Response to discussion of Margaret Court’s opinions on marriage equality

In response to media coverage of the recent opinions expressed by Margaret Court about LGBTI people, the Research Committee of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) expresses our concerns about the deleterious effect on the wellbeing of LGBTI people and their families of what is, substantively, hate speech (the attack on a group on the basis of a core element of their being).

An unfortunate result of Court’s significant achievements in sport is that it seems to have conferred a mistaken sense of entitlement to speak on matters beyond the range of her expertise.

One of the factors limiting a quality debate is an implicit unsupported assumption that every opinion is valid.

We find it timely to comment, from the perspective of LGBTI mental health, on a couple of the matters raised by Court.

Marriage equality is not a matter to be decided by unsupported opinion. The institution of civil marriage confers on those who enter it important legal and social benefits and responsibilities. Same-sex couples are currently denied equal access to the rights provided by law to married couples. The benefits associated with domestic partnerships are not uniformly available, not equal to those of married partnerships, and not fully portable.  Denial of access to marriage to same-sex couples may especially harm people who also endure other forms of discrimination (based on age, culture, linguistic background, disability and other core elements of their experience and identity).

Research on sexuality as a risk factor in suicide attempts among young people repeatedly demonstrates an elevated risk – up to seven times higher – for same-sex attracted young people (SPRC, 2008). The determining factor is not sexuality per se, but discrimination against and rejection based on same-sexuality (SPRC, 2008). The risk is best mitigated by addressing the discrimination that generates it (SPRC, 2008).

A national study of the LGBTI community in Australia (Leonard et al, 2012) found direct negative mental health impacts of discrimination on that cohort. It reported that almost 40% of respondents had sought therapy in the past 12 months for anxiety, depression, family and relationship concerns (none reported attendance for the purposes of conversion to heterosexuality). The report recommended that underlying causes of discrimination be addressed.

The 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act inserted a definition of marriage, exclusively between a man and a woman, which intentionally discriminated against LGBTI people and their families, by denying access to the protections, benefits, and responsibilities extended automatically to married couples. The amendment is based on prejudice rather than research.

In terms of broader benefits of an inclusive marriage policy, “more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, shows no support for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies” (American Anthropological Association, 2005).

An analysis published in the journal Pediatrics by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2006) found significant evidence that “children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents.”  Moreover, twenty-five years of research has found “there is no relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and any measure of a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.”

PACFA takes the view that “all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (United Nations, 2012) and is concerned that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are subject to significant pressures and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender expression.

PACFA has developed a non-discriminatory Position Statement on therapeutic support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons, which can be accessed from the PACFA website.


PACFA Research Committee

Dr Elizabeth Day
Dr Ione Lewis (Chair)
Dr Tristan Snell
Dr Kim Dunphy
Dr Jillian Lynch




American Anthropological Association (2005). Statement on marriage and the family. http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2602

American Psychological Association (2011). Resolution on marriage equality for same-sex couples. http://www.apa.org/about/policy/same-sex.aspx

Leonard, W., Pitts, M., Mitchell, A., Lyons, A., Smith, A., Patel, S., Couch, M., & Barrett, A. (2012). Private lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Australians. Monograph Series Number 86. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.

American Academy of Pediatrics: Pawelski, J. G.; Perrin, E. C.; Foy, J. M.; Allen, C. E.; Crawford, J. E.; Del Monte, M.; Kaufman, M.; Klein, J. D.; Smith, K.; Springer, S.; Tanner, J. L. & Vickers, D. L. (2006). The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children. Pediatrics, 118(1).

Suicide Prevention Resource Center (2008). Suicide risk and prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

United Nations (2012). Born free and equal: Sexual orientation and gender identity in inter-nation human rights law. Booklet published by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/ Documents/Publications/BornFreeAndEqualLowRes.pdf