Why Cameron faces stiff resistance to gay marriage: mapping the UK religious right

3:53 pm - May 21st 2013

by Unity    

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Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.

As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:

The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.

So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.

So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.

However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.

In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.

Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.

You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.

Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.

The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.

It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.

(download as a print quality PDF, 1mb)

If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.

A longer version of this post is here.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Equality ,Religion ,Think-tanks ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Andy Walton

I think this is a little bit too simplistic. For a proper in depth look at some of these groups and whether they really resemble the American Religious Right, see my recently published report for Theos Think Tank here: http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/files/files/Reports/IS%20THERE%20A%20RELIGIOUS%20RIGHT%20%28NEW%29.pdf

This is fascinating and will no doubt be very useful. Thanks!

3. Northern Worker

I had a look at the YouGov poll. 54% supported gay marriage and 37% were against. It seems, therefore, that a large number of people are against. Given we have much bigger things to worry about, Cameron has probably called this one wrong – as usual.

[Saw the following on the net. Any reaction?]

USA – from Puritans to Impure-itans

Is there a connection between beautiful New England and entire American cities turned into smoking rubble? There is.
Take same-sex marriage. I would have guessed that a “sin” city (San Francisco? Las Vegas?) would have been the first to legalize it.
Oddly it’s been the place where America started that’s wanted to be the first place to help bring about the end of America and its values! It’s been a Nor’easter of Perversion (helping to fulfill the end time “days of Lot” predicted in Luke 17) that began in (you guessed it) Boston in 2004.
New England has gone from the Mayflower Compact to the Gay Power Impact, from Providence to decadence, from Bible thumpers to God dumpers, from university to diversity to perversity, and from the land of the Great Awakening to God’s Future Shakening that will make the Boston bombings look like Walden Pond ripples by comparison!
The same Nor’easter has been spreading south and as far west as Washington State where, after swelling up with pride, Mt. Rainier may wish to celebrate shame-sex marriage by having a blast that Seaddlepated folks can share in lava-land!
The same Luke 17 prediction is tied to the Book of Revelation which speaks of the cities that God will flatten because of same-sexism – including American cities – a scenario I’ll have to accept since I can’t create my own universe and decree rules for it.
I’ve just been analyzing the world’s terminal “religion” that has its “god,” its accessories, its “rites,” and even a flag. It’s an obsession that the infected converts are willing to live for, fight for – and even die for!
Want more facts? Google “God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up” and “Government-Approved Illegals.”

5. Uncle Beelzebub

Funny though, when Cameron brought up the subject of equal marriage in his leader’s speech back in Bournemouth 2006 they didn’t scream any throw hissy fits, they cheered.

I’d like to suggest you change one thing; you say, “Religious right” where you mean Christian right wingers. It seems to me that the religious right is much broader, including fundamentalists from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism…

You can spot them because they’re usually stirring up hatred somewhere.

7. Richard Carey

Is this like a left-wing version of the red scare? Should I check under my bed for a pro-lifer?

Goddamit! It’s equal marriage, not ‘gay’ marriage!

9. the a&e charge nurse

The difference between the UK and the US with regard to religion is that large swathes of their population still believe while most of us here don’t (leaving aside more recently imported brands).

I’m sure the UK’s conservative right are informed by the same old bigotry and will have no problem looking to our cousins in the US to find ways of pushing this toxic agenda – but it will never work, not least because it’s main proponents seem to be characters like the MP for Narnia, in other words a national laughing stock.

Long may they continue shooting themselves in the foot.

Goddamit! It’s equal marriage, not ‘gay’ marriage!

I’d still call it gay marriage – as it’s quite controversial and half of society don’t agree with it – or have been bamboozled and spun into either aquesing or not making a fuss about it.
I’m going to say I’m opposed, only because I slightly resent the way this thing has been pushed. It’s a lot of nonsense really, as civil partnerships were perfectly fine (IMO) and it was only the more radical who pushed on at this. People felt they couldn’t say no.
The next thing will be for gay couples to demand that they be allowed to get marrried in church regardless of that church’s wishes. As it will be said to be pure discrimination that a gay couple can’t marry there.

