Coffee House

Poll: Half of religious people support gay marriage

14 July 2013

As the House of Lords prepares to vote on gay marriage, a YouGov poll shows that the opinion of people who regard themselves as ‘religious’ is 48pc against and 44pc in favour of gay marriage. Given the margin of error, this can be seen as an even split. So why the acrimony?

The answer, in my opinion, is the way that David Cameron has gone about this. He ought to have said something like:

‘I’m in favour of religious freedom, and think it should be absolute. It’s come to our attention that some liberal strands of Judaism and Unitarian churches want to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies but are banned from doing so by the government. The state ought to have no role in religious affairs, so I’m lifting the ban.’

He could have presented this (as Tony Blair did) as an almost technocratic reform.

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Instead, the Tory leadership has decided to fight a US-style culture war, drawing a dividing line and putting themselves on one side of it and billing this as a battle of progress vs reaction. It was as if Cameron wanted to re-enact a battle fought and won by Tony Blair in 2004. This could be done because Blair did not want to pose as the Emily Pankhurst of gay rights, and bang on about how his Civil Partnerships Act was historic watershed moment. It certainly was, but Blair did not want to ham it up because – in this instance – he wanted to change things more than be seen to change them. With Cameron, it’s the reverse. Blair knew that for a certain generation of voters (brought up when homosexual activity was illegal) the pace of change in social attitudes was utterly bewildering. He didn’t see the point in rubbing his reform in anyone’s nose. What’s more, Blair did not want to make out as if he was imposing a civic orthodoxy: that gay marriage is right, and those who oppose it are morally wrong.

Cameron has gone about as if he is imposing a civic orthodoxy. This is the language of US-style culture wars. It’s funny to think that the coalition’s bill conveys not one single new right on single-sex couples. In the US, this battle is about rights that straight couples have but gay couples do not. In Britain, it’s about one word: marriage. Or, more accurately, it’s about the brand positioning of political parties.

Of course religious leaders would be opposed: gay marriage is opposed by almost every religion in the world. It’s to Cameron’s discredit that his (fairly insignificant) Bill has created far more bad blood and acrimony than Blair’s groundbreaking Civil Partnerships Act did.

The results of the poll (conducted by Centreground Political Communications, a campaign consultancy) are not surprising. Many religious people will believe that others, with a different world view, should also be free to live life as they choose. It is possible to simultaneously believe a) that homosexuality is morally wrong but b) those with a different set of values should be free to do what they want. There was never any need to set one side against the other. There is a quiet consensus here, which is why Cameron’s culture war was so unnecessary.

And has it helped the Tory brand? The party will, yet again, look like idiots when this debate is ignited again. I hope the lesson Cameron draws from this is not to fight US-style culture wars in the future, and not to whip up division in a country which has a good claim to be the most tolerant on earth.

PS. Polling religious people is notoriously difficult (as Anthony Wells outlined here) – there’s a big difference, for example, between practising and non-practising. I’ll link to the full YouGov data when it is published.

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Show comments
  • Stella

    ? People gotta just GET OVER IT already! the world is so fucked up

  • Jordan Petersen

    Yay. Religious people do have brains. Or at least half of them. They actually have hearts too. Love wins.

    • DrCoxon

      ‘Love wins.’

      I’d be obliged if you would give the Greek for the ‘love’ that you mean – charis, agape, eros, philia?
      The English word is vacuous in its range of possible meanings.

  • monty61

    What a curious notion that religious beliefs can or should be determined by democratic means. I blame the Reformation.

  • Tom Tom

    What are “religious” people ? Are they the ones that are prepared to die for their faith ? I do not understand “religious” in the context Fraser uses it, but i doubt he does either

    • the viceroy’s gin

      It’s that place where the Speccie teenagers go down and listen to the choir around Christmas, and have a few cups.

      You know, really getting stuck into it, theologically and spiritually.

      So relax. It’s surely informed writing, re all of this.

    • ButcombeMan


  • Linda Woodhead

    There is an extensive survey on this topic with YouGov for Westminster Faith Debates which shows the majority of religious people (and groups) in GB think same-sex marriage should be allowed AND large proportions think that it is right.

    Unfortunately faith leaders routinely misrepresent their ‘followers’ views on this and many other issues. The ‘quadruple lock’ proposed by the government locks religions into a false and unnecessary moral conservatism. There needs to be a serious re-evaluation of how politicians relate to religion in this country.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      No, there need not be any serious reevaluation of how politicians relate to religion in this country, unless it’s to get their snouts out of it, and not further and further in.

