September 26th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Abbott era ends as Liberals oust elected PM

EDITORIAL The future of the Liberals after leadership coup

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Vulnerable GLBT youth pawns in plebiscite game

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Cuts in aid trigger mass migration: more to come?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Labor campaign to 'get' Dyson Heydon backfires

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China's official media hints at power struggle in Beijing

ASIA Taiwan: no longer the Kingdom of Youth

MILITARY HISTORY Antony Beevor at the Australian War Memorial

LIFE ISSUES Assisted suicide and our society of autonomy

SCIENCE You can trust research papers (we think; we hope)

PUBLIC HEALTH Taxpayer funding offers no immunity from failure

MINING Supreme Court dismisses attack on Qld Land Court

CINEMA Technology and the antisocial network: The Social Network

BOOK REVIEW Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Careers of Churchill, Montgomery and Mountbatten, by Michael Arnold


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

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Vulnerable GLBT youth pawns in plebiscite game

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, September 26, 2015

There is no research to show that legalising same-sex marriage would reduce the GLBT suicide rate. It would appear to be based on an ideological assumption rather than on hard evidence.

Like a pawn in a chess game

The current Senate Committee inquiry into a popular vote on same-sex marriage has heard stern warnings against holding a plebiscite or popular vote because it “could damage young gay people”. On ABC Radio’s AM on September 11, NSW Nationals MP Trevor Khan warned against exposing young gay people to the sort of public debate that would be caused by a plebiscite because their rate of suicide and self-harm was much higher than in the general population. [1]

Beyondblue ran a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper (Tuesday, September 1, page 8) claiming that GLBT people “take their own lives at much higher rates than heterosexual people” and that the current marriage law causes them “hurt, pain, mental illness and worse”.

Although no source was provided for actual GLBT suicide figures, it is deeply concerning that GLBT people experience a higher rate of attempted suicide and suicide ideation than does the general population.

It raises the question: have countries that have legislated same-sex marriage show a reduction in attempted suicide rates for GLBT people?

Denmark legislated for Registered Partnerships in 1989, yet as a 2011 Danish study (Mathy, R.M. et al.) found that suicide risk seemed to be greatly elevated for Danish men in same-sex partnerships. [2]

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legislated in 2001, almost 64 per cent of LGBT 18–24-year-olds surveyed in 2009 still reported thinking about suicide and almost 13 per cent of them attempted suicide, higher than for their heterosexual peers (Bergen et al., 2013). [3] Legislating same-sex marriage does not appear to have reduced the rate of suicide attempts or suicidal ideation for GLBT young people in the Netherlands.

In Australia there are again no actual figures to show whether the suicide rate in GLBT people is higher than the rate in the population over all. However, of the 5,966 suicide cases examined in a 2014 Queensland study (Skerrett et al., 2014), only 0.58 per cent, or 35 people, were identified as GLBT. The more important finding was that two-thirds of the LGBT subjects had relationship problems with partners, compared with only one-third of the non-GLBT subjects. [4]

Looking at the United States, in Massachusetts in 2007, after four years of same-sex marriage, GLBT teens were still about four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Maggie Gallagher,, October 20, 2010), the same as it 2001. [5]

More important findings of that study were that GLBT students were also more than twice as likely to report having had sexual intercourse before age 13 – that is, to be sexually abused as children – and three times as likely to report being the victims of dating violence, and nearly four times as likely to report forced sexual contact. A majority also reported using illegal drugs in the previous month and, unexpectedly, GLBT teens were also three times as likely as their heterosexual peers to report either becoming pregnant or getting someone else pregnant.

A recent study in Minnesota made similar findings (Allie Shah, Star Tribune, August 6, 2015). [6]

A Norwegian study of GLBT-specific risk factors for attempted suicide (Hegna and Wichstrom, 2007) also included early heterosexual debut (less than 16 years) and young age of coming out (less than 15 years). [7]

Forced sex, childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, early unwed pregnancy, substance abuse – could these be more important factors in the increased suicide risk of LGBT teens than any debate over same-sex marriage? This is the real picture, the real tragedy that needs to be dealt with. To tell them that a debate about whether same-sex marriage should be legislated will cause them distress, even to the extent of contemplating suicide, is potentially more damaging to them than the debate itself.

The tragedy in these young people’s lives should not be used to promote a political agenda to legislate same-sex marriage.

And this exploitation of vulnerable young GLBT people is just part of an authoritarian push by same-sex marriage supporters to shut down a public debate during which the case for both sides of the argument could be fully presented.

Overwhelmingly the mainstream media supports same-sex marriage; many well-known large companies and banks have advertised their support; the football codes are getting behind it; and even a well-known charity such as beyondblue has advertised its view that Australian marriage law is discriminatory and that discrimination causes “so much hurt, pain, mental illness and worse”.

Yet some same-sex marriage supporters are using the vulnerability of some young GLBT people to try to censor a public debate and deny Australians the opportunity of a popular vote.



[1] ABC Radio, AM.

[2] Mathy, R.N., et al., “The association between relationship markers of sexual orientation and suicide: Denmark, 1990–2001”, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2011.

[3] Diana D. van Bergen, et al., “Victimisation and Suicidality Among Dutch Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths”.

[4] Delaney Michael Skerrett, et al., “Suicides among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations in Australia: An analysis of the Queensland Suicide Register”.

[5] Maggie Gallagher, “Does gay marriage prevent gay teen suicide?

[6] Allie Shah, “Gay teens have higher pregnancy rates than their straight peers”.

[7] Kristinn Hegna and Lard Wichstrom, “Suicide attempts among Norwegian gay, lesbian and bisexual youths: General and specific risk factors”.

All you need to know about
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