11. the a&e charge nurse

[10] the bigger issue is not who can or can’t be married in church but the subliminal grip religion still exerts on our outlook.

On one level anybody who marries in church is conning themselves, especially if they believe god is nodding approvingly as the usual silly ritual plays out.

If gay people want to share this delusion, then why not, eh – all it shows is that not everybody is impervious to the pernicious influence of god based story telling?

12. Northern Worker

buddyhell @ 8

There’s the problem many people fear – political correctness.

My point is that Cameron and his ilk are storing up real resentment amongst the population as a whole – and not just his party. You simply can’t ignore vast swathes of the country. I think they call that the ‘tyranny of the majority’, don’t they?

I guess there is one upside of this – Cameron and the Tories will be decimated at the next election. Quite possibly wiped out forever!

13. Robin Levett

@damon #10:

It’s a lot of nonsense really, as civil partnerships were perfectly fine (IMO)…

Not according to Mr & Mrs Bull.

14. the a&e charge nurse

[12] ‘I guess there is one upside of this – Cameron and the Tories will be decimated at the next election’ – as usual the next election will be fought in the 80-100 marginal constituencies.

I don’t think this issue will be at the forefront of voters mind when deciding how to vote next time.

Cameron may be associated with ‘gay marriage’ but in the long run it will enhance his reputation unlike the pro-clause 28 lobby who became increasingly tainted by their views about gay relationships.

Northern Worker, did you not read the article? The polling shows that *even among people who don’t approve of equal marriage*, most of them don’t care very much about it.

So your entire premise is completely wrong: there is no real resentment, because only 4% of people really mind very much.

If the polling showed that (say) 54% of people were slightly in favour, 9% didn’t know/care, and 37% were fervently opposed, then yes, you’d have a slight point.

Only a slight one, though. “Tyranny of the majority” involves the majority voting to strip the rights of members of a minority, e.g. a referendum to strip Jews of their property or throw gays in jail.

In this case, members of the anti-equal-marriage minority are having none of their rights stripped by equal marriage (your marriage rights are the same as they ever were), they just aren’t getting their own way when it comes to telling everyone else what they’re allowed to do.

A&ECN: This article is interesting because it shows you’re basically right.

For the first time in a while, this election won’t be fought solely on the middle ground: the Tories *will* lose some seats to Labour because of votes in those seats that the Tories have lost to UKIP.

Equal marriage opponents like to claim that equal marriage will be an important cause of UKIP voting. What we know following this poll is that they are mostly wrong: only 4% of people who voted Tory in 2010 (ie a little over 1% of all voters) will vote UKIP instead of Tory in 2015 over SSM.

Robin Levett: how do you mean? That the general public were really keen on this? Or that they couldn’t be arsed to stand against it? If you do, you get people pouring opprobrium on your head, so it’s easier to just give up and shurg ”whatever”.

Personally I’m not the greatest fan of ”normalising” homosexuality to the point of making it bland and boring.
When I first visited The Castro district of San Francisco many years ago, I was actually rather taken by its ”otherness” – and that difference that made it quite exciting.

When I first visited The Castro district of San Francisco many years ago, I was actually rather taken by its ”otherness” – and that difference that made it quite exciting.

The problem is that otherness is also a fair factor in increasing your chances of getting your head kicked in. Which is ironically actually one of the things the old fellas who pine for the ‘exciting old times’ really miss, the thrill of danger.

19. Northern Worker

John b @ 15

I did read the article and I had a look at the YouGov poll. The poll said 54% supported gay marriage and 37% were against.

The point I’m making is that when a very large minority of people (eg 37%) are against something, you do that ‘something’ at your peril and you should expect a backlash. It doesn’t matter what that ‘something’ is.