  • Craig Nelson

    I read it a bit different. The policy was launched very slowly over a
    number of months and no-one in the party went ballistic. That people
    did go ballistic – before the bill was published but after the policy
    was announced was related to a number of factors. Dissatisfaction with
    the Coalition had increased to a critical point including
    dissatisfaction with Cameron over a number issues (most notably Europe)
    and UKIP were starting to pose a significant challenge.

    Into that toxic mix the Church of England decided to play for very high
    stakes indeed by ramping up the pressure – calling Cameron a dictator
    and saying only the CofE had the power to change the marriage law and
    leading a very high octane and sustained press operation with much
    misleading content and a grid of stories. At this point the rocket was
    well and truly lit and the whole thing went ballistic. The Church of
    England’s strategy for stopping this was a naked abuse of its position
    and entailed stoking the near lethal UKIP challenge to the Conservative

    By this point the policy perspective was well and truly set with Labour and Lib Dems and (by this stage) the political class in Scotland and significant support from the media such as the Times. A large number of prominent Tories were in support (Osbourne, Johnson, May, Pickles, Gove and so on). At some future point
    the reform would be passed with wide cross party support and Cameron’s judgment was no doubt that it was better for the long term future of the party that it be done under aConservative government (as in New Zealand and Sweden). He no doubt also wanted to be remembered for something more than austerity.

    As regards the long term my prediction is that this will be insignficant
    in the next General Election. Already it has largely dropped out of the
    news and will just be a non-story in a month or two. It will be interesting to see if UKIP plans to repeal the legislation in its manifesto…

  • Daniel Maris

    In other words…you are saying: “He should have lied.”

    Credit to Cameron for at least having tried to argue for the change – on grounds of equality and personal fulfilment. However, being the shallow PR man he is, he doesn’t realise the implications of arguing for a change on such grounds.

  • Smithersjones2013

    [Yawn] Not Cameron’s sham marriage bill again. Just wait. There will be tears at bedtime over the consummation issue when all the hysteria has died away. But then you know Westminster: When they can’t do something properly they fudge it (claiming some imaginary victory) and keep fudging it until it blows up in their face (like Labour’s incompetence and stupidity over immigration).

  • David Webb

    Interesting, but what it means is that half of those who go to church are not believers in Christianity.

    • CraigStrachan

      The poll is evidently of “people who regard themselves as religious” not “those who go to church.” I expect a lot of people who regard themselves as religious wouldn’t ever take it as far as going to church.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Coleridge was religious but I don’t think he went to church. I went to church as a child but I was not remotely religious.

        • CraigStrachan

          Yes, and I find the scheduling of church services to be sub-optimal. I mean, why clash with Sunday brunch?

          • Trialia

            Your church services might, not all of my congregation’s do! (Wednesday lunch break 1.20-1.50pm and Sunday 10.45am-12 noon, FYI.)

            • CraigStrachan

              “Sunday 10.45am to 12 noon”

              Right. That’s Sunday brunchtime, no?

              • Trialia

                Which is why I said “not all” – re-read that sentence. We have two services per week, an hour-long one at your ‘Sunday brunchtime’ and a half-hour one at Wednesday lunchtime.

    • Fergus Pickering

      More nonsense. They are not believers in Pauline Christianity. And god for them. The man was detestable. The Christianity of Christ is a different matter entirely.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …yes, “god for them”.

        Amusing to see Christianity’s version of Shiites and Sunnis being played out here, but instructive.

        • Fergus Pickering

          The ability of |Christian sects to slaughter each other in large numbers long predates Mohammed. From the time of Constantine they were at it, bloodthirsty bishops to the fore.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …and such as you intend for that to play out again, inshallah.

  • Mynydd

    From the moment he became leader of the Conservative party, Mr Cameron was looking for a Blair clause 4 moment. It seems he picked on Gay Marriage. It worked for Mr Blair who had prepared the ground, but failed for Mr Cameron who jumped in with both feet. For me however, his biggest unforgivable mistake was when Mr Cameron, point blank refused to give unmarried couples, the same rights under the law, that Gay Couples have with a Civil Partnership. Mr Cameron doesn’t seem to realise that those in the grass roots of his party who objected to gay marriage, could well have no problem with their grandchildren being part of a stable and loving unmarried partnership. How many votes will Mr Cameron loose at the next general election if other political parties commit to Civil Partnerships for unmarried couples, making all couples the same under the law.

    • HookesLaw

      By allowing a free vote?

  • salieri

    I make no comment on the political calculation (or miscalculation), but it is a little hard to square your assertive headline with the statement lower down that