Politicise: verb: To make something or someone political, or more involved in or conscious of political matters.
This is the Cambridge Dictionary, by the way, stepping in to clarify things and remind us of the definition of a word that has been repeated ad nauseam, mostly in negative context.
When the AFL changed their logo to YES, it was wrong to ‘politicise’ footy. When the best-selling rapper Macklemore was asked to perform his top-10 hit ‘Same Love’ at the NRL grand final, it was wrong to ‘politicise’ rugby league. When cafes and shops post signs showing support for same-sex marriage, it is wrong to politicise lattes or shopping.
The same critique came after most of the occurrences of organisations, companies, businesses, and peak bodies taking a public stance in the ongoing debate about same sex marriage. Don’t politicise business/sports/shopping/baking/arts/anything.
Unmistakably, the argument always comes from the ‘No’ campaign, whenever any faction of society comes out (no pun intended) to say ‘Yes’ to marriage equality. “Let’s not politicise”.
Well, it’s a little bit too late for that, isn’t it? Maybe you should have thought of that before dragging the whole country in a debate over an issue that would have easily been dealt with in parliament. Nobody would have objected to the parliamentary debate being ‘politicised’. Furthermore, nobody would invite Macklemore to parliament to sing a chart-topping song about the (apparently) divisive notions of love, acceptance, and equality.
The same people who dragged the prime minister into this completely unnecessary, expensive procedure, who wanted ‘the people’s voice’ to be heard and become the decisive factor on the legal definition of marriage, are now protesting when this voice is heard, when groups of people enter the debate.
What’s interesting is that the same people who say “let’s not politicise sports”, don’t follow this remark with “let’s also not politicise religion”. No, religions i.e. the institutions created to ease the existential suffering of people, offering them answers to the most important questions about the meaning of life and what happens after death – are not condemned for politicising their sermons, these days, they are actually encouraged to take centrestage in the issue, as if it is about them. They claim as such, falsely (and without any shred of proof, anything at all to support their argument), that the survey is about freedom of religion, that if the state grants equal legal rights to same-sex couples, this will somehow lead to believers losing their freedom to worship whatever God they believe in. The ‘No’ campaign is actually run by an organisation with the word ‘Christian’ in it, while most organised churches have chosen their side. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has even handed out leaflets and placed ads urging people to vote ‘No’, dispersing the same lies about freedom of speech being endangered and about ‘homosexuality being taught in schools’ (despite all sides of politics, not to mention educators, claiming that this is not the issue at hand – not to mention that if sexual orientation is something taught, this is proof of its fragile nature). Yet the same people who do not respect the idea of “rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, are outraged and offended when arts organisations, private entities and sports clubs take a stand. It is okay for people to say ‘No’, it is okay for the church to lead this campaign, all the others should remain neutral.
But neutrality is a very fragile thing. Last week, we saw two very prominent – albeit very different – organisations abandoning their initial neutral stance: the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Here’s the SSO’s statement: “The Sydney Symphony Orchestra initially decided that it should remain neutral on this question, taking the view that as a matter of principle it would not take a position that might be seen to commit its wide range of stakeholders to one side or the other. In doing so, the board now acknowledges that it misjudged the need for such an organisation – with its long commitment to inclusiveness, equality, and fairness – publicly to proclaim its support for the ‘Yes’ vote which plainly advances each of those ideals. This decision has the overwhelming support of the SSO’s musicians and staff.”
The SSO managed to divide and cause furor both in its neutrality (with members of the orchestra angry at the board) and after they changed position (with people saying that this was a result of pressure – or even bullying – by these angry ‘Yes’ campaigners within the arts industry, or because the newly appointed SSO director is a woman in a same-sex relationship). It is understandable. One can feel for the elderly, white, conservative people asking why would an organisation catering to the tastes of elderly, white, conservative people ever politicise music?
To our knowledge, nobody has yet accused the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners of abandoning its neutrality to join the Australian Medical Association, Beyond Blue, headspace, Black Dog Institute, and dozens of medical colleges representing physicians, psychiatrists, anaesthetists and obstetricians and gynaecologists and radiologists as well as other health professional organisations who have called for people to vote ‘Yes’.
