Executive Director of Rainbow Families Victoria and one of the champions behind the High Court challenge against the postal survey, Felicity Marlowe, on why the marriage equality debate is a shit storm for LGBTI families around the country.


I’m writing this on the day before our High Court challenge to the government’s postal vote. By the time you read it, we should know the result.

The court hearing looms like a wall of white noise.

On the other side is either an almighty shit storm — a massive ramping up of the rubbish we’re already dealing with — or a chance at least to regroup, to heal and take care of each other, and to work out how best to achieve a decent marriage equality bill, without the poison pill of wide-ranging religious exemptions.

I am quietly fuming. Some days not so quietly.

Like most LGBTIQ Australians, I feel that my life and worth have been opened up for daily judgement entirely against my will. And as a parent, I’m suddenly under the microscope.

I decided to join the High Court challenge to stand up for my community: my amazing, vulnerable, resilient, flawed, beautiful diverse LGBTIQ community. And for my children: also amazing and imperfect, as all humans are.

All of our human rights are up for debate and judgement, by every voter with a well-informed or half-baked opinion about some aspect of our existence.

Our very humanity is under attack by the NO campaigners: our worth, the value of our relationships and our capacity – soundly supported by 30+ years of rigorous research – to raise happy, healthy, secure and much-loved children.

As parents, we do our best to protect our kids from the hate. But it’s pervasive, and giving permission to a rise in one-on-one homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic harassment.

As Executive Director of Rainbow Families Victoria, I’ve been flooded with heartbreaking stories of the NO campaign’s impact before the survey period even begins.

The six-year-old asking at bedtime, ‘Mum, why do people hate us?’ Increased bullying in the playground. A teen unwilling to attend the recent Melbourne rally, for fear a homophobe would drive their car into her family. Parents copping abuse in a local shopping strip, including “You’re wasting $122 million of our money!”, as if this torture was our idea.

The very idea that every voter, from our neighbours and children’s teachers to the owner of our local cafe, get to vote on our rights makes many of feel vulnerable and exposed.

Worse, the NO campaigners are determined to target our families, and to go after vulnerable same-sex attracted, trans and gender diverse young people by drawing a link with the life-saving Safe Schools program, which is just as important for all children of rainbow families.

Rainbow Families Victoria started the Gaybourhood Watch Facebook page to help LGBTIQ folks and our allies document and warn each other when hate materials appear in their neighbourhoods and social media feeds.

It and other platforms are also being used to create community, offer solidarity, and share strategies for surviving, resisting, and triumphing over the hate machines and their outputs, and the ugly behaviour they are fuelling from a minority of haters across too many local communities.

My community and my kids are creative, resilient, and fabulous. Most of us will survive this shitstorm if it comes, but there are vulnerable people in our schools and communities whom we know will not.

In May 2015, a referendum to change the Irish constitution successfully achieved marriage equality in that country. Eighteen months later, a survey of 1,657 Irish LGBTIQ people and their families (across urban and rural areas and all age groups) found* that despite the referendum’s success, only 23 per cent of respondents would repeat the experience if they could go back in time.

Participants reported the NO campaign causing high levels of distress: 71% said they often or always felt negative; 63% often or always felt sad, and 57% rarely or never felt happy.

These figures were higher for young LGBTIQ people and those in rural areas. Participants reported feeling demeaned, degraded, invalidated, humiliated, violated, attacked, exhausted, devastated, traumatised, and suicidal.

Irish campaigners have described their referendum as a “necessary evil”, required to achieve marriage equality. That Australia’s postal vote is both unnecessary and non-binding makes it an even greater evil.

The postal vote is just the latest round in a Liberal Party fight that Prime Minister Turnbull is so desperate to survive, he’s willing to circumvent the Parliament and subvert our representative democracy.

Our children, and all young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people across Australia are merely the collateral damage. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, let’s all do everything we can to take care of each other.

* Dane, S., Short, L., & Healy, G. (2016). Swimming with sharks: The negative social and psychological impacts of Ireland’s marriage equality referendum ‘NO’ campaign. School of Psychology Publications. The University of Queensland, Australia http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:408120.

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