When it comes to marriage equality, I’ve already nailed my rainbow colours to the mast. I voted yes and have encouraged others to do the same – but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the disgraceful way this whole debate has been conducted in many quarters, the division it’s creating in society and, most importantly, the enormous hurt that’s been caused to so many people.
The ballot question is very simple “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Sadly the debate has largely been about distractions – from political correctness to colour, from school dress-ups to the rights of a florist to refuse business for a same-sex wedding. Why aren’t more of us calling BS on these distractions and focusing on the question?
Some of the behaviour from both sides has been deplorable. Bashings from the ‘No’ camp and dog faeces on the doorstep from the ‘Yes’ camp may be at the extreme end – but suggestions from the ‘No’ camp that we’re on a slippery slope towards bestiality and accusations from the ‘Yes’ camp that everyone voting no is a flagrant homophobe are both ridiculous. Why are we so unwilling to hear someone else’s view and politely disagree?
What worries me most though, is the hurt and pain that’s being caused. This shouldn’t come as a surprise - the objections to the plebiscite process, ballot or postal, by medical and health groups were based on genuine fears for people’s mental health.
A 2014 PwC report estimated mental ill-health results in 12 million days of lost productivity in Australia per annum. OECD data from 2015 suggests an annual cost to the Australian economy of around $60 billion. These numbers will certainly be higher in 2017 and 2018 with mental health support services experiencing huge increases in calls.
I’ve personally spoken to many people who just aren’t coping with the intense scrutiny – perceived or real - of their views and of their lives. These are mostly, but interestingly not exclusively, from the ‘Yes’ camp.
Never in my lifetime have I seen such large segments of our community so collectively and profoundly sad – and we’re not even within sight of the finish line yet.
So, whatever your view on marriage equality, I ask three things of you:
- Stick to the facts
- Respect other’s fact-based views
- Care for people in your network
Australia can recover, but unless the tone of the debate improves, these wounds will take a long time to heal, and our society will be poorer until that happens.
Group Head of Talent & Organisational Development, Lendlease
This article as first published on LinkedIn.