Maybe it is because their statement reads as follows:
“The RACGP Curriculum on LGBTIQ health is comprehensive and clear. It is also clear that all RACGP members are aware of the significant challenges LGBTIQ people face in Australian communities. GPs are trusted to treat all LGBTIQ patients with the utmost respect and dignity, regardless of one’s own personal or religious beliefs. Marriage equality is a human rights issue. RACGP Council shares the concerns of the Australian National Mental Health Commission that the prolonged debate has heightened discrimination against LGBTIQ people. Last week, Council provided a neutral statement in order not to add to the debate. […] In conclusion, and to be explicit: the RACGP acknowledges that discrimination, bullying and harassment of LGBTIQ people does have a severe, damaging impact on mental and physical health outcomes for affected individuals, their families and communities. The RACGP Council strongly endorses equality and inclusion regardless of race or ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, religion or disability in all aspects of life, in particular, education, employment, medical care, relationships and certainly marriage”.
Yes, it’s hard to come out and say “let’s not politicise medicine”, when the people treating your illnesses and filling out your tablet prescriptions say that “Significant proportions of LGBTI people report hiding their sexuality or gender identity at work (39 per cent), at social and community events (42 per cent) and when accessing services (34 per cent). Verbal homophobic abuse has been experienced by 60 per cent of LGBTI individuals, and 20 per cent have experienced physical abuse.”
When people who are experts in medicine come against the relics of history who advocate ‘conversion therapies’ for gay people (a practice condemned by all medical practitioners and mental health professionals as the equivalent of mutilation), it should not be difficult to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. And this is why there has not been any significant reaction to the RACGP decision: because in the end, this is about choosing between common sense and irrational fears. When the peak medical associations and scientific bodies come and support same-sex marriage, what they say is that it is not okay to say ‘No’ because the real repercussions of discrimination are more tangible and real than the spectre of ‘political correctness’ raised by the ‘traditional marriage’ advocates. It is not okay to say ‘No’ and it is definitely not okay to stay neutral. Because when it comes to human rights, staying on the sidelines means condoning oppression. This is why artists and scientists, athletes and academics have been stepping out in support of a change in legislation that will ensure that same-sex couples are not second-class citizens. When it comes to that, you need to take a stance. When it comes to that, it is definitely okay to politicise the arts, medicine, sports, religion. Because they are political anyway, even when they don’t profess to be. And they are at their most political precisely when there’s no political issue to debate. The arts are nothing, are completely useless, if they are not actively participating in public discourse. And they participate even when they refrain to enter the debate. Even when it’s just to entertain, they are political – because they divert people’s mind from pressing issues. This diversion can be nuanced and have various meanings. It can be a kind of denial, a way for people to avert their eyes from reality – or it can be a valuable respite, a chance for people to replenish powers before they continue to fight for a better life.
But when it comes to presumably non-political entities actually being as politicised as it gets, nothing beats the organised church; its role has always been political. From primal communities to the modern era, religious leaders have been closely associated with politics, being one step behind state leaders, acting as their conscience, blessing political acts and ruling people. Because what else, if not political, is the role of an entity dictating rules for people to follow, guidelines on how to lead their lives, if they don’t want to risk eternal damnation?
A few months ago, from these pages, I expressed my concern that the church risks to stay on the wrong side of history – and the wrong side of humanity. This is exactly what we have been experiencing, these past few weeks. The church deciding to betray part of the population, to condone oppression and discrimination, for fear of losing grip of a set of traditional values. The saddest part is that there is no argument to support this position. This is why they try to divert the debate from civil rights and humanity to irrelevant issues such as freedom of speech, political correctness, safe schools, traditions. And it is telling that all their arguments can be summarised in one phrase, one unmistakably emerging in any online debate on the issue: ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’. Adherence to tradition, literal interpretation of religious texts, fear of change, all is summed up in this stale joke. Which was never funny in the first place.