Thursday, 23 August 2012

Anti-Marriage Equality Campaigners Should Be Making Hay, But They Aren't

Sometimes the United Kingdom feels, to me, like a very conservative place. I often imagine it is inhabited by a bunch of Ann Widdecombe types. And so I have often made the same mistake anti-marriage equality campaigners have, in my opinion, made; to imagine marriage equality would be an incredibly uphill struggle and maybe impossible for some time to come. But it is becoming increasingly clear that, to my great relief, I and their are quite, quite wrong.

Thankfully my pessimism led simply to me fighting harder, unfortunately for them the anti-marriage equality campaigners have allowed their optimism to make them slack.

I started to realise that something was up when they started releasing their polls. It seemed obvious then that they realised the polls weren't going to go in their favour. Just look at the questions on this July ComRes poll just as an example. No where do they ask the straightforward question regarding whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Why the roundabout way of phrasing things? Because polls show that, when asked directly, a majority do back same-sex marriage (or at least do not oppose it).

I think this lack of interest is shown clearly in the response to the Coalition for Marriage's petition. It has had, to date, 596236 signatures. This is after a very concerted campaign to get people to sign it in churches, schools and places of work. In 2005 the church-going population of this country was 3.2 million people and, if that article is to be believed, that number is on the rise. So the petition represents a mere 18% of C4M's target demographic! In terms of overall population that isn't even 1%. This is hardly an uprising against marriage equality and really should have alerted these campaigners to the fact they could not simply rely on the same old arguments to win hearts and minds to their cause.

But it hasn't. What have we had instead? Well they've ignored the huge differences between the USA and the UK and decided to use some very Christian American arguments.

Take, for example, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children's now infamous leaflet. In what may be one of the most ill-conceived tactical moves ever, they decided to link marriage equality to an increase in abortions. In a country like the USA, where abortion is a very divisive issue, this totally bogus claim may have won some pro-life waverers over to the anti-marriage equality cause. But here in the UK, a country where the issue is far more settled, linking these two social issues causes at best a confused guffaw and at worst actively makes people angry enough at your deception that you push them further into the pro-marriage equality camp. It's the perfect example of this in action.

That argument is not one that is going to reach out and convince people. It's preaching to the converted and it turns people off.

Or look at Anglican Mainstream's linking to these, rather disturbing, 77 non-religious reasons to support man/woman marriage. This leaflet suggests that marriage equality will lead to early on-set menstruation for girls and thus high risks of breast cancer, juvenile delinquency and the exile of Mennonites (among other things). Now, I don't mean to state the obvious, but these are not the sort of arguments that are going to win over to you the vast majority of the population of this country. The central argument of this leaflet, and most anti-marriage equality arguments come to that, is that marriage is a child-centric institution. This it definitely was in the past. This argument has some justification, even if I can't see how that stops same-sex partners from getting married (I want to marry a man with 4 children, one of whom lives with us, so my life is hardly child free!). Anyway, this is not the sort of argument that will hold much water in this country.

In case no one had noticed procreation and marriage have drifted apart over the years and now happen quite separately. A great number of people now have children out of wedlock. These people may later marry, be it to the father/mother of their child or to someone else. Marriage is seen as a sign of commitment more often to each other than to one's future family and as an expression of romantic love. If you talk to someone about marrying so that they can have children they may well regard you as if you had spoken to them in Mandarin.

And that is the crux of the matter. Anti-marriage equality arguments are happening an echo chamber, watched from outside only by us marriage equality folks who get all indignant about them. They are failing to resonant with the population at large and are not winning over the "don't give a damn"s. There are ways, none of them virtuous might I add, I can think of that they could easily reach out to those people but I'm not here to win the argument for my opponents. It fills me with a great deal of joy to see the own goals and poor strategy of our opponents and to see that they just aren't bothering to try to connect with those outside their

Meanwhile over here in marriage equality land we have campaigns such as Out4Marriage which, through testimonials and famous talking heads, is trying to engage the majority with touchy-feely (i.e. rather effective) arguments about love, commitment and fairness. And that is why our argument has come from nowhere at the start of 2010 to prospective legislation in Holyrood and Westminster in 2012, because we haven't just kept talking to each other, but reaching out and convincing others.

That is why we are winning. Let us keep up the good fight and hope our foes don't realise their error.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

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