Australia equal marriage vote caused ‘psychological distress’ for LGBT people

Anti-gay marriage campaigners rally in Sydney in 2017, ahead of the Australia equal marriage vote.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Australia experienced significant “psychological distress” during a public postal vote on equal marriage, a study has found.

The study from researchers at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology assessed the mental health of 1,305 Australian gay, lesbian and bisexual people during the 2017 Australia equal marriage vote, which was ordered by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a concession to anti-LGBT MPs in his own party.

The equal marriage vote, conducted via Australia’s postal system, ran from September 12, 2017 to November 7, 2017, with campaigns that dominated much of the media in Australia for months beforehand.

A study published on Thursday (January 24) in the Australian Psychologist journal found a significant link between exposure to homophobic campaign and media messaging and “increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress.”

The researchers explained: “More frequent exposure to negative, anti-LGB media messages was associated with increased psychological distress in LGB Australians during the postal survey.”

Australia gay marriage vote had ‘detrimental effect’ on LGBT+ people

Lead author Stefano Verrelli, a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology, said: “The findings highlight how political decision-making and legislative processes related to the rights of minority populations have the potential to negatively affect their mental health.”

Verrelli’s research confirmed what many equal marriage campaigners and health bodies had feared ahead of the vote, with the Australian Medical Association, the National Mental Health Commission and Australian Psychological Society all previously warning about the mental health impact of the postal vote.

The study acknowledges: “The findings corroborate the public health concerns expressed by the community, and many leading mental health organisations and government agencies, regarding the detrimental effect of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey on the mental health of LGB Australians.”

Australia equal marriage vote: A photo taken in Sydney on September 20, 2017, shows the voting form in the contentious postal survey on same-sex marriage.

Australia equal marriage vote: A photo taken in Sydney on September 20, 2017, shows the voting form in the contentious postal survey on same-sex marriage. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty)

The research found that during periods of intense public and political scrutiny, there are several factors that can reduce the strain on LGBT+ people.

Verrelli said:”Family and friends (…) appear to play an important role – and seem to even offset some of the harm done by the negative side of these debates – by openly supporting LGBT rights.

“LGBT rights and mental-health organisations also have an important role to play by continuing their public support of minority issues.

“Their public messages of support appear to improve the psychological well-being of same-sex attracted people who require it most.”

Discriminatory debates about LGBT+ people ‘may pose significant mental health risk’

The research also questions the impact of present and future discussions about gender and sexuality, which Verrelli warns “may pose a significant mental health risk for the LGBT community.”

Since the passage of equal marriage, anti-LGBT campaign groups have largely refocused their efforts on opposing transgender rights and inclusive sex education, dominating media discussion in Australia.

The study notes: “Although Australia has now legalised same-sex marriage, political and public discourse surrounding LGB-related issues, such as religious freedoms and anti-discrimination laws, inclusive education
programs (e.g., Safe Schools), and blood donation regulations, continues.

“Greater precautions are required to ensure the sustained, respectful dialogue between those on both sides of these debates.”

Verelli added: “Our findings have important implications for public policy and for clinical support for LGBT patients, as well as for mental health and LGBT ally organisations.”

In November, defunct anti-gay group Marriage Alliance announced a relaunch as anti-transgender pressure group Binary Australia, re-purposing the social media following and campaign database built up during the anti-gay marriage campaign.

Binary Australia head Kirralie Smith, formerly of Marriage Alliance, said the new group would “defend the role that gender plays in our society and protect our kids from those who would seek to indoctrinate them with rubbish like [LGBT anti-bullying programme] Safe Schools.”

Smith said the group would “defend our kids from extremists and their agendas.”