As we get closer towards marriage equality vote more and more Tories are losing their shit in predictable ways – and among the predictable shit losing we expect from the bigots, there’s also a small crowd of “you’re going to damage our election chances!” Which really shows their moral priorities.
But they are probably right. And wrong.
See, in 2015? Yes, it probably will. There are probably a large amount of huffy bigots who will throw all their toys out of the pram because their hatred of gay people isn’t being backed up in law. They may stay home next election, or vote UKIP or BNP (who are still pandering to the Tory bigot vote) and damage the Tories already tenuous chances.
At the same time, supporters of marriage equality are unlikely to turn out in force for the Tories because all three parties are supporting this. In fact, the only major opponents of this bill are the Tories themselves – it’s even possible, or likely, that the Tories won’t be able to pass this without overwhelming support from Labour and Lib Dems. And we’re not even debating their support – overwhelming support from Labour and the Lib Debs is expected. This is part of why it won’t help the Tories much – even with Tories being the ones to introduce the bill, they’re still the ones being dragged, kicking and screaming, while the Lib Dems and Labour are happily working with it. Worse, for the Tories, is that their MPs are constantly opening their mouths and saying some terrible things. Any attempts to big up their gay rights record next election can be hit by some truly horrible quotes. And, besides, too many of us are too aware of the Tories’ overall record to let one tick overwhelm a whole lot of crosses.
So, short term? Yes, I think they’re right.
But long term? Not so much.
See, I think we’re moving to a different era of homophobia in this country – and, perhaps, much of the west in general. It’s not going away or anything close to that – and it won’t in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my hypothetical grandchildren for that matter. But overt, stark homophobic bigotry is becoming less… favourable.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t expressed. But it means you can’t just say “those dirty, filthy queers are attacking our children!” and not have at least a significant minority give you the side-eye. Maybe not the majority and hate groups that express these views in these terms are still being given a powerful platform far too often, but certainly there’s sufficient disapproval of such overt hatred as to make people more cautious. Especially if they want national appeal.
It doesn’t stop more coded bigotry, of course. And we all know and loathe plenty of mainstream politicians and public figures who are expert in coded language and dog whistles. Nor does it mean bigotry is substantially reducing – just looking at over isms where it’s no longer “polite” to openly use slurs or openly say “these people are less” and you can clearly see that the bigotry and societal prejudice is still going strong.
But there is a move from the over to the covert. And one of the more overt forms of discrimination is actually having he law say “no, screw you, you’re lesser people.” That’s so very uncivilised and we do prefer our bigotry to be more nuanced and covert than that. But it is vitally important to do – because tackling the rest of the systematic bigotry that causes so much pain – the discrimination, the contempt, the self-hatred, the dehumanisation, even the violence cannot be done effectively while the highest authority in the land is still sending the message that, yes, these people are less. So legal equality is vital and hailed and recognised as such (it’s just not, as many straight people are going to be surprised to find out, the END of our fight. It’s the first step).
And here the Tories have a problem. Because when it comes to the big-overt-homophobia the Tories have an almost unblemished record of bigotry. Any time a law comes up to try and protect our rights the Tories either sprint to vote “no” or try to drown it through other means (like they tried with domestic partnerships). They are the Nasty Party for a reason. But this particular overt nastiness is going to cost them in the future and they need something – at least one thing – they can point to to try and refute claims of bigotry. They need one thing to cling to when we, our families, our allies and simple decent people turn round and say “this is some nasty shit.” They need a counter argument and they’re only going to need it more in the coming years and decades as Overt bigotry becomes less popular, less acceptable and is replaced by the dog whistles and coded language we know and loathe.
In short, the Tories need marriage equality. Maybe not for this election, but definitely for elections in the future. They need one thing, on blip on their record, one counter argument for the unrelenting reputation of homophobia they have. They need a “we’re not evil” card to play – and with more and more legal victories being won, they’re running out of one they can claim as their own.