The ‘yes’ vote in the marriage equality postal vote confirms that the Australian community supports marriage equality. The survey result also sends the message to LGBTQI+ young people, adults and families that they are accepted in Australian society, that their love, relationships and families are valid and that they belong.
Beyond the celebration, many LGBTQI+ people and their supporters will have mixed feelings about today’s outcome. The postal vote and the damaging nature of the debate and the campaigning it has involved have widely seen communities being divided along ‘yes’ or ‘no’ lines. This has been detrimental to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people and families, but is also likely to have had negative impacts on the cohesive fabric of our society.
Many in the LGBTQI+ community might just feel relieved that the survey is over, along with the hurt, sadness and anger they experienced along the way. In particular, many children and young people might well have been suppressing distress about the process, which might be released as it ends.
Many people might think that this ‘yes’ result will mean instant marriage equality. This is not the case. This was a non-legally binding, voluntary postal survey. While the outcome should provide the Government with the evidence they need that the community supports marriage equality, a Bill now needs to be introduced and debated in Federal Parliament, which could take weeks or months to resolve.
There is already some discussion about including amendments to marriage equality legislation that will allow further discrimination against same-sex or other couples. The campaign for same-sex marriage to be legalised will therefore need to. LGBTQI+ communities will need our continued support to continue this campaign.
Psychologists from the Australian Psychological Society Psychology in the Public Interest team recommend the following tips, to help in the aftermath of the postal survey and painful public debate.
Check in to see how LGBTQI+ people are feeling
Don’t assume they will all be happy, but anticipate that your LGBTQI+ friends and family are likely to experience a range of emotions including being happy, excited, upset or distressed at what they have been subjected to during the campaign, or possibly just relieved that the survey is over. Use sensitive questions to ask how they are going during this time. Some may not have anticipated this outcome or may not have recognised why they are feeling an increase in distress or anxiety. Help them to acknowledge and normalise such feelings.
Celebrate and do things you enjoy together
For many this will be time of celebration, of coming together and enjoying the outcome and the reassurance that the majority of Australians do support them, their families and relationships and do believe in equality. Join in the celebrations that are held in your community, schools and workplace.
Remind LGBTQI+ people that this result means they are loved and valued members of our community
Despite this Yes result, LGBTQI+ communities still need reassurance from friends, families, schools, workplaces and communities that they are accepted in Australian society and that their love, relationships and families are valid. This is because of the hurtful things many have been exposed to in the lead up to this survey outcome.
Check in specifically with LGBTQI+ young people and families
Anticipate that for children and young people who identify as LGBTQI+ or who are in a family with same-sex parents, hurtful messages associated with the campaign and experiences of discrimination may have been new to them, or may have triggered and reinscribed previous hurts. Discuss with them ways in which they can feel supported, do things that they enjoy, and continue to check in on their wellbeing and safety. Reassure them that there are many, many people who care about them and their families and will continue to work for equality and acceptance for everyone.
Look after yourself
It is important to practise good self-care. The debate will continue long after this result, and this can be draining and exhausting. So it’s important to look after your physical and mental health – eat well, try to get sufficient sleep, and exercise where possible.
Keep busy and active
Plan activities and keep busy doing things you enjoy. You and your LGBTQI+ friends and families might find yourselves feeling overwhelmed in the days and weeks following the announcement. Plan some activities to keep yourself and others around you busy and distracted. Spend time with like-minded friends, families and networks.
Good self-care includes you and those around you having a break from media stories about the debate, spending time with people who love and care for you, talking about how they feel, or staying involved in positive activities. Log off social media if posts become distressing, or consider managing feeds to block hateful posts.
Point to the resilience the LGBTQI+ community
Despite having faced different struggles over many years, communities have shown themselves to be strong. This message in particular may need to be reinforced for younger people for whom such struggles may be new and painful.communication with friends, families and others in your community.
Highlight those who have been and are supportive of marriage equality
Show your LGBTQI+ friends that together you are part of a large group of people who share concerns about gender equality and will keep working to support solutions to the problems of discrimination that shock and disgust you.
Realise that not everyone who voted ‘no’ is homophobic or hate-filled
While the outcome of the survey was positive, a substantial proportion of the community voted ‘no’. There are many reasons why people might have voted no which have little to do with what they think about LGBTQI+ people, including religious convictions, misinformation, language barriers, fear of change, or unfounded fears of what else might change if the Marriage Act changes.
Continue to dispel myths and misinformation about LGBTQI+ families
Continue reiterating the facts. For instance: “children growing up with same sex parents do at least as well as children with heterosexual parents on a range of psychological, social and educational measures”.
Continue to advocate for marriage equality
Remember the outcome of this survey does not automatically mean there will be marriage equality in Australia. This is only one step and there are already ways in which the process towards legalising same sex marriage is being undermined. Keep up the support, advocacy and communication with friends, families and others in your community.