Dr Donna Smith is dismayed by the Government’s vacillation over gay marriage in the face of mid-term electoral blues.
When the Coalition Government announced it would hold a consultation on opening up marriage to include gay civil marriage, it suggested that one half of the Coalition, the Conservative Party, had become much more socially liberal since the Party’s opposition to many of Labour’s gay rights policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear that he supported gay marriage, with the Lib-Dem Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, stating gay marriage was a “change for the better”.
But, hang on a minute. Who says gay marriage doesn’t matter? It certainly matters to many gay people, their friends and families. In fact, it could be said to matter to society as a whole, as an issue of equality and fairness. And don’t governments have a duty to focus on issues whether they affect the ‘majority’ or ‘minority’? If the Government doesn’t look out for people, who will?
Perhaps Government should just go ahead and legislate. That is, after all, what they have been elected to do. Doesn’t consultation give the wrong message on this one? If a government believes something is morally right, there is no need to consult. Especially as the consultation was not about whether gay civil marriage should be allowed, but rather the best way to go about it. Just make a decision and legislate! (By comparison, on the day of the Queen's Speech that failed to mention gay marriage in the Coalition's plans for the next year, President Barack Obama affirmed his support for same-sex marriages in a nation where 29 States oppose it).
The previous Labour Government faced huge opposition to some of its equality measures, but pushed on nevertheless, resulting in a fairer and kinder society. Of course, we have to accept that not everyone will be in favour of gay civil marriage. Their opinions should be heard, without the need for shouting by either ‘side’. But by consulting, the Government weakens its stated belief in gay marriage. It leaves room for the policy to be picked apart by the media, with opponents in the Conservative Party having room to blame it for the Government’s current woes.
It seems unlikely that the Coalition’s stance on gay marriage had that much of an impact at the polls; high unemployment, lack of consumer confidence, petrol prices and the perception (fair or unfair) that the Conservatives are a party for the rich, not poor, are higher on most people’s agendas, surely.
So, stand up for gay marriage, Cameron and Osborne, if it’s what you support. You’ll be stronger and more respected for it.
Donna Smith 8 May 2012
Donna Smith is a tutor on the Open University modules Introducing the social sciences - part one (DD131) and Living political ideas (DD306), and is based in the East of England. She is the author of Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians in the Press and talks to Platform about gay politicians and the media here
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain