Putting gay partnerships on the map – why legal recognition matters
Reposted from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/23/gay-partnerships-map-legal-recognition-civil
Civil partnerships have swung public opinion. Once you get to know they're just like you, it's a bit more difficult to disapprove
Less than 25 years ago, the Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Winterton insisted that he didn't need to worry about the damage done to his party by the notorious section 28 – because he'd "never met a homosexual in Macclesfield". Just 15 years ago, the late Baroness Blatch sniffed to a pal at the arrival of the openly gay peer Waheed Alli in the House of Lords: "He's as queer as the ace of spades, you know."
Six days have now passed since Britain's new marriage bill received royal assent – a "tricky subject", as the Queen admitted in conversation on Friday. Curiously, however, no one has yet fulfilled Lord Tebbit's recent prediction that, within days of the bill's passage, people might be demanding to marry their pets.
Not a single lollipop lady has turned up at a registry office in the company of a llama. Not one regimental sergeant major has popped into a town hall to plan his nuptials with a guinea pig. Not a single architect is reported to have proposed – yet – to an anaconda.
But something has happened in the last decade which has helped accelerate positive public attitudes towards gay people in Britain, one of the biggest swings in Europe according to the new European Social Survey, based at City University London. In 2005, we saw the introduction in this country of civil partnership. Bemoaned by some as "equality lite", it turned out to be a critical stepping stone towards equal marriage.
The new ESS research demonstrates a similarly large swing in public sympathy towards gay people in Belgium, which introduced civil partnership in 2000 and equal marriage in 2003. In Finland, where registered partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in 2002, and Germany, where they were introduced a year later, the public mood has changed markedly as well.
Conversely, in countries such as Ukraine, Slovakia and Greece, which still have no legal recognition for homosexual partnerships, public hostility towards lesbian, gay and bisexual people has deepened in the last decade.
Positive change in Britain may also have been driven by the nature of public awareness. Although one or two papers focused in 2005 solely on celebrity couples – pace Elton "taking David up the aisle" (the Sun's cheery headline) – millions more have focused instead on people they know who have happily entered civil partnerships too.
More than 100,000 lesbian and gay lollipop ladies, sergeant majors and architects have now got hitched across Britain. And the event – surprise, surprise – turned out to be just like everyone else's wedding. Grandmas got a bit too tipsy a bit too early in the day, and a fight broke out in the car park afterwards.
It's been a "political education" of the sort that veteran headbangers of the hard left once dreamed of. For it means that millions of people now know someone who's entered a civil partnership, or been to one, or served behind the bar at one. And as with recognising any community – whether black, Jewish, or gay – once you get to know they're just like you, it's a bit more difficult to disapprove of them.
YouGov polling conducted for Stonewall shows that 83% of Britons would be comfortable, or neutral, if the child born this week to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge grows up to be gay. In happy news for Her Majesty, this remarkable speed of change in public attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain means this is one "tricky" subject that's becoming less tricky by the day.