The head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, found himself in hot water recently after he suggested in a debate that the lifestyle of gays was as unhealthy as the lifestyle of smokers. “The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke. We need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems.”
The Australian Prime Minister was outraged. “To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong,” said Julia Gillard. David van Gend reports on the controversy, which mirrors debates in other countries.
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The left knows how great a prize is within its grasp: any law redefining marriage will mandate the new definition in the wider culture with the full force of anti-discrimination law, thus completing the 60s sexual revolution.
Hence the commitment by Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), to make people understand that laws for gay marriage will crush conscientious objection by parents who oppose the promotion of homosexual behaviour to school children.
Wallace wrote last December: "If our schools are concerned about discouraging smoking for its 7-10 year shortening of life, how can we in all honesty encourage a lifestyle for men that shortens it on average by double that?"
But when he made similar comments last week in a debate with Greens leader Christine Milne the Greens reported him to the Human Rights Commission. Prime Minister Julia Gillard cancelled her appearance at the ACL conference; she was due to speak on “religious freedom in a secular society”.
Wallace’s figures are sound: a 20-year loss in gay life expectancy was reported by a homosexual lobby group in 2009. A 17-year loss in life expectancy among young HIV positive men was reported in 2008 in the Lancet medical journal, despite the very best anti-viral treatment, which is double the loss from smoking. In Australia HIV/AIDS remains overwhelmingly a homosexual disease: Wallace correctly quoted the Kirby Institute finding that over 80 percent of new cases of HIV/AIDS in Australia are in “men who have sex with men”.
Why then do some legislators plan to institutionalise this type of sexual behaviour within marriage, when it is so medically and morally problematic?
Politicians of good will feel compelled on three points: they believe same-sex attraction is inborn and unchangeable, when it is clearly not; they think gay kids are bullied more than other kids, despite excellent research finding they are not; most importantly, they believe that the reduced life expectancy from AIDS and suicide is the fault of homophobic society, and we must legalise gay marriage to help the mental health of gay youth.
Yet the research of University of Western Australia Professor Rob Cover finds: “the relationship between the legalisation of marriage and GLBTIQ youth health and well-being is more complex and it is important not to assume that legislative amendment leads directly by itself to a reduction in youth suicidality.”
Certainly, the rates of suicide did not drop several years after gay marriage was legalised in Canada and Massachusetts.
From my observations, the pressures that depress a young gay man are more intrinsic than extrinsic: the sense that something has gone wrong deep inside; the depressing effect of what he might experience as compulsive sexual behaviour; the unresolved anger where he sees the cause of his sexual confusion to be childhood abuse by a male or adolescent initiation by a trusted adult.
It trivialises a homosexual person’s suffering to blame it primarily on homophobic society. The associated claim that Parliament must legalise gay marriage or be culpable for gay suicide is folly. One does not overturn the foundational institution of society, with all the harm that entails – trashing a child’s right to both a mother and a father, and crushing a parent’s right to teach their child right and wrong - as an act of psychotherapy for depressed citizens. Professional help and neighbourly kindness is needed; gay marriage and gay sex-education is not.
David van Gend is a family doctor in Toowoomba, Queensland, and president of the Australian Marriage Forum. A version of the this article was published in The Australian on September 14.