The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) executed a dramatic U-turn on marriage equality this week, which it now backs after initially claiming to be neutral on the issue.
Over the past few months, the number of medical colleges and associations officially coming out in support of marriage equality has grown to include the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, to name a few.
And yet the RACGP remained curiously silent, until last Wednesday, when RACGP President Dr Bastien Seidel wrote that the college’s council “acknowledged that the organisation has a diverse membership” and that it believed that in regard to marriage equality, “members should consider the issues involved carefully for themselves.”
But the college’s carefully neutral position unleashed a storm of criticism on social media and elsewhere, with many GPs expressing deep disapproval of their college’s stance. Former AMA President Dr Kerryn Phelps expressed her “surprise” at the RACGP’s neutrality. The college, she said, “should be a thought leader. This is unequivocally a health issue so the RACGP should take a stand.”
After around 750 GPs signed a petition demanding that the college change its position, its council hastily convened an emergency meeting on Monday.
The outcome of that meeting was a new statement from Dr Seidel, in which he acknowledged that marriage equality “is a human rights issue”.
“When I became RACGP President a year ago, I clearly outlined that the RACGP could no longer afford to sit on the fence when it came to any issue that affected our members or our patients. I deeply regret that I did not meet my own standard,” Dr Seidel wrote.
He said that the RACGP acknowledged that discrimination, bullying and harassment of LGBTIQ people has a severe and damaging effect on their mental and physical health.
“As part of valuing diversity and inclusion, RACGP Council supports marriage equality,” he wrote.
He said the council acknowledged the right of all members to hold and express their own views on marriage equality. However, the council urged all members “to provide particular care and consideration to LGBTIQ groups during this trying period.”
The turnaround comes as the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show around 60% of eligible Australians have already returned their marriage equality postal surveys, with the announcement of the results set for November 15th.