The Establishment is out of step with public opinion on same-sex marriage

Imagine for a minute a future where John Lewis department stores sell ‘his’ and ‘his’ bath robe sets. This crisp, white future came one step closer last Tuesday when Members of the House of Lords voted by a majority of 242 to allow the Government’s ‘gay marriage’ Bill to continue its passage through the Lords.  There will be many more barriers for the Bill to hurdle, but the direction of travel for the Bill has been set for a while now and the destination seems inevitable: the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Public opinion is swinging very much the way of marriage equality, with recent polls showing that 55% of people approving of the Government’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry. In other polls approval has been at 71%.  Never mind that many people think that David Cameron’s attraction to this policy is a nakedly self serving one.  The political expediency he is showing in an attempt to detoxify his party’s image is, as far as I’m concerned, likely to bring about the right result and the Government should be given a degree of praise for sticking with it in the face of strong opposition. Cameron’s biggest headache we are told is negative Tory voter polling with opposition outweighing support by 48% to 45%.  With the threat of haemorrhaging votes at the next election if his party continues to pursue this policy, it could turn into a full blown migraine.  Support across the other parties is far stronger, with Liberal Democrat and Labour Party voter support greater than that at the national level at 72% and 57% respectively.  But to the relief of Tory high command latest polls show that Conservative voters who regard gay marriage as a vote-determining issue and oppose reform registers at just 4%, barely 1% of the total electorate.  It is not an issue that the vast majority of people are concerned about, is likely to be put on the Statute book and therefore is unlikely to be an issue that will decide the next election.

So why all the fuss about an issue that barely registers on the electorates’ radar? Because the debate has frustratingly and predictably been framed within a religious context.  The argument being in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that legalising same-sex marriage will somehow hasten the demise of the institution of marriage and family life as WE know it. Let’s think about that for a moment.  The argument here really is that all that stands in the way of a ‘homosexual hegemony’ is the Queen not giving Royal Consent.  However it is utterly ridiculous to think that this legislation will lead to a decline in heterosexual marriage, and it is a complete non sequitur to claim that same-sex marriage would take away from the sanctity, fidelity and joy that heterosexuals enjoy in their marriage.  Are married couples going to love their spouses any less and treat their own marriages any differently if same-sex couples can marry? I’m highly sceptical, and if they do then they should take a closer look at the failings of their own marriage. 

Perhaps he and others should also take the time to look at the multiple surveys and report which state time and again that married people are among the most happy in the country.  If by ‘family life’ the Archbishop is referring to procreation, then his argument is additionally ill thought out because he forgets that some heterosexual couples cannot or do not want children. I doubt that Charles and Camilla got married with the aim of starting a family. Religious organisations and their figureheads are well versed in standing up publicly and deploying ancient scripture to support their own prejudices. The further suggestion, this time by Lord Carey that the logical next steps after legalising same-sex marriage would be to allow polygamy and even siblings to wed is childish and desperate. Happily in an increasingly secular society, the ability of religious doctrine to dictate public policy is increasingly weakened.

The Church recently committed to enabling more women to become bishops, so it has demonstrated that it does have a capacity to confront hundreds of years of discrimination. Yet it doesn’t seem to have the courage or the will to extend this to the issue of same-sex marriage. I want faiths to be able to perform same-sex weddings ceremonies if they choose, but the Church is not going down this route. Inevitably there will be same-sex couples of religious faith, but they will be the ones to lose out and denied the opportunity to marry in a Church.  It must surely recognise that it does not speak for all people within its faith. Looking more widely than the Church of England, the majority of people of faith actually believe that prejudice against homosexuals still exists and should be tackled. The solution to this unidentified prejudice may not be the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but it does point to a wider sense that the leaders of religious institutions need to take a more enlightened approach towards same-sex marriage.  While opening marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights, the issue is as much symbolic as it is practical. Withholding marriage equality to same-sex couples now would give a licence to others in the future to discriminate against those they see as not deserving of certain rights. I am yet to be convinced by any argument against legalising same-sex marriage. I hope that by legalising it, it would be one of the final nails in the coffin of inequality and prejudice that still exists in the UK.