On the face of it, allowing same sex couples to marry rather than use the already existing civil partnership seems to be a small change. David Cameron certainly seems to have thought so. So why has it caused such problems for the Tories?
If the opinion polls are correct, tolerance of homosexuality is now a mainstream view. The Tories took the most popular votes at the last General Election, so it seems unlikely that most Conservative voters are anti-homosexual.
I suggest that the real reason is less obvious.
Most people aren’t aware of the intricacies of each party’s policies. People tend to take a “headline” view. In recent history, people have associated the Tories with law and order, financial prudence and a generally mature approach to government. Labour have been associated with Trade Unions, excessive public spending and Political Correctness.
I believe that the championing of Gay Rights has been closely connected in people’s minds with Political Correctness. I’m not making a value judgment on the validity of Gay Marriage or Gay Rights, I’m merely pointing out where I believe the issue sits in the public consciousness.
Promoting Gay Marriage has led the Tories to inadvertently strip themselves of one of the central differences between Tories and Labour. David Cameron has sent a message that the Tories can no longer be trusted to be a bulwark against Political Correctness.
This will have a huge effect because the whole “vote UKIP, get Labour” argument is based on there being “clear blue water” between the Tories and Labour. With most UK laws now dictated by the EU, one of the few remaining areas of difference between Labour and the Tories has disappeared.
A minor change, which few care about and which was never lobbied for by the Gay community has irreparably damaged the Tories. What an extraordinary miscalculation.
PS: As part of damage limitation, some Tories are now claiming that Gay Marriage was part of the 2010 Manifesto. It wasn’t (see for yourself) but that completely misses the point. Ironically, if it had been in the manifesto then presumably it would have gone through some form of sign-off process and the problem could have been spotted by party managers at that stage.