When it comes to gay marriage, there seem to be three different moral positions: effusive support, furious opposition, and “meh”. I am willing to bet a week’s wages (be warned: that is not much money) that 95 per cent of the population fall into the “meh” category. The other 5 per cent, which consists mainly of that section of society we all struggle to describe these days – the elite? The political and media classes? The trendsetters? – contains mostly effusive supporters but also a fair smattering of furious opponents. And these two subsets within a subset are pretty much the only people moved by the gay marriage issue.
I’ve racked my brains over this but I just cannot think of another recent issue on which the intensity of feeling amongst the opinion-forming classes was matched only by the lukewarmness of the general public sentiment. I have talked to quite a few normal people about gay marriage (any by normal, I mean non-media) and not one of them is excited about it. No, they don’t hate gays; they aren’t bigots who hanker after the days when teaching about homosexuality in schools was enough to have you named and shamed in a tabloid. They just don’t see the point of gay marriage. It’s like: “Oh yeah. That. Are they still talking about that?”
This is borne out by surveys. Supporters of gay marriage love to point out that a majority of the public support the idea of gay marriage – clearly hoping that these positive poll responses might gloss over the fact that there have been no public marches or street struggles for this new “right” – yet they fail to mention that surveys also reveal that people just don’t think gay marriage is important. So they point to a poll which revealed that 45 per cent of the public support gay marriage and only 36 per cent oppose it, yet tend to overlook the same poll’s finding that a whopping 78 per cent think gay marriage is not a pressing parliamentary issue. They were made even more excited by a recent poll revealing that 55% support the idea of reforming marriage and 36 per cent (again) oppose it, yet had little to say about the same poll’s discovery that only 7 per cent of people think gay marriage is an “important” political issue.
What these polls reveal is that the general public is tolerant towards gays, but decidedly lukewarm – that is, meh – towards the idea of gay marriage. They just don’t understand why it’s being prioritised, why it sucks up so much political airtime and newspaper space. Commentators treat gay marriage as one of the few issues of conviction in these principle-lite times, as a sliver of evidence that our politicians are still capable of doing great, Rosa Parks-style things, but for most ordinary people gay marriage is just another political oddity, another sign that the Westminster Village is a different world to Blighty in general. Just as the public is bemused by the tendency of the inhabitants of this political bubble to get excited about something like Ed Miliband’s relationship with Ed Ballszzz, so they’re also a bit baffled by these bubblistas’ obsession with gay marriage. There have been no mass protests for gay marriage, no uprisings, no protests outside parliament, yet here it is, centre stage in political debate, being pushed by politicians of all persuasions as “the right thing to do” and a historic leap forward for humankind. Weird.
The gaping disconnect, the Grand Canyon-sized chasm, between the flat public feeling on gay marriage and politicians’ frenzied debates about it is very revealing. What it suggests is that gay marriage is not a real issue, in the sense of having been born of a genuine public thirst for change or any serious analysis of what people in Britain (including gays) really need in the twenty-first century. Rather, it’s an entirely invented concern, a shallow posture, magicked out of thin air by a political class which wants to demonstrate as loudly and proudly as possible that it is modern and new and liberal and all the other good things. That is why the main debate over the past 48 hours has focused on whether gay marriage will detoxify or retoxify the Tories – because the only thing really at stake here is the PR standing and moral reputations of those who have cynically made gay marriage into a moral marker of our times, a badge of decency that all right-minded political and media folk must don.
Hilariously, some MPs in the Commons today probably fancy themselves as latter-day Lincolns struggling to liberate gays from the bondage of not being able to get hitched, blissfully unaware that if Joe Public accidentally catches a glimpse of their debating on the news tonight he will most likely think to himself: “Meh.”
quoting: Brendan O’Neill for The Telegraph