Why is a child rights organisation taking such a position? In all of our work, we challenge all forms of discrimination especially when based on gender, age, social class, disability, sexual preference, religion, race and ethnicity. This means ensuring that all human beings are considered equal and treated equally in terms of their rights, obligations and opportunities.
For us, the fundamental human rights principle of equality means that marriage should be available, without discrimination, to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. All people have the right to freedom from persecution and discrimination and we all have power and an obligation to challenge these abuses. While people are entitled to their personal and religious opinions about sexuality in all its various forms, they're not entitled to persecute, penalise, ostracise or otherwise discriminate against others.
Marriage equality raises many clear child rights concerns for children and young people who identify as LGBTQI – both in the toxicity of the current debate and in the eventual outcome of whether or not they have the future right to marry who they choose. There are thousands of same-sex attracted and gender-diverse children and young people needing acceptance and support as they grapple with growing up in a heteronormative world. These children have a stake in this debate, and the impact on their mental health, wellbeing and identity must be taken into account.
These are children who are deeply affected by the second class status of LGBTQI Australians accorded by our marriage laws. Whether or not people in same-sex relationships want to get married, the law prohibiting it is a powerful message that their relationships are not equal and that therefore LGBTQI people are not equal.
Instituting marriage equality has many benefits to children who identify as LGBTQI, including a greater legal security, greater sense of stability and legitimacy, greater sense of belonging and inclusion and a deeper understanding of their place in the world as a whole.
Our founder Eglantyne Jebb was instrumental in the formation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines universal principles and norms for children and includes the right not to be discriminated against as one of its four guiding principles. Equality is a key human rights principle, as set out the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that all people 'are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law'. Australia must respect and realise these international human rights within its borders, without discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The current debate surrounding marriage equality is about the right of consenting adults to get married, and we must be clear about that. But it also affects the future rights of young LGBTQI individuals yet to reach voting age, and as such, we firmly believe they should be extended the same right to engage directly in the debate.
We're extremely proud of one of our former Youth Ambassadors, Cameron Warasta, and his move to challenge the government to allow 16 and 17 years-old to have a voice in the same-sex marriage postal ballot. Cameron is a formidable young man who is determined to have his voice heard, no matter whether he is for or against same-sex marriage.
There are Australian children being raised by same-sex couples who will be finding it difficult to comprehend why their loved ones cannot marry. It's confusing for them and we have to consider the impact on children in these situations. It is important for them to have a say on a fundamental issue that affects their mental health and future wellbeing.
As we enter into this national debate, we urge you to consider the impact on children and young people who themselves may already be grappling with their own sexual identity. Consider the ramifications of a highly charged and likely opinionated campaign that has the potential to bring real and substantial harm to the formative minds of young people who identify as LGBTQI. Consider both the psychological toll of a nation asked to vote on whether or not a certain set of people should be afforded the same rights as others, and the very real consequences of whether future generations of people will be given the freedom to marry the person they love.
We at Save the Children urge you to vote YES for marriage equality.
Tim Norton is the Head of Campaigns for Save the Children Australia.