I have some concerns that marriage equality will stall.
It should pass. It would be a popular measure. The latest polling data from March suggests that this is a reform which is supported by 65% of the population: parents, partners, siblings, children and friends of gay people, who are not prepared to tolerate discrimination.
However, in the last week or so, there have been some rustlings which may suggest that the energetic campaign against gay marriage may have found some support within the Tory Party. The Daily Mail ran the following story:
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond – increasingly tipped as a future Chancellor – became the most senior member of the Government to suggest plans to allow gay couples to marry should be shelved.
Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi also said Lords reform was not a priority, saying not one voter had raised the issue on the doorstep with her in the last six months.
Mr Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that proposals to legalise gay marriage should be delayed to ensure ministers focus on ‘the things that matter’.
He said: ‘Clearly it’s not the number one priority. If you stop people in the street and ask them what their concerns are, they’ll talk to you about jobs and economic growth, they’ll talk to you about the level of the wages they’re earning, wanting to see real growth in wages again.
Mr Hammond’s comments came after Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, wrote to a constituent to say he was opposed to gay marriage.
‘Marriage as a religious institution cannot be anything other than between a man and a woman.
‘I do not see why we need to change the law, especially at this time when there are so many other important matters for the government to be addressing,’ Mr Loughton wrote.
However, at the highest levels of the Tory Party, there is still strong support for marriage law reform:
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles yesterday gave his backing to gay marriage, urging colleagues not to get themselves ‘hot under the collar’.
‘We’re still out to consultation. It was never intended that we would legislate this year,’ Mr Pickles told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.
‘It just seems to me to be a question of good manners and if you’ve got something like civil partnership, which are for all practical purposes a marriage, let’s drop the hypocrisy and go all the way.’
Mr Cameron recently said: ‘I ask myself the question, ‘why is it that we deny gay couples the ability to get married?’ And, I don’t think that’s right.
‘Obviously this is a controversial issue. I feel the time for change has come. If you ask, particularly young people, they say this feels like a very natural change to make. We are not changing what happens in church.’
The danger is that the supporters of marriage equality are complacently assuming that it will simply pass, while the opponents are working overtime to ensure that it doesn’t. I also have a sneaky suspicion that Stonewall hasn’t put as much effort as it should have into the campaign – it was always luke warm – because it doesn’t want the Coalition to claim the prize of - and the credit for – completing Labour’s reforms.
Fortunately, there’s a new cross party coalition to support the reforms. It is called Out4Marriage:
A new cross party and cross media campaign, Out4Marriage.org, to support changing the law to allow gay couples to marry has launched to help spread the message that most people in Britain and indeed the Western world, are happy to “come Out4Marriage”.
Out4Marriage is modeled on the hugely successful ‘It Gets Better’ YouTube project launched by the US agony uncle Dan Savage, where politicians, celebrities and members of the public gave hope to teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality.
Over the coming weeks, videos from high profile UK politicians from all political parties and global A-list celebrities will be published online. Each video will allow the politician or celebrity to explain why they’re “coming out for marriage” and will ask viewers to join them too. It is aimed that although launched from the UK, the campaign will spread globally to ensure gay couples around the world have the same rights to marry as straight couples.
The project was conceived by PinkNews.co.uk founder Benjamin Cohen and Mike Buonaiuto, the director of the Coalition for Equal Marriage viral video. It is ‘powered by’ the Coalition for Equal Marriage, PinkNews.co.uk and digital agency Remarkable. An ever growing global team of volunteers are helping to recruit new video makers, moderate submissions and engage with politicians.
Mirroring the strategy of the Coalition for Equal Marriage, Out4Marriage has been backed by the largest names in UK LGBT media already including Attitude, Gaydar, GT (Gay Times), PinkPaper, Diva, Boyz, QX Magazine, Gay Star News and SoSoGay with US partners to be announced shortly.
It is heartening to see support from Tories for this campaign.
The website has been tweeted this morning by Tim Montgomerie, of Conservative Home – who is also a church-goer – and who has also written a strong piece advocating marriage equality.
There’s also this video putting forward the case for gay marriage from a young Tory activist:
The Tories would be foolish to fail the country on marriage equality. All parties have their weaknesses: for the LibDems, it is silliness, for Labour it is extremism, and for the Tories it is nastiness. A strong Tory campaign for marriage equality confounds that stereotype: against it, only confirms it.