the sake of an argument? How are we to feel accepted and welcome in modern Australia after months of being informed we are not worthy of equality by the Australian Christian Lobby and their friends? How could we celebrate the right to marry the person we love, while simultaneously mourning the loss of those for whom the mental burden of hate grew too heavy?

Quite simply, we can’t. We may be granted permission to exercise our right to marry the person we love, but it may also come at the expense of our dignity, and with a cost of human lives. Instead of bringing about equality as some naively expect, this plebiscite can only result in further divide and inequality for the LBGTI community.

You can follow Rob Lindner on Twitter here.

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