Above: The local YES campaign kicked off after the openly gay Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech called for a meeting in his office last Wednesday.
By KIERAN FINNANE
They may lament the waste of public funds on the Australian Government’s non-binding same sex marriage postal survey, but nonetheless they are throwing themselves into campaigning for YES. Maya Newell and Dane Brookes, two members of the local campaign, are confident of a strong YES vote from Alice Springs as long as people make sure to complete and post their form.
They are just as inspired though by the way the campaign has brought their community and supporters together and the opportunity it offers for a strong message of community acceptance to be transmitted to young people that it is OK to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI+). To this terminology they add “sistagirls and brotherboys” to fully embrace the diversity of gender and sexuality in the NT.
Right: Maya Newell and Dane Brookes.
Reception from passers-by at the Sunday markets had none of the toxicity that is creeping into sections of the national debate, says Dr Brookes, a medical doctor at the Alice Springs Hospital. In fact, thus far there is not a strong NO campaign locally although he recognises that the town is “a melting pot and there’ll definitely be some who vote NO”.
Lots of people at the markets were happy to have conversations and that’s the way the local YES campaign wants to work, says Ms Newell, a film-maker notably of the feature-length documentary Gayby Baby, in which children of same sex couples tell their stories.
“We want open conversations,” says Ms Newell, “where there’s space to ask any questions you might have and where it’s OK to not be ready to support change.”
Above: The YES campaigners chalked up a rainbow, the international symbol of gay pride, at last Sunday’s markets.
She relates a conversation she had at the markets with a husband and wife: the wife was ready to vote YES, the husband not: “It was lovely to work through the conversation with him to find the things we did agree on.”
One of these was that change is inevitable – if not right now, eventually, going the way of other liberal democracies. They also shared frustration over the expenditure of $122m on the postal survey, which could have gone to addressing more pressing needs (Ms Newell mentions Aboriginal disadvantage, Dr Brookes, health care).
In the end the husband said he would be voting YES, if only to ensure that not more taxpayers’ money gets spent on this issue.
In the local conversations “we also do a lot of directing back to the issue, which is about two people who love each other being able to marry,” says Dr Brookes. “It’s not about the children of same sex couples or the Safe Schools Program. A YES vote won’t affect the formation of families with same sex parents – that’s happening anyway.”
Left: MLA Chansey Paech with singer-songwriter Camille Bernadino at the Sunday markets, where Mr Paech turned over his stall to the YES campaign.
The effect on children of having same sex parents is nonetheless constantly raised in the debate and the campaigners don’t decline to go there. Indeed, Dr Brookes says they can thank the NO campaign for allowing them to advocate on the broader issues and the research evidence is that children of same sex couples are no worse off than children of heterosexual couples.(See footnotes.)
“They actually do better,” cuts in Ms Newell, laughing. “They score higher in the areas of social and emotional well-being – not to boast or anything.”
This is her own life experience – she was raised by a lesbian couple, who are still together after 34 years. She is close to all her uncles and her grandparents and the many male friends of her family. She knows her biological father and has a good relationship with him. She says most children of same sex couples are actually raised in co-parenting situations, where they know their biological parents.
Dr Brookes, acknowledging his present juniority in the medical profession, does not try to speak as an expert but he points to the significant mental health burden on young LGBTQI+ people arising from prejudice against them: they are five times more likely to commit suicide, much more likely to experience bullying and abuse as well as depression and anxiety caused by social stigma.
If it were only for these young people’s sake, many would want to vote YES, but the success of the campaign will have an impact well beyond them and the whole LGBTQI+ community, says Ms Newell: Most Australians would be hard-pressed to not know someone in this community and a YES vote will also mean a lot to them. It will mean a lot to the parents who want to attend their gay son’s wedding, to the person whose best friend may want to come out or be accepted, to the children of now and the future, whether LGBTQI+ or of same sex parents, who should enjoy equality as their fundamental right.
Below: Emma Frank (left) and Keren Shlezinger with little helper, working on the Todd Mall rainbow.
To get in touch with the campaign, you can email: CentralAustraliaYes@gmail.com
We identified 79 scholarly studies that met our criteria for adding to knowledge about the wellbeing of children with gay or lesbian parents. Of those studies, 75 concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children. While many of the sample sizes were small, and some studies lacked a control group, researchers regard such studies as providing the best available knowledge about child adjustment, and do not view large, representative samples as essential.
We identified four studies concluding that children of gay or lesbian parents face added disadvantages. Since all four took their samples from children who endured family break-ups, a cohort known to face added risks, these studies have been criticized by many scholars as unreliable assessments of the wellbeing of LGB-headed households. Taken together, this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.
These are some of the key messages of a literature review of research on same-sex parented families published by The Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, Vic:
- About 11% of Australian gay men and 33% of lesbians have children. Children may have been conceived in the context of previous heterosexual relationships, or raised from birth by a co-parenting gay or lesbian couple or single parent.
- Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.
- Some researchers have concluded there are benefits for children raised by lesbian couples in that they experience higher quality parenting, sons display greater gender flexibility, and sons and daughter display more open-mindedness towards sexual, gender and family diversity.
- The possible effect of important socio-economic family factors, such as income and parental education, were not always considered in the studies reviewed in this paper.