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Gay Marriage and Conor Marron

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Conor Marron and James Lattimore are a couple living in Newcastle upon Tyne who co-founded the Coalition for Equal Marriage; their response to a protest campaign against the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

It takes a little while for Conor and I to find time when we're both free; in the end I catch him on a Saturday afternoon just after he and his partner James have struggled back from Ikea with a bed.

I ask how long they've been together. "Five and a half years."

Would they want to get married? I feel given his status as the face of the national campaign, the answer is surely self-evident, but he replies "maybe..." I hear James in the background and wonder how often they're asked that question.

"You start doing the campaign and people say 'so are you getting married?!' and I don't know... nobody's asked anyone yet... you kind of dodge the question... stare at the floor... But yeah, we want the option, definitely. We do happen to be at the front of a national campaign for marriage equality, so it's quite funny."

Conor and James have set up a rival petition against one hoping to prevent same-sex marriage from being legalised in the UK - the Coalition for Marriage (C4M). It's a relatively harmless looking movement upon first inspection, but its suggestions about the effect of gay relationships on society become increasingly disturbing as you trawl their website.

The C4M states, amongst other things, that same-sex marriage would lead to a "slippery slope" of all kinds of unsavoury relationships - "it's almost quite laughable" chuckles Conor.

Polygamy is probably one of the least offensive outcomes that we can hope for under the C4M's gloomy sex forecast.

I am surprised then, that the C4M have nevertheless got around 611,000 signatures. Why does he think this is?

"If you read the question, it's very charged - along the lines of 'marriage is important to our society; it shouldn't be changed'. Everybody's going to agree with that - we agree with that, so it's very misleading."

I want to know who started the C4M, since the website is unclear. He agrees:
"They're a bit cloak and dagger; they're basically a group of organisations - Christian Institute, Christian Voice, they all come under one umbrella. You'd have to do quite a bit of digging to work out who set that up, and where the money's coming from - that's the most interesting thing."

They say they're interested in discussion, yet Conor's only real interaction with the opposition has been with representative Sharon Jones during a debate held with Jon Snow on the Channel 4 News. She suggests that the government have 'no right to redefine marriage for the rest of us' - yet I wonder what effect exactly another couple's gay marriage would have on her and her husband's relationship.

"It comes from their sheltered world, because they're sitting in their little room, patting each other on the back to distract themselves from the fact that in the real world, same-sex couples are out there, making homes together, getting beds from Ikea (eventually), putting them together - it's already happening. Maybe it's a monumental step for them, to catch up to reality, but the rest of us are already here."

Amongst Conor's concerns is the effect of prejudice upon young people; he mentions cases of suicide and self-harm. Organisations that perpetuate prejudice reinforce the mindset for them that coming out is an unacceptable option; it's better, or seems easier, to live in misery than to be happy with someone of the same sex.

What would his message be to young people trying to cope with their sexuality, who felt alone?

"It's a very high maintenance position to be in; you can't be comfortable, you can't be happy. And you've got the rest of your life to live hopefully, so do you want to live the rest of your life in fear? It's cheesy, but it does get better."

The C4M are concerned about the welfare of children raised in gay marriages. Does it make a difference having parents of the same sex?

"If the sexual orientation of the parents had any swinging influence on the sexual orientation for the child, there would be no gay people."

I admit he has a point.

Even if the law is changed, religious figures will not be under any obligation to perform gay marriages in a church. Conor suggests this should give the Christian organisations opposing them very little to complain about:

"They've got no problem that other religious people do marriage in another way - why should this be any different? Seventy per cent of marriages in the UK last year were non-religious, anyway."

The other common line from the C4M is that gay people already have civil partnerships - and that surely that's equality enough.

"For me it's that 'separate but equal' nonsense. So long as you've got two separate systems for the same kind of thing, you're never going to be seen as equal. If we're not equal under the law you can't start battling stuff like homophobia in the playground, or in secondary schools or places where kids look to the adult world and see that there is division."

Conor and James have got just over 63,000 signatures, many from high profile MPs such as Nick Clegg. They've also had backing from organisations such as The British Humanist Association, Stonewall, and publications like The Independent.

Does he think same-sex marriage will be legal by 2015, as the government suggested?

"Yes, I think it'll get through. Maybe by the skin of its teeth, I'm not sure, but I think it'll get through. And I will be throwing the BIGGEST party, which you are more than welcome to come to."

I tell him I absolutely will, and wish him good luck with assembling the bed.

"That's the biggest challenge yet, never mind the campaign."

You can find out more and sign Conor and James' petition for marriage equality by heading to:
www.c4em.org.uk/

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