Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012 09:19 Written by Ketlan Ossowski
The issue of same-sex marriages is hardly polarising the nation. One MP I heard on Radio Four suggested that was because nobody cares about it but I'd suggest that's pretty far from the truth. Most people don't say anything about it because it isn't a great topic for debate - at least in the places I go. Ask the question and the immediate response tends to be 'Yeah, why not?'
The tedious compromise of civil partnerships seems to have irritated more people than it has pleased. I've heard them described as 'nearly-marriages', 'not-marriages' and 'almost-marriages', but never without a sneer or a raised eyebrow. Personally, I thought they were a Good Thing, in that they provided a stepping-stone to what might be termed 'real' same-sex marriage. When the reluctant saw that publicly and legally-condoned formal relationships hadn't led to the end of the world, they might be less reluctant to take the final step without breaking into a cold sweat.
Leaving aside homophobes and those who oppose same-sex marriage on sometimes dubious religious grounds, the population as a whole seems remarkably unperturbed at the thought of a gay couple formalising their relationship in what we largely think of as the usual way. The young, of course, lead the way, with 71% of those aged 18-34 supporting a change in the current legislation. This is, by the way, taken from a Home Office survey which received roughly 100,000 responses.
Moving up the age groups, the situation changes dramatically, with only 31% of over 65's favouring the change. Women at 62% were more likely than men at 46% to endorse same-sex marriage. This is no great surprise. Older people are, generally speaking, less liberal than the young and more likely to oppose change.
The results divide neatly and entirely predictably across expected party lines, too. LibDem supporters show up with 67%, while Labour manages 62%. Conservative supporters hang back with just 49%.
These results might well be skewed towards opposition to same-sex marriages. According to today's Independent, 'ministers suspect a big "round robin" campaign by religious and other groups which are trying to scupper the Government's plan'. As it happens, the overall result was that a majority of the respondents opposed same-sex marriages.
Should we be bothered? Apparently not. The same report includes the results of a survey which found that 54% want same-sex marriages to go ahead with a majority of respondents wanting the Government to 'ignore the results of its public consultation exercise and press ahead with its plan to legalise gay marriage'. The Scottish Government has already stated that it is pressing ahead with plans to allow same-sex marriage even though it was also opposed during its public consultation.
Nick Clegg, who really knows how to straddle a fence, has written to a number of religious groups who are in favour, saying this:
'No religious organisation who does not wish to conduct a same-sex marriage should be forced to do so. But religious liberty means allowing those churches and organisations who want to open their doors and welcome same-sex couples to do so, as much as it means respecting the rights of those who do not.'
'It is Liberal Democrat party policy, and my personal view, that those organisations who do wish to conduct same-sex marriages, should be free to do so. It is not the place of government to mandate religious organisations to conduct gay marriages. But nor is it the place of government to ban them from doing so.'
These comments were in response to a letter sent jointly from the Quakers, Unitarian and Free Christian churches and Liberal Judaism, which implored him to 'stand firm and show moral leadership on this issue'. Hard luck, guys.
Should the government even be asking what the people want on this issue? In my opinion, no. The government is there to govern and bring in sensible laws that, among other things, take account of social changes. The public's view of same-sex relationships has changed dramatically over the past half century and homophobia has become the preserve of bigots who are generally despised by everyone else. If some branches of the church don't like it, to hell with them, so to speak.