As for UKIP and Cameron, it’s an accumulation of ‘somethings’ that is causing disaffection amongst Tory grass roots and Tory voters in general. I don’t remember the polls at the time that Blair took us into Afghanistan and Iraq, but I can remember the massive marches. Blair trampled on a large minority and his legacy will be two futile, illegal wars. We won’t remember him for anything else.

20. Robin Levett

@damon #17:

Robin Levett: how do you mean?

What I said. Mr & Mrs Bull were quite clear that mere civil partnerships were not perfectly fine – they were not, in their view, equivalent to marriage.

The point made in the article is that very few people regard equal marriage as an important issue. Out of a choice of fifteen political topics, same sex marriage came twelfth.

22. Northern Worker

I agree with Celllog @ 21, to coin a phrase.

There are far more important issues. For a start, and well worth debating on this site, the fact that our NHS is falling apart – especially A&E. (I have recent experience taking, first, my son’s partner in with appendicitis after finding our incredibly wealthy GP closed. And then my wife with a minor stroke when she waited 6 hours on a trolley in the corridor while 18 staff did paperwork and two actually did what they were paid for.)

But oh no, Cameron is more concerned about gay marriage and spending £30 billion on HS2, which money would probably sort a lot of NHS problems.

Truly, we have some very strange priorities in the UK.

“But oh no, Cameron is more concerned about gay marriage…”

You are turning this on its head. This isn’t a zero sum game. It’s the opponents of gay marriage who are making the song and dance and causing the delay and cost. This could and should go through parliament straightforwardly as a matter of principle about equal civic rights. That would save money and time and allow for problems like those you mention to be addressed.

Talk to the opponents of gay marriage about their warped priorities, rather than blaming those who simply want equal civic rights. Or by all means keep blaming teh gays for having the affrontery to want equal civic rights, and keep supporting those who are trying to delay that… and thus ensuring that the issues you claim you want addressed are postponed. You bigoted idiot.

This maybe a little OT but can someone explain how once equal marriage is legal, will civil partnerships cease to be law?

We were told at the time of CPs that CPs for opposite (as opposed to same) sex couples were not necessary as the option of marriage.

Or – if this is being done in the name of equality, then CPs will be available to opposite sex couples?

As of today if a man and woman live together and are not married then there is no equivalent to CP. The term ‘common law wife’ means nothing.

25. Northern Worker

Lamia @ 23

So good to see that your reasoning is so poor that you have to resort to a personal attack. If you had ever read any of my (infrequent) previous posts you’ll know that your description of me is far from accurate.

And even after your burst of unpleasant outrage you still don’t get it.

By the way, if you indulge in ad homs, don’t make it in the last sentence. It looks like an afterthought.

Northern Worker: the NHS works fine, as do nearly all healthcare systems in developed countries (the US being the exception).

The problem is, they treat millions of people a year, at a point when they and their relatives are at the most distressing times in their lives. So even if it succeeds 99% of the time, that still leaves thousands of cases where things have gone wrong, and hence multiple thousands of cases of understandably angry people. That doesn’t mean the system’s failing, or that it would be sensible to spend vastly more money raising the success rate to 99.9%. This debate (“our healthcare system is terrible, we should do what they do in overseas place X and spend more money”) happens in every developed country.

(as a side note, it’s been conclusively shown that the number of excess deaths in Mid Staffs was very close to zero. But since pointing out the truth that the NHS is fine as it is doesn’t suit anyone’s agenda, the coverage received has been negligible).

On the other hand, if you’re a gay couple wanting to get married, you can’t, and the UK’s transport links lag far behind the rest of Europe, Japan and so on. Hence why spending time on equal marriage and money on HS2 is a good idea.

Max: civil partnerships will continue to exist, primarily because they are defined in law as not marriages, and so abolishing them would have horrible consequences for people who are currently in them (you can’t just deem something which isn’t a marriage to be one).

