The UK government has committed itself to marriage reform to include same-sex couples. It was an obvious and largely uncontested announcement...until a new and secretive coalition of fundamentalist organisations whipped up an artificial storm. The planned introduction of same-sex civil marriage to the UK was considered such a trivial extension of current 'civil partnership' legislation, such a clear and just moral claim, that it could be introduced by a Conservative-led coalition government to applause from the great majority of Conservative MPs. The proposals received but a smattering of media attention, and a polite welcome from LGBT groups. 'Separate but equal' legislation would be a thing of the past. The final, uncontroversial baby-step toward equality was underway. But since February this year, a well-oiled PR campaign against the proposals has been busy giving the false impression of a public backlash to the proposals. It does not alter the moral equation a jot, nor (we hope) has it had a serious impact on public support for progress and equality. However, it is worth considering exactly how a small cartel of fundamentalist Christian groups, unrepresentative of the vast majority of the UK, including most ordinary Christians, could create such a media footprint in such a short time. The Coalition for Marriage (C4M) is a network of evangelical Christian groups in the UK (the kind often described as "US-style", not without reason). The exact composition of this coalition is not advertised on their website. However a bit of digging unearths a few quite extreme organisations (more extreme than any mainstream UK church, anyway). One of C4M's members is the Christian Institute, a group who are almost single-handedly responsible for a PR campaign spanning several years in which a handful of employment tribunals against Christians (usually demanding privileges or refusing to treat gay people respectfully) are endlessly recycled and cross-referenced into a media-friendly narrative about "Christian persecution". Another of their members is the fundamentalist group Christian Medical Fellowship, which campaigns against women's choice over abortion rights, and welcomes good Christian doctors as long as they believe "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God." The Coalition for Marriage (ironically so called, given their mission is to fight marriage for some people) has conducted a two-faced campaign of misdirection, unrepresentative of public opinion while claiming to be so. They say they want a national debate. What they're actually offering is a US-style PR campaign against equality for LGBT people. C4M is countered by the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM), which we brought together as a response, to support and defend the equality proposals. The equal marriage side advertises its organisational members rather more proudly than C4M. Our members include religious groups and denominations in favour of marriage reform, as well as secular and humanist groups, the top three political parties' LGBT groups, gay rights campaigners such as Stonewall, and LGBT media such as Pink News, Attitude magazine, Gay Times magazine and the Gaydar group. We'd welcome a debate with C4M, as they claim to want. What we have instead is ex-archbishops and cardinals marching to an evangelical tune like puppets, offering no argument and no evidence for extraordinary claims about how same-sex marriage will compromise parenthood and bring down society. Evidence from 10 countries that have already introduced same-sex marriage suggests that fears about the imminent collapse of civilisation are somewhat exaggerated. Rates of dissolution for the first five years of (same-sex) civil partnerships in the UK are significantly lower than rates of divorce for (heterosexual) marriage over the same period. Whatever else this indicates, it at least suggests that same-sex couples are neither constitutionally incapable nor un-desirous of long-term commitment. A letter presented to all Catholic congregations in UK churches last month claimed that if same-sex couples were allowed to marry, "There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children." Do they really think that heterosexual couples will stop recognising the opposite sex, stop falling in love, or start falling out of love, if same-sex couples can marry? Do they think the maternal and paternal (and various related) natural instincts of human beings will dissipate if they know that some gay people are allowed to marry? C4M might respond that that's not what failing to recognise "the complementarity of male and female" means... but then what does it mean, in any practical sense? Theirs is a campaign of distortions, fear, and the kind of creeping inversion that actually can propagandise minds:
- We're no longer a loving couple - we're a "lobby".
- They say they're "defending traditional marriage" - all they appear to mean is they're defending the exclusive ringfencing of marriage for heterosexual couples alone.
- A small number of fundamentalists campaigning to deny sexual minorities a freedom which they themselves enjoy, is inverted such that sexual minorities are forcing everyone else to change (change what? Will my marriage affect yours? You'll break up as a result? What?)