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Australia is probably the only Western developed country that has until very recently actually been going backwards when it comes to gay/queer rights. Fortunately (with the notable exception of Queensland, which excels at competing with the American South for conservative idiocy) things are finally getting better, after the Howard dark ages.

Gay marriage is actually on the agenda in the federal government and several states! Amazing! Only 8 years after the government and opposition BILATERALLY BANNED GAY MARRIAGE. Yes, non-Australians, you’ve heard that right. Gay marriage is BANNED in Australia. As well as international adoption. And in most states, adoption in general by same-sex couples is not allowed, even for the same-sex partner of a biological parent.

Of course, if Tony Abbott comes to power, most other rights will go backwards too. Until recently, the Labor party, which is supposedly the more egalitarian and socially progressive major party was officially against same-sex marriage. And the Prime Minister remains against it.

Let’s not forget that religious organisations are allowed to discriminate on many fronts including on sexual orientation. I was under the impression that there was a separation between church and state in Australia, which is officially a secular country, but this appears to be false. Especially given that mandatory religious indoctrination has been introduced in Victorian schools.

Compared with the laws and attitudes in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, most of Europe and even the United States, this is incredibly backwards.

The effects that I’ve personally experienced and seen here range from obviously awful to lighter shades of awfulness.

Until I started working, discrimination against gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and queer people would have been the biggest form of bigotry I saw and experienced. (Of course, it’s worse in the workplace, but even that manages to be trumped by blatant racism and sexism).

I’ve heard all kinds of things. People who openly go on about how “gay” someone is (and how that is awful), and how “the gays” shouldn’t be given “special rights” or allowed near children, or how kids without “a father figure” turn “weird and gay”, or how the way I dress (in dress pants and a women’s shirt) and the size of my wallet mean that I “must be a lesbian”, how no-one should support “that faggot Ian Thorpe“, how HIV positive gay men with cancer are “demanding princesses”, how person x is gay/bi and they are “totally hitting on me”, how “bisexuals are just doing it for attention”, how people are “lesbians till graduation”, calling transsexual people “it” or “that thing” and sniggering at their sex change … The list goes on.

This is common behaviour in Australia, in various workplaces and socially. You can’t make complaints in case it means you never get another job. That sort of thing is accepted behaviour and disagreeing is “making a fuss”. Most people might actually disagree with the bigotry but they are too scared to say anything.

The government and major parties’ attitudes don’t help in the slightest. Tony Abbott and other politicians make openly offensive statements constantly. They use homosexuality as a slur to depose the Speaker. They reiterate that “marriage is between a man and a woman” as a mantra as if any deviation from heterosexuality is a deviant behaviour. They make statements denigrating and undermining same-sex parents. They legitimise the bigotry, discrimination and hatred and make it hard to object.

Many people want to have children. In the context of current adoption and marriage laws, the only way that most people in Australia can have children is to conceive naturally via heterosexual sex or backyard artificial insemination or have a partner of the opposite sex. Choosing to be with someone of the same gender often means choosing to be childless.

It means that you lose significant financial services, help and benefits given to opposite sex couples. Inheritance law, tax law, next of kin decisions, childcare benefits are just a few of the things that are lost because of lack of federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Financial stress, bullying, discrimination, lack of legitimacy cause great harm to single people, people in relationships with people of the same gender, the children they have and their friends and family.

There are a lot of people for whom the constant harassment, insecurity, lack of legal rights and inability to become a parent are too high a price to pay for being openly themselves or for choosing a partner they’re love from the same gender. This is a situation that harms everyone, from the person themselves to the spouse they don’t really love, to the children and family that endure an unhappy relationship fallout and possible divorce.

The rest of society also bears the burden of mental illness, stress, financial pressures and social problems that come from this bigotry.