Marriage Equality is Positive for LGBT Mental Health

Imagine you were denied the right to marry simply for being you. Imagine you were denied the right to start a family with the person you love simply for being you? Not exactly a positive feeling is it?

The issue of same-sex marriage is an argument that all of us have heard, and one that most of us will have strong opinions on. However it is my view that our government shouldn’t have the authority to tell people who they can and can’t marry. Marriage equality is one of the most important issues effecting today’s LGBT youth, and their mental health. Here’s why…

Years ago, homosexuality was unacceptable. Most LGBT people hid their sexual orientation from others and did not act upon it, for fear of putting their safety at risk. They married the opposite gender in an attempt to live out a ‘normal’ life. At one point, homosexuality was even considered a mental illness in the USA by the DSM of Psychology. Gay people were labelled the creators of AIDS.

Furthermore, homosexuality was considered a criminal offence in Ireland until 1993 when it was decriminalised – a mere 21 years ago. Some of you reading this, were children when it was still illegal.

To a greater extent back then, LGBT people were verbally and physically abused, and yet society didn’t bat an eyelid. Why? Because as Macklemore so eloquently articulates, being gay was associated with the “lesser.” The youth of this country must live with the lasting impact of such bigoted views held by past generations, whose voices are carried on by those who stand firmly against Marriage Equality.

Thankfully, today’s youth are far more open and accepting. This can be seen in a recent campus.ie poll, which revealed that over 89% of students are in favour of same – sex marriage.

However, there is still a stigma associated with being LGBT. Although teenagers, excluding a few, will accept their friends if they come out, most will just as quickly turn around and mock a girl for dressing boyish, or a boy for being openly flamboyant. This contradictory attitude of today’s youth leaves young LGBT people fearful at the prospect of revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are petrified of being isolated by their peers.

Statistics from GLEN.ie show that the majority of LGBT people realise their sexual orientation/gender identity at twelve years of age. Following this, seventeen is the most common age to first disclose one’s LGBT identity. A five year gap. In this period, LGBT individuals are fearful of rejection, harassment and victimization.

80% of LGBT youth have reported being verbally abused due to their sexuality. 27% of LGBT youth have admitted that they have self-harmed, while 18% have attempted suicide. Over 66% of LGBT young people have also seriously considered ending their lives. Let those facts sink in.

I never thought that the anxiety I experienced in recent years was triggered by LGBT issues. I have been exceedingly lucky in regards to being accepted whenever I have come out to anyone. However, with mental health week on the horizon, I have given the issue much consideration and have now come to the conclusion that there was most definitely a link between the two.

I came out gradually between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Up until that point I had felt so alone for so long, and had done my utmost to ignore my feelings for other women. When you are in the closet and you are not exposed to the visible acceptance of other LGBT individuals, it feels like no one could possibly understand you. However accepting your family and friends may be, it is difficult not to feel extremely apprehensive at the prospect of coming out.

This brings me back to the point that marriage equality is a major hurdle to overcome if we are to reduce the high rates of mental health illnesses among LGBT people. If same – sex marriage had been legalised before I came out, my anxiety regarding the matter would have been reduced immensely. I would have felt that being LGBT was ‘normal.’ After all, I too could propose to a woman and get married in the eyes of the law. I wouldn’t have felt as…abnormal.

LGBT people have fought a strenuous battle to be accepted and to have the rights that they deserve recognised. Who would be affected if same-sex marriage was legalised? No one. So why is such a simple matter still illegal?

If same-sex marriage is legalised, it certainly will not automatically alter people’s mind sets. That said, over time, society will begin to witness same-sex couples in fulfilled, happy and loving marriages, raising healthy and happy children. Society will come to realise that there is absolutely nothing different between LGBT and heterosexual couples, except whom they love. This will give LGBT youth the hope and confidence that they deserve and the reassurance that a bright and positive future awaits them.

A YES vote in the same – sex marriage referendum next Spring will ensure that our country turns a corner in our history. We as citizens of the Republic, both straight and LGBT alike, are being given the chance to enshrine same – sex marriage into our constitution. Let’s take it.

After all, LGBT people are fully functioning human beings, capable of raising children and having a functional home life. The opportunity to get married should not be withheld from two people who wish to commit to a relationship with the person that they love due to their gender.

I welcome our Student Union’s commitment to hold campaigns in the coming months that will advocate a YES vote in the referendum next year, as the legalisation of same – sex marriage in the Republic will, in my opinion, greatly eliminate the stigma surrounding being LGBT.

Normalising our love, which is after all, nothing out of the ordinary, will make young LGBT indviduals less susceptible to experiencing psychological anguish.

Hayley Halpin

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