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Doctor groups welcome marriage equality vote


Medical colleges and associations were quick to welcome the overwhelming vote in favour of legalising marriage equality in the national postal survey, whose results were announced yesterday morning.

Within minutes of the announcement in Canberra, the Australian Medical Association released a statement from its President Dr Michael Gannon. “It is time to end the discrimination and lift the health burden from our LGBTIQ population,” he said.

“Along with the majority of Australians, as shown by today’s survey result, the AMA believes that two loving adults should be able to have their relationship formally recognised.

“This is not a debate about same sex parenting or religious freedom or the school curriculum – it is about ending a form of discrimination. There are evidence-based health implications arising from discrimination.”

Dr Gannon said the AMA hopes to see an end all forms of discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians.

“It is now up to our Parliament to act,” he said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) also rushed out a press release welcoming the majority yes vote in the postal survey.

“The RANZCP anticipates improved mental health outcomes for same-sex attracted people and their children with appropriate legislative change,” said its President Dr Kym Jenkins.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians tweeted that “the postal survey has confirmed what we already know: LGBTI Australians should be able to marry the person they love.”

The College, like the AMA and RANZCP, had already come out strongly in favour of marriage equality in statements prior to the postal survey, as had the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, which tweeted: “A momentous day for Australia, and a cause we’re proud to support”.

Conspicuous in its absence from the festivities, at the time of writing, was the Royal Australian College of GPs, which has not put out a statement or tweeted since the announcement. Nor has its president, Dr Bastian Seidel.

The RACGP had originally tried to remain neutral on the issue of same-sex marriage, but executed a dramatic U-turn under intense pressure from some of its members.

Dr Pansy Lai, a Sydney paediatrian and leading light of the “no” campaign said she hoped people’s parental rights would be protected.

“Now that the result of the marriage survey has come out, people will see the consequences that we have warned about (that will hopefully) not come about in a way detrimental to people who have a personal view about traditional marriage,” she told news.com.au.

Dr Lai said she hoped people’s livelihoods were not taken away if they believed in traditional marriage. She herself has been the target of a campaign to deregister her, following her appearance in a “no” television advertisement.

New study looks at welfare of kids with gay parents


The health outcomes of children brought up by lesbian and gay parents have become a flashpoint in the campaign over Australia’s postal survey on same-sex marriage, with opposing sides arguing over the few studies that have explored the issue.

Now a new US study, which claims to have avoided some of the flaws of previous research, has delivered its verdict, finding no significant differences in emotional and mental well-being between children of heterosexual and gay parents.

The study involved over 21,000 children between the ages of 4 and 17, around 1% of whom had a lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) parent, who were surveyed using a six-item Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Results showed fears that children growing up in households with LGB parents might be harmed by the experience are “unwarranted,” the authors from the University of California and other bodies said.

“We found little evidence that LGB-parented families negatively impact children’s psychological well-being,” they wrote.

They said a key strength of their study was a more truly representative population sample compared with previous work, where participants were often self-selecting, therefore opening the research up to possible selection bias. Previous studies had also confined themselves to children being parented by couples and ignored those brought up by a single parent.

Bisexual parents were more likely to report that their children had emotional and mental health difficulties, although when adjusted for higher psychological stress in the parents, this difference disappeared.

The authors speculated that bisexual parents were more likely to experience “invisibility” about their identity, which might account for their higher levels of stress, and that the study findings supported further destigmatisation of sexual minority parents.

The study found higher levels of single parenting in LGB families. The authors say this could be at least partly explained by policies that constrain LGB people’s ability to form families, including their earlier inability to get married.

The authors said emerging research indicated that children of LGB parents often cite their nontraditional family structure as a source of strength and pride.

“The study findings are consistent with the growing body of research highlighting the overall resilience of children raised by sexual minority parents,” the authors conclude.

You can read the study here.

RACGP’s spectacular backflip on marriage equality


The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) executed a dramatic U-turn on marriage equality this week, which it now backs after initially claiming to be neutral on the issue.

Over the past few months, the number of medical colleges and associations officially coming out in support of marriage equality has grown to include the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, to name a few.