The equal marriage bill as passed does not allow opposite-sex civil partnerships, although curiously enough this was proposed as an amendment by backbench Tories who’d previously opposed equal marriage. I’m not sure why the Tory and Labour frontbenches are so opposed to opposite-sex civil partnerships, but they are, so that isn’t happening.

Is there going to be another article exploring the international links between Progressive pressure groups in, say, gay rights or environmentalism, or feminism or other such movements? Or is that just, y’know “networking” and “syngergising” and “engaging in dialogue”?

I mean, it might help to explain why, mysteriously, every country in the Western world suddenly started arguing about this on behalf of Gay Rights activists in America. It might explain indeed why so many American activist movements seem to pop up like mushrooms after the rain all over the rest of the world; why the American discourse on “race” is now hegemonic in nations without the American post-slavery race problem, and all kinds of things.

But you won’t do that, will you? It’s just your opponents who aren’t allowed to talk to each other, right? When the progressive left’s organisations do it, that’s fine. Yes?

Lorem ipsum testing testing etc,

I think you can probably get too hung up on the impact of the ‘religious right’ on all this. By far the most important division on this is age. The over 60s are by far the most opposed, the 18-24 the least.

This then correlates to religiosity, as the elderly are far more likely to be religious.

This also tends to explain the Tory rebellions on this. Tory MPs are far more beholden to their local constituency associations than the other parties, and these associations are dominated by the elderly. It’s all about the old folks.

If you want to push the religious side, the two religious groups most opposed to equal marriage are the Muslims and the Baptists. The two least opposed are the Hindus and the Jews.

30. Robin Levett

@ Ian B #27 & 28:

Despite every effort, I was unable to detect any difference in signal to noise ratio bteween your posts.

Robin Levett-

The point I made in the first was clear enough. The second was because I didn’t realise that these days LC pre-moderates (I haven’t commented here for a while).

Activism works at a transnational level these days. Why is it a conspiracy when conservative aligned groups do so, but not when progressive aligned groups do?

Tim J 29-

“The two least opposed are the Hindus and the Jews.”

Which Jews? Reform jews, secular jews, orthodox jews? I can’t imagine Chabad Lubavitch being wildly keen.


You had an opportunity to back up your cretinous blaming of gay marriage advocates for other issues not being tackled… and you just blustered and ducked it. Fail.

34. Derek Hattons Tailor

I don’t see how the OP arrives at the conclusion that the majority are in favour when the evidence quotes 4% ? In any event, not being “against” something doesn’t necessarily mean you are “for” it. Tolerance is not binary, it’s a matter of degree. Most people will tolerate the odd car driving past their window but would not support a motorway going past their front door. And a lot of people simply don’t care, which I would interpret as supporting the status quo.

32 – No idea. The Yougov poll didn’t go into all that much detail – probably because if they had the polling samples would have been uselessly small.

36. Chaise Guevara

Your chart fails to show how closely connected any of them are to Kevin Bacon.

It’s called six degrees of separation. This guy is friends with that guy who has this woman’s phone number who works with so-and-so etc. etc. So what? You’re not 100% clear on what we’re meant to take from the chart, but it seems like a rather silly attempt to claim that the Christian Right are a Big Scary Conspiracy rather than, y’know, a bunch of people with related views who occasionally talk to each other.

I agree with Ian B, politically motivated people should be able to access the political process without it being a scandal. One person’s entryism is another persons getting involved in the democratic process. What matters to me is to reduce the fear and hatred that makes politics toxic for everyone – whether by entryists or their opponents.

That said, the original post presents the information in a reasoned and sober manner, not whipping up fear and resentment. But I think Ian B picks up that spending too much time focusing on this sort of thing can shade into treating people with suspicion because of who they hang out with.

We have to remember that most of us are in social structures bigger than us as individuals, that alignments like these are dynamic and people change their opinions and move in and out of different networks.

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