For most queer rights activists, the most pressing issue is queer marriage rights. Denying this basic right to a large number of Australians is abhorrent.
In a democracy, the elected officials are supposed to represent the views of the people who elect them. The majority of Australians are in favor of giving same-sex couples the right to marry, but both major parties have shown their contempt for the opinions of the majority.
The issue is also among the top concerns for young people, as shown in an August 10 poll by Triple J's Hack program, in which same-sex marriage came second on the list of the most important election issues for young people, behind climate change and the environment.
On August 14, thousands of people took to the streets as part of the national day of action for equal marriage rights, sending a clear message that love does not discriminate, and neither should the law.
Late last year, Greens senators tried to amend the Marriage Act of 1961 to legalise same-sex marriage. They argued that most Australians supported such a change and pushed for a conscience vote on the issue, but both major parties refused.
In the final vote, only Greens senators supported the bill, and more than a third of other senators were absent.
How do the major parties justify this?
Some have used passages from the Bible that condemn homosexuality as justification for denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Why should we blindly use a few sentences that were written 2000 years ago as the basis for our law? In a secular society such as Australia religion should not be a part of our government or legal system.
Another argument is that if homosexual couples are given the right to marry then they will also be given the right to adopt children. Many people have seen first-hand the damage that has been done to children who have been a part of a “traditional family”. Why should gay and lesbian couples that wish to adopt a child into a loving home be denied this right?
Stanford University’s Darren Spedale studied the rates of divorce in Denmark in 1996 and 1997. He found that only 17% of same-sex marriages failed compared with 42% of their straight counterparts.
Findings like these suggest that same-sex marriages are likely to be more stable and nurturing to children.
As important as the issue of same-sex marriage is, it is still a small part of a much larger problem of homophobia and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality.
This not only leads to self-esteem issues but to far more serious health and safety problems for many young queer people.
Young queer people can feel isolated or confused, and many are not even accepted by their own families. Studies show that 25% of queer teens are kicked out of their home after coming out to their parents.
Young queer people are six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts, according to an August 2003 study, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Homophobia is not just some minor issue that makes queer people’s lives slightly harder, it is a hateful view that contributes to the suicides of hundreds of queer young people.
The suicide of anyone is a tragedy, but that so many young people kill themselves because society cannot accept them is something that should arouse the anger and indignation of any compassionate person.
We must fight against discrimination in all its forms. No longer should queer students feel isolated in the schoolyard because they feel there is no one who they can turn to.
No longer should young people be thrown on the streets or driven to take their own life because of the ignorance of people in society.
We must increase education and counselling in schools to fight the ignorance that supports discrimination and bullying. We must grant queer couples the right to marry and be treated as equal members of society.
We must speak up when we hear others use the word “faggot” or some other derogatory term. Young people have been at the forefront of this struggle and we must continue to build the movement for equality.