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Marriage equality and same-sex parenting in Australia

Sydney protesters rally for marriage equality (March 2012).

A group of 150 doctors, called Doctors for the Family, have made a submission to the Senate inquiry into gay marriage which argues that children of same-sex parents suffer poorer health and well-being than children with a mum and dad who are married.

This follows Barack Obama coming out last week in support of gay marriage, and local experts urging Prime Minister Julia Gillard to do the same. So what does the evidence say about the health and well-being of kids in same-sex families? And what role should doctors play in the whole debate? The Conversation’s experts examine these issues below.

Michael Vagg, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University and Pain Specialist at Barwon Health critiques the claims of the Doctors for the Family’s submission:

No doctor, nurse, physio or in fact any science-based practitioner would accept a new treatment based on such a poorly argued presentation of research. Apart from the obvious appearance of ideological bias in using a non-medical, non-peer-reviewed piece of research funded by a lobby group as a primary source, the other studies presented make no tenable case whatsoever that there are health risks to either the same-sex parents or their offspring. Read more

Simon Crouch, Researcher at the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program at the University of Melbourne examines the evidence about same-sex parenting and child well-being:

We need only look back to 2007 to find a review by the Australian Psychological Society. The academic literature on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered families states that the “research does not support negative assumptions about the experiences or outcomes of children of lesbian mothers.”

This view was foreshadowed by the American Academy of Pediatrics which concluded in 2002 that there was no systematic difference in the psychological well-being of children with same-sex attracted parents. It’s the quality and type of relationship – both between and with parents – that matters most. Read more

Bruce Arnold, Lecturer of Law at the University of Canberra asks why Doctors for the Family see some Australians as more equal than others.

It’s puzzling that a board member of the Commission should be endorsing claims that are, at best, contentious and at worst, appear to be directly in conflict with both Victorian anti-discrimination legislation and the role of the VEOHRC to reduce “hurt and damage” attributable to homophobic vilification.

Professor George has reportedly now offered to resign from VEOHRC, after defending his signature on the basis that it was a private decision. Read more

Anne Mitchell, Deputy Director, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society and La Trobe University hopes Julia Gillard will follow Obama’s lead and support gay marriage.

Powerful forces are still saying gay people cannot be quite the same; that we are not entitled to make this one particular choice to marry. But then again, perhaps we are – Obama says so this morning and does so as part of creating the just world he wishes his own children to live in.

Many Australians today are looking to their own Prime Minister for this kind moral leadership. Come on Julia, break out the confetti. What, besides an election, have you got to lose? Read more

Liam Leonard, Director of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria at La Trobe University, looks at Barack Obama and Jeff Kennett’s change of heart on gay marriage:

Clearly, there is something in the international waters, when, within the space of a few months, both the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, and the Chairperson of beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, declare their support of same-sex marriage.

Obama, prior to his road to Damascus moment, had argued that marriage was a prisoner to its own traditions and history, and that the knot that bound woman to man could not easily be undone. Kennett, before his own epiphany, argued that every child deserves the love of a mother and a father, and that same-sex parenting constituted a challenge to the natural order of things. Read more

Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean & Tinashe Dune, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, both from the University of New England, explain that doctors can play an important role in undoing some of the harms their profession created in pathologising same-sex attraction:

A recent study found that because of practitioner inexperience, lack of skills, or negative attitudes, more than half of Australian GPs (54% to 60%) were uncomfortable caring for gay and lesbian clients.

Becoming open, supportive and non-judgemental is imperative to addressing the health needs of non-heterosexual clients. And this requires better education. Read more

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