Marriage equality – part one

17/11/2023 0 Comments

Welcome back to Caring About Sex and Disability, dear reader! 

I want you to imagine something for a minute.  Imagine that one of your clients has met their soulmate–that one true person that they want to spend the rest of their life with. Now imagine that they have been proposed to in one of the most iconic Australian places – the Sydney Opera House.  There they are on bended knee, holding out a ring and awaiting your client’s answer as a crowd starts to form. As your client is recounting the story to you, you can’t wait for the big finish.  They tell you that their partner was nervously awaiting the answer.  All of a sudden, they burst into tears.  You ask what’s wrong and they tell you they had to decline the proposal.  When you ask why, they say solemnly because I couldn’t afford it.

It sounds silly to you they would actually answer that way, but for many disabled Australians, that’s the truth of the matter.  Did you know that in Australia if you are receiving Disability Support Pension, both you and your partner’s income is counted against the amount of monthly benefit you will receive? They will assess you and your partner’s income from all sources. Moreover, if one of you in the couple makes more than the allotted amount in a fortnight, you will be docked 0.50 for every dollar you are over in income support. Yup, you read that right.  This leaves disabled people on benefits in Australia without many options for marriage or even moving in with a partner.  It takes away their chance at long-lasting relationships, and relegates Australians with Disabilities into what I like to call “legislated loneliness”.  It is absolutely despicable and I wish that more people understood what it felt like to know that all these other couples get to have big, grand ceremonies at Bondi and other places, disabled Australians are wondering if it even makes sense for them to enter in a relationship given how much they might lose. 

Funnily enough, when I talk about this online, I am almost always met with backlash.  Some disabled Aussies will tell me that they got married without an issue to their benefits, and that I must be wrong about it.  They’ll tell me that I am spreading misinformation.  You see, that’s part of the problem.  This information isn’t always understood or applied evenly across the board, so some disabled people in Australia don’t understand how harmful these policy initiatives can be.

It is heart-breaking to think that disabled Aussies who need benefits to live are denied the chance to benefit from a relationship or marriage.  As you are reading this, you may be thinking, “Andrew, what can I do as a healthcare professional?  How does this affect me?”  Great question!  We need you to talk about it out in the world, make it a part of your understanding of the overall health of your client.  If they are in a relationship, but can’t marry or cohabitate or even be deemed in a relationship by the state, what impact does that have on their mental, physical and emotional health.  And, if your client is single and wants a relationship but knows that it is impossible due to these restrictions put in place, how does that play a role in their overall health and view of the future?  We need everyone to talk about this so that more people learn about it, and can start lobbying to change the system.  But, we especially need healthcare workers like you, because legislated loneliness impacts us way more than I think we understand. 

If you thought this was just an issue in Australia, sadly, you’d be mistaken.  These benefits tied to marriage type systems are prevalent all over the world, and next time I’m going to look at other benefit systems that use this model and offer my solutions on how we can fix this.  In the meantime, please talk about this as healthcare providers and spread the word that these systems are harmful, unfair and unhealthy for disabled people. 

Until next time, friends!  

Andrew Gurza

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