I wanted to write a follow-up to my previous opinion, titled “The campaign for equality”, which was published on May 7 of this year.
A comment was made that I felt needed answering in greater detail. The comment was this:
“Why is the United Nations always quoted when their own members don’t follow their playbook? The current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is from a country that provides nothing for same-sex couples.”
The comment is a fair one, but needs to be understood in context.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by member states in 1948. There had been two world wars, the Great Depression, a civil war in Spain, with millions of lives lost and millions impacted in Great Britain, Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, and in North and South America. Landscapes, cities, towns, homes, farms and industry needed rebuilding. Resources were scant, as people worked to reconstruct their lives at the same time as recovering from living in constant grief, fear and want. The experience is unimaginable today.
The declaration’s preamble says:
“ ... disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want, has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people ...”
“ ... Member states have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
“Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge ...”
Member States also pledged to:
“ ... strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of member states themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”
There was a clear recognition these ideals were “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.
It takes time to get all people and all nations on board, but it does not abdicate each one of us from responsibility for playing a part to achieve these goals.
Why? Because: “ ... recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
It seems a small number of people in Bermuda fear granting all members of our society the dignity and security of marriage.
The American Psychological Association website outlines the reasons for the importance of having marriage equality as follows:
“ ... How do laws that limit marriage to heterosexuals affect gay and lesbian people?
“Being denied the right to marry reinforces the stigma associated with a minority sexual identity.
“Researchers have found that living in a state where same-sex marriage is outlawed can lead to chronic social stress and mental health problems. Psychologists are particularly concerned that such stigma may undermine the healthy development of adolescents and young adults.
“The families and friends of lesbian and gay couples who are denied marriage rights may also experience negative physical and mental health consequences similar to those experienced by their loved ones.
“Why is marriage so important?
“Marriage bestows economic and social support to couples in committed relationships, which can result in substantial health benefits. Researchers have found that married men and women generally experience better physical and mental health than comparable cohabiting couples. Additionally, same-sex couples in legal unions are more likely to remain in a committed relationship than those denied marriage rights.
“Taken together, the research shows that there is no scientific basis for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples, and doing so can adversely affect them as well as their family and friends.”
A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is not a choice or a lifestyle. It’s a status like race or colour.
States in the United States, and the Netherlands, which have introduced marriage equality, have experienced a significant reduction in suicide and attempted-suicide rates among LGBT teens. In states that have not introduced marriage equality, those rates remain unchanged.
The LGBT community in Bermuda has experienced the additional stresses of:
1. An unsuccessful referendum
2. A court decision making marriage equality legal for a little more than a year
3. An election campaign where marriage equality was an issue
4. The reversal of marriage equality to replace it with the Domestic Partnership Act
5. An international boycott of Bermuda, which has resulted in negative social-media comments in Bermuda about their sexual identity
6. More litigation with marriage equality being restored. The threat to repeal this decision
The negative impact of these events on LGBT persons cannot be overestimated.
In Ireland and Australia, which only recently had referendums, studies show many LGBT persons experienced higher levels of anger, stress and alienation.
These stressors came from the campaign against marriage equality.
If we wish to alleviate chronic social stress, mental health issues, and to reduce our suicide and attempted-suicide rates, particularly those of adolescents and young adults, we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and teach others about the importance of the right to marry for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
Not granting lesbian and gay persons the right to marry in the same way as heterosexual persons is discrimination.
Discrimination creates victims, damages self-esteem and perpetuates many subtle and direct forms of discrimination and hatred, including self-hatred.
We have to step back, support and love all members of our society and grant them equal legal rights as a starting point.
•Monica Jones is a former attorney, and modern-day artist and writer, who has sold her art through private sales from her home studio in Pembroke for the past several years. She started her personal writing in 2010 and has published a newsletter, blog and regular Facebook dialogue, with the goal of creating a more peaceful and humane world