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