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Doctors should stick with majority

By Robert Battisti - posted Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The recently-publicised senate submission by the newly-formed Doctors for the Family group risks undermining the mental health of thousands of Australians. Doctors are highly respected within the community and are able to influence public opinion. It is of great concern that this group of doctors may do so, despite them not representing the views of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and its nearly 90,000 members.

Within their submission the group makes multiple claims that are based either on opinion or evidence that is irrelevant to the points they address.

For example, the group states that children with a mother and a father do better than those without. This is true in comparison to single parents (on average and by no means in all cases). Actual comparisons between children of same-sex coupled parents and children of heterosexual coupled parents shows no difference in their physical or mental health. This is reflected by recent statements by the American Psychological Association (150,000 members), and ratified by the Australian Psychological Society (20,000 members), stating that children fare no worse when raised by same-sex parents and that same-sex marriage should be fully supported. A response by AMA president Steve Hambleton to the submission by Doctors for the Family stated, "there is a growing body of evidence that says there's no difference in their [children's] psychological development, their general health, their sexual orientation."


A second statement made by Doctors for the Family is that heterosexual relationships are more stable than "so-called" same-sex ones. Aside from the implicit casual dismissal of same-sex relationships, which is a damaging position all on its own, the group's conclusions are based upon an opinion expressed in a newspaper article and they have not cited any factual evidence at all. One also has to ask how they were able to measure same-sex relationships when they firstly don't appear to recognise them as valid and secondly are comparing them to marriage, which they consider a more stable institution. In essence they are saying that marriage aids relationship stability and monogamy (thereby decreasing health risks) but these should not be offered to same-sex couples. Of interest are recent findings that the divorce rate in countries where equal marriage laws are in place is the same for same-sex couples in comparison to heterosexual couples.

What is most concerning is that the group is implying that same-sex marriage will "normalise" homosexual behaviour, thereby increasing health risks. Essentially they appear to be stating that children are more likely to become homosexual as a result of it being accepted as a normal part of society. This contradicts the Australian and American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations and Societies which have categorically stated that sexual orientation is unchangeable and that attempts to do so run contrary to all scientific and medical evidence.

The group also claims that any objections to its submission would be limiting freedom of expression and be classifying its statements as "hate speech". Given that its position is not based upon factual evidence, its comments may be considered as purely opinion based. As they are psychologically damaging comments, it could be reasoned that the group is actually engaging in hate speech and is using its respected qualification as a platform for giving this legitimacy.

The group states that pressure will be placed upon adoption agencies to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. But we need to ask ourselves why it is necessarily a bad thing for same-sex parents to be able to adopt children when these children fare no worse than those adopted by heterosexual parents, as demonstrated by decades of research. Adoption agencies are trained in careful selection of parents that will best guarantee a healthy and happy life for the adopted child. There will most likely be cases where a same-sex couple will be a better choice for a child than a heterosexual couple, and the reverse will also be true. Adoption agencies make decision based upon facts gathered from gruelling assessment processes and are trained in making decisions in the best interest of the child.

Lastly, the general theme of the group's submission is written in what is claimed to be the welfare of children. As discussed above, there is no factual evidence to back its claims that children will fare worse when raised by same-sex parents, rather the evidence says there is no difference. However, the group appears to have completely ignored the impact of its statements, or of the anti-same-sex marriage debate in general, upon same-sex attracted young people. The statements of Doctors for the Family are likely to be causing direct harm to thousands of Australians. One has to ask how this is consistent with the Hippocratic Oath taken by all doctors swearing to prevent illness in all cases and to do no harm.

The statements by Doctors for the Family, do not represent the views of the mainstream medical community, or the major psychological or psychiatric associations of Australia, whom are actually the best qualified to make community health statements. The views of Doctors for the Family are not backed up by facts and they pose the risk of direct harm to many of our fellow Australians. Their position appears to be based upon one of fear and if we allowed fear to rule our lives then we would never have had equal rights for women or for people from different ethnic backgrounds; which turned out to not be scary at all. Same-sex attracted people want to feel normal like everyone else and once we allow this to happen by removing barriers to discrimination, we will see that there is nothing to be afraid of as nothing bad will happen.

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About the Author

Dr Robert Battisti is a Sydney-based clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. He is extensively experienced in family, child and adolescent mental health and psychiatry, and works closely with a broad range of health professionals and academics from the general and scientific communities. Dr Battisti is also a member of Psychologists for Marriage Equality (PME).

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