And yet the RACGP remained curiously silent, until last Wednesday, when RACGP President Dr Bastien Seidel wrote that the college’s council “acknowledged that the organisation has a diverse membership” and that it believed that in regard to marriage equality, “members should consider the issues involved carefully for themselves.”

But the college’s carefully neutral position unleashed a storm of criticism on social media and elsewhere, with many GPs expressing deep disapproval of their college’s stance. Former AMA President Dr Kerryn Phelps expressed her “surprise” at the RACGP’s neutrality. The college, she said, “should be a thought leader. This is unequivocally a health issue so the RACGP should take a stand.”

After around 750 GPs signed a petition demanding that the college change its position, its council hastily convened an emergency meeting on Monday.

The outcome of that meeting was a new statement from Dr Seidel, in which he acknowledged that marriage equality “is a human rights issue”.

“When I became RACGP President a year ago, I clearly outlined that the RACGP could no longer afford to sit on the fence when it came to any issue that affected our members or our patients. I deeply regret that I did not meet my own standard,” Dr Seidel wrote.

He said that the RACGP acknowledged that discrimination, bullying and harassment of LGBTIQ people has a severe and damaging effect on their mental and physical health.

“As part of valuing diversity and inclusion, RACGP Council supports marriage equality,” he wrote.

He said the council acknowledged the right of all members to hold and express their own views on marriage equality. However, the council urged all members “to provide particular care and consideration to LGBTIQ groups during this trying period.”

The turnaround comes as the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show around 60% of eligible Australians have already returned their marriage equality postal surveys, with the announcement of the results set for November 15th.

AMA’s marriage equality stance slammed


A petition demanding that the Australian Medical Association retract its support for marriage equality has garnered signatures from over 370 doctors, including many AMA members and six former AMA state presidents.

A group of doctors led by gastroenterologist and former AMA Tasmania president Dr Chris Middleton delivered the petition to AMA national president Dr Michael Gannon late last week. The group says the AMA’s position statement on marriage equality, released in May, is “fatally flawed”, particularly on the question of harm to children of same-sex parents. It also says that the AMA neglected to consult its own members before publishing its statement.

The AMA statement comes out strongly in favour of marriage equality on health grounds, stating that it is the right of “any adult and their consenting partner to have their relationship recognised under the Marriage Act 1961, regardless of gender”.

It says the lack of legal recognition can have “tragic consequences” in medical emergencies, when, for example, one spouse has to make decisions on behalf of an ill or injured spouse.

It also states that while same-sex parenting should be treated as a separate issue to same-sex marriage, “there is no putative, peer-reviewed evidence to suggest that children raised in same-sex parented families suffer poorer health or psychological outcomes as a direct result of the sexual orientation of their parents or carers”.

But the petition signatories, who include former WA AMA president Professor Paul Skerritt and former government minister and Queensland AMA president Dr John Herron, take issue with this claim.

In their critique, the signatories point to three recent studies which claim to find poorer emotional, educational or other adverse outcomes among children with same same-sex parents.

They say the AMA statement has “misled politicians and the public” on a number of other issues; it is “unworthy of the Australian Medical Association and we call for its immediate and public retraction”.

But the AMA is not backing down. In an interview over the weekend, Dr Gannon said he had expected that a portion of the AMA membership would be disappointed with the statement on marriage equality, but that he was happy to defend the process that had led to its creation.

“It was worked out through a working group made up of federal councillors and other experts,” he noted.

He said whether the AMA membership should have been polled about it was “something we will reflect on”.

But he added that the response had been “overwhelmingly supportive in terms of our position on marriage equality.”

He also reiterated the point that the issue of marriage equality was quite different from that of same-sex parenting.

“No one here is arguing about access to in vitro fertilisation or assisted reproduction for gay and lesbian people. That’s not the debate. The debate here is about marriage equality. So I think it’s important that we talk about what we’re talking about.”

He said that it was undeniably the case that a loving home is the right environment for a child to grow up in, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents.

The AMA is not the only Australian medical body to come out in favour of marriage equality on health grounds. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has stated that it “supports initiatives to amend legislation, policies and practices that are unfairly restricting the rights of the LGBTI population. This includes adjustments to marriage laws so that same-sex and transgender individuals can marry, regardless of their gender identity.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has also put out a position statement in favour of marriage equality.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, on the other hand, has remained silent on the issue.