Two years of gay marriage in the UK: how’s it going?
It’s been two years since the English and Welsh governments introduced gay marriage, and Scotland and the Republic of Ireland followed suit soon after. It was big news at the time, although no one really gives it much press nowadays.
But it’s still a big debate elsewhere in the world. In the summer of 2015, The United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is a civil right. Hurrah! But the issue didn’t fade out of the political sphere in the same way it did in the UK. Let’s just say our cross-pond cousins have kept the debate alive and kicking.
So as the US presidential election throws up more arguments about how gay marriage will or won’t lead to a societal apocalypse, it’s worth reflecting on just how smoothly the British have taken to marriage equality.
The surprising lack of statistics
Here’s what we know about the immediate effects of gay marriage becoming legal, from 29 March and 30 June 2014:
- A total of 1,409 same sex couples got married
- Of these, 56% (796) were female couples and 44% (613) were male couples
- In the first three days of gay marriage being available, 95 same-sex couples got married
- There were 351 marriages in April 2014, 465 in May and 498 in June
So the immediate uptake was very positive. After that though, we don’t really know much. It’s a testament to just how uncontroversial gay marriage now is that statistics for the past 18 months are difficult to come by.
Generally speaking, the more politically contentious an issue is, the more keenly statisticians gather data on it. So bearing in mind there was a general election in May 2015, the stats we don’t have probably tell us more than the stats we do have.
The disappearance of the doomsday prophets
Remember those people who publicly denounced the idea of gay marriage, saying it was a slippery slope that would ruin our society? They’ve all gone a bit quiet. When we Googled ‘UK gay marriage’, we got barely any significant news results from the past week. And no op-ed pieces at all.
Back when this was a debate, the main argument being thrown around in the UK was this one:
“Gay marriage will discredit the institution of marriage and less people will bother getting married”
But this rhetoric was never going to hold up after gay marriage came into effect. Why? Because marriage rates have been in decline in both the US and the UK since long before gay marriage arrived.
Business Insider noted that marriage rates have dropped by 60% in the US since 1970. They examine the stats and speculated that reasons range from economic decline to shifting social attitudes and even improved contraception use.
Over a similar period In the UK, the number of people getting married each year, per 1,000 single people, has fallen from 77.5 (men) and 59.5 (women) in 1970 to 21.3 and 19.2 in 2009. And gay marriage didn’t arrive until five years later.
So that was always a pretty weak argument that had no chance of producing any supporting evidence after the debate was lost and the law changed. And since that was the central argument from which all others seemed to sprout, that could explain why the anti-gay-marriage movement in the UK has pretty much said ‘sod this, let’s get pizza’.
Interestingly though, this hasn’t happened in the US, where a fervent opposition to gay marriage still presses ahead with the same arguments – even with almost a year gone since the supreme court ruling. So what’s so different over there?
If you have a read through typical US mainstream media articles that oppose gay marriage – we’ve been doing this all week and it’s really not good for the soul – you’ll notice a strong theme running through it.
It’s all tied to religion. It’s not exclusively based on Christianity, but the overwhelming majority is. And that’s interesting. Mainly because of one big difference between the UK and the US.
The US is a secular state, meaning religious views do not factor in to any decision on law or government.
The UK isn’t officially a secular state though. The queen swears an oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England”.
So the secular US has a raging policy debate rooted in religious values vs equality, but the non-secular UK has pretty much abandoned all opposition to gay marriage. It seems very contradictory.
So what’s the real reason the British have been so accepting of gay marriage?
The most convincing conclusion we can see is that the UK just happens to be, on the whole, a predominantly open-minded, unbiased, progressive country. You’d probably need a sociology graduate to go into specifics, but us Brits (especially millennials) are generally all about the equality.
But this may not be for the reasons you’d expect. Around 2010-2014 time, most polls suggested the number of Brits opposing gay marriage was often as high as 35-40%. This is a really significant stat, because it shows the UK’s acceptance of gay marriage isn’t being driven by progressives massively outnumbering the rest. The opposition are still plenty in number.
So while this new age of marriage equality has mostly been ushered in by a brave, persistent, narrow majority of progressive Brits, they shouldn’t be the only recipients of our thanks.
Progressive conservatism in the UK
The naysayers, the doomsday prophets, the staunch conservatives – they all said gay marriage wouldn’t, shouldn’t and couldn’t become a reality in the UK. But they lost. And how did they react? Well, two years on, it seems they’ve all said “Good game. Go get married. The majority has spoken. Viva democracy. May you live long and prosper.”
Maybe the British stereotype of politeness and nobility isn’t as accurate as much of the world may think. But there’s a level of respect here, even among people whose beliefs are fundamentally opposed. And that probably goes a long way to explaining why our first two years of gay marriage have pretty much been plain sailing.
Do you agree with our reflections on marriage equality in the UK? Let us know in the comments.
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