Dangerous Suggestion: Plebiscite will incite suicide

I was deeply concerned to read The Age publishing this article today, Marriage equality plebiscite proposal fulfilling expectations of frustration’, written by Rodney Croome.

There is a serious question as to whether it is ethical for a major newspaper to publish an article that uses suicide as ammunition to stop public debate.

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Photo from SMH. Louie Davis

Croome said,

“If a plebiscite occurs, and when the first young gay person dies at their own hand, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to stop it.”

“I also urge them to consider how they will feel when the first gay teen dies because of the hate they voted to unleash.”

Where do such comments leave us?

Using suicide is the trump card, whether the allegation is true or not. It leaves everyone speechless, because even to question Croome’s rhetoric will be interpreted as heartless and bigoted.

I am no stranger to the issue of suicide, having conducted funerals, counselled grieving families, and listened to people considering ending their life. In my view it is dangerous and irresponsible to ‘prophesy’ that a person will kill themselves should a plebiscite proceed. Suicide is not an issue to be treated lightly; not that I think Croome is doing so. Rather he is using the language as a storm cloud to overwhelm any possibility of civil conversation on this issue of marriage.

Before accepting Croome’s argument, it is fair to ask which studies he is depending on for his assertion? In Ireland, USA, UK, can he please point to those studies which substantiate a formal link between discussing marriage and the suicide of LGBTI youth?  Studies conducted in Canada and Denmark suggest that the suicide rate among gay men has, at best, only marginally shifted since SSM was made legal, although in some Canadian Provinces it has increased. I am not dismissing the reality of mental health issues and suicide among LBGTI people, for which we must strive to provide love and care, but Croome is claiming that a plebiscite on marriage will lead to young gay person killing themselves.

No matter where people stand on marriage, we do not want anyone being harmed. And I will repeat what I have now oft-said, I will gladly stand alongside LGBTI people against voices who would wish them ill. I don’t have to agree with someone in order to want their good and see them flourishing.

Would it not be more constructive for everyone if Rodney Croome followed the example of other public voices and encourage Australians to speak with both conviction and civility, with reason and respect? For example, Tim Wilson, who supports same sex marriage, recently spoke at a Symposium where he argued we “need a lived culture of open discussion.”

The debate in Ireland was cordial, as has been the case in many of the countries who have gone down this path. But for some reason, here in Australia, one of the most stable democracies in the world, we are being told that we cannot trust the people to even talk about issue, let alone vote in a plebiscite.

It may well be the case that marriage is what it has been for millennia, between a man and a woman. And it may well be that arguments for change don’t stack up, despite the emotive language being attached. It may well be that the gay and lesbian people who only believe in heterosexual marriage, are in fact right. The problem is, some, not all, but some advocates for change are trying every avenue to silence due debate.

A question for Mr Croome, are there any terms on which opposition to SSM can be put in a civil way? Or is opposition to SSM itself hate speech?

I agree with some of what Rodney Croome has written. For example, I understand his dissatisfaction with the process. When a Prime Minister says he will act, I don’t think we are expecting too much that he keep his word. At the same time, could it be that Malcolm Turnbull fully intended to hold the plebiscite this year, and only recently the AEC informed him that logistically it’s not possible. Could fault lay with them?

I feel some of Croome’s frustration, and I don’t take issue with Croome arguing for a free vote in Parliament. My preference is for the plebiscite, but I appreciate there are good reasons for and against both avenues. His question about how a marriage plebiscite might set a precedence for future issues is also worth asking.

This being said, publishers, as well as social commentators, have responsibility to set the tone of public conversation. In my opinion, The Age, has acted irresponsibly by publishing Croome’s piece, for sadly such comments can become self fulfilling prophecies; and that is the last thing we want.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au

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7 thoughts on “Dangerous Suggestion: Plebiscite will incite suicide

  1. Unfortunately, the public discussion hasn’t been totally cordial or necessarily civil and well behaved, so I’m not sure what the guarantee is that it would be in the future. I think that there is good reason to expect that the debate will get very ugly.

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    • I think it is fair to say that much of conversation has been ok, and there are examples of fair dialogue.

      Most of the distasteful rhetoric has come from particular quarters of the change campaign, rather than from those who believe the marriage Acts should remain as is. It is a crude but effective ploy by some people to silence debate on what is one of the most important issues facing Australia.

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      • I disagree that all the negative speech is coming from the ‘change group’.

        Things said can also be ugly and hurtful without actually abusing people. In many of the arguments used against same sex marriage imply some pretty negative things especially in the parenting realm.

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      • I didn’t say ‘all’.

        Don’t you think the media should be providing positive engagements on this topic, rather than questionable and dangerous ones such as that written by Rodney Croome? We know that civil discourse can be had, because we’ve seen it. If media and public figures modelled rigorous yet respectful speech, wouldn’t that be a great result for Australian democracy

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  2. Good blog. It’s very depressing the rhetoric the pro-gay marriage advocates have adopted. The irony is the harmful speech is coming from them not the status quo advocates. Also the debate in ireland wasn’t very cordial. For example all members of the political parties were whipped to support the yes vote by their respective whips. Also traditional marriage advocates were on the receiving end of countless ad-hominem attacks and vile name calling from SSM advocates ie “bigot” and “homophobe”. They also used suicide as silencing tactic like mr Croome is doing.

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  3. I don’t think that the media can be trusted to give fair coverage of the range of positions on the topic at all, which in itself is part of the whole problem with having such a debate mediated through the media. The media picks up on the extremes of both ends of the debate.
    I’m surprised that you would expect the media to suddenly do such a thing when it doesn’t handle any issue like that.

    And Murray, you’re right, you didn’t say all, you said most. It was James who implied all.

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  4. I acknowledge negative things have been said by traditional marriage advocates. Like murray, i think most has come from change advocates but not all. I think they are afraid they’ll lose the plebiscite if held. That’s why i think they are saying the public are too bigoted for it to be held. I think majority of australians can have a civil discussion on the issue. I just wish gay marriage advocates used a more measured civil argument against a plebiscite.

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