Policy statement

UNICEF Australia’s views on the rights of children in regard to the same sex marriage debate are firmly grounded in the guiding principles set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
  1. Non-discrimination (Article 2)
  2. Best interests of the Child (Article 3)
  3. Child participation (Article 12). 
Given that the decision has been made by the Australian Government to proceed with a Marriage Law Postal Survey we encourage all people in Australia to ensure that public discussion and debate is:
  • safe for all children and young people (avoiding derogatory remarks, stereotypes, verbal abuse and violence)
  • informed and evidence based
  • non-discriminatory
  • inclusive (properly considering the views of all children, including the perspectives and lived experience of children and young people who identify as LGBTI or who have same-sex parents or family members). 
In discussions about the impacts of same sex marriage on children and young people, we encourage decision makers, community and religious leaders, and the Australian media to familiarise themselves with the guiding principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

1. Non-discrimination

We encourage Members of Parliament, Senators, community and religious leaders and the media to participate in same sex marriage discussions with integrity and respect.  Regardless of what perspectives people bring to same sex marriage, discussions should not:
  • invalidate or victimise children or their families
  • undermine children’s identity
  • reduce children’s social and family support
  • isolate or exclude children
  • shame children and their families. 
  • This last point is important because we know that shame can cause life-long harm and is highly correlated with depression, suicide, bullying and violence.
All children, irrespective of the sexual orientation of their parents, or their own sexual orientation, have the right to a safe and healthy childhood that is free from discrimination. People who identify as, or who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) often suffer discrimination, intimidation, harassment or even violence [1]. In Australia, 61 per cent of same-sex attracted and gender-questioning young people say they have experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality, while 18 per cent report being physically abused. [2]

2. Best interests of the child

All discussions regarding same sex marriage should prioritise the social and emotional safety of children who have same-sex parents or family members, or who may identify as LGBTI themselves. 
Regardless of differing views on marriage equality, the human rights of all people, regardless of real or perceived sexual orientation, should be recognised, protected and promoted. Diversity should be welcomed. Abuse based on real or perceived sexual orientation must not be tolerated.
All measures to protect children and parents in regard to this debate should be applied in a manner that truly is in the best interests of children.
UNICEF Australia also stresses that any national discussions regarding this subject should be based in quality, reliable, objective evidence about parenting, children’s development and children’s psychosocial health and wellbeing.

3. Child participation

Children have a right to have their view heard and to participate fully and meaningfully in policy discourse that affects their lives, in accordance with Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and General Comment No. 12 – The right of the child to be heard.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states that “State parties should introduce measures to guarantee adolescents the right to express views on all matters of concern to them, in accordance with their age and maturity, and ensure they are given due weight, for example, in decisions relating to their … sexuality, family life and … administrative proceedings. States should ensure that adolescents are involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of all relevant legislation, policies, services and programmes affecting their lives, at school and at the community, local, national and international levels.”
Research and polling indicates that marriage equality is an important issue for children and young people in Australia. 
As the debate regarding same sex marriage affects children already living in same-sex families, as well as LGBTI young people who may want the option to marry in the future, UNICEF Australia takes the position that children [3] and young people should be included in these discussions.
UNICEF Australia holds the view that older adolescents (those aged between 16-18 years) should have the option to participate in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.
[1] UNICEF Current Issues brief No.9, November 2014: Eliminating discrimination against children and parents based on sexual orientation.
[2] Australian Human Rights Commission. 2014. Face the facts: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People. Viewed at:  https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/FTFLGBTI.pdf. Viewed on 23 August 2017. 
[3] Children should be involved in nuanced and complex conversations in an age appropriate manner.