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THE DANGER OF UNLEASHING A DIVISIVE, DRAWN-OUT DEBATE

At its heart, marriage equality is about removing discrimination from our laws.

It is a recognition that love between two people of the same gender is of equal meaning, equal value and entitled to equal respect.

Marriage equality is a simple, overdue change to Australian law our Parliament could deal with in one day of considered debate culminating in a free vote.

Couples could sit in the Parliamentary galleries and gather on the lawns to celebrate the moment when their love became equal in law.

It would be a wonderful day, a unifying national moment.

The alternative method, first proposed by Tony Abbott and now embraced by Malcolm Turnbull, is a plebiscite – a national poll.

Everyone accepts this would take a lot longer and cost a lot more. Mr Turnbull has said as much on a number of occasions.

But I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the biggest risk a plebiscite brings – the danger and the damage of unleashing a divisive, drawn-out debate.

A plebiscite could act as a lightning rod for the very worst of the prejudice so many LGBTI Australians endure.

A platform for people to attack, abuse and demean Australians on the basis of who they love.

The fact is, casual, unthinking discrimination and deliberate, malicious homophobia are still far too common in our society.

It’s not confined to keyboard warriors and twitter trolls. It’s in our schoolyards, our workplaces, our sporting clubs.

This takes a heavy toll on mental health, particularly for young people.

Two out of five young Australians who are gay have thought about self-harm or suicide.

A young Australian who identifies as gay is six times more likely to consider taking their own life, compared to their sibling, classmate, colleague or teammate.

It’s especially hard for young gay people in our regions and the bush where physical remoteness can aggravate a sense of isolation.

We’ve got a lot better at talking about mental health in Australia.

I remember, when I was finishing school youth suicide was still a taboo topic.

I can remember hearing of the passing of young men, but no-one spoke of how they died.

No-one could imagine what drove them to it.

I often wonder if for some, the stigma and the struggle of imagining a future, lonely, isolated, treated differently was too much to bear.

That same prospect still haunts too many young Australians who identify as gay, and it won’t stop until we banish discrimination from our nation’s laws and our national life.

But if, through a plebiscite, we give a taxpayer-funded platform and a megaphone to the very worst forms of hateful abuse we will only add to the burden too many Australians have to bear.

Marriage equality is an act of justice, too long delayed and denied.

It’s a straightforward way of saying to young Australians who identify as gay, you are never alone.

We are proud of you, for who you are. You belong.

I don’t want Australia to waste another minute coming up with ways to delay this change.

Let’s make marriage equality a reality, now.

It’s time.

This opinion piece was published by Fairfax Media on Thursday, 22 October 2015

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