THE founder of a regional support group has urged people to keep it respectful, as the debate over same-sex marriage continues.
The postal survey on whether same-sex marriage should be made legal looks set to go ahead, after a challenge against it in the High Court failed this afternoon.
Fay Heywood of Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) North West said she hoped people on both sides would be “sensitive, inclusive and respectful of people who are different from us”.
The High Court’s decision comes less than a week before the ballot papers are due to be mailed out across Australia, to be returned before November 7 and the result determined on November 15.
Mrs Heywood declined to say how she would vote, but said that when it came to debate on the issue, social media was the new toilet wall – a parallel drawn by Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig.
“We get all the horrible stuff because people can do it relatively anonymously, people can say whatever they want and get away with it,” she said.
“There has been limited debate, a lot of it’s coming out of a very limited information base, and I don’t think it’s person-sensitive.”
Meanwhile, a member of Tamworth’s gay community said he was disappointed that “the waste of money, and divisiveness” would continue.
“Really, when it comes down it it, we’re all equal, we all pay tax – why do we not have equal, fair, balanced laws that protect us equally?” businessman Michael Foxman said.
Mr Foxman said that, moving forward, he’d like to see the debate keep to the one issue rather than being confounded with others such as whether or not polygamy would become legal.
He said the federal government was still going to have to make a decision on whether or not to change the legal definition of marriage, as the postal survey was non-binding.
“At the end of the day it’s an opinion, not a vote.”
Mrs Heywood said she feared for young people who hadn’t yet come out or who didn’t have family support, saying negativity and criticism could put them at risk of suicide.
“If it’s an issue their parents haven’t picked up on – and quite often they don’t – the support isn’t there and a parent could make quite a negative comment about gay people and the child could feel it’s a comment to them, even thought it probably isn’t. The consequences of that are enormous,” she said.
“There are people who are now in their 20s and 30s who won’t even yet have come out to their parents, because they're afraid the people they love the most will reject them.
“I don’t think the general public really understand that.”
Mrs Heywood said it was vital that people “find a way to relate respectfully and with genuine care for people who will find that extremely hurtful” – whether that was a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ result.
“I think the only people who should decide whether or not to get married are individuals; we don’t tell heterosexual couples who are not married to get married, do we? ...
“[However]., on religious grounds, Christianity teaches that homosexuality is not the norm, so that has to be an individual choice for everybody according to their beliefs, and nobody should be criticising them for their choices.”
Mrs Heywood started PFLAG in the late 1990s while she was working as a school counsellor.
She said it was because she “could not believe that, in a country with so much freedom, there was such an enormous amount of fear” among homosexual people and their families of bullying and discrimination in the workplace and society in general.
- Lifeline: 13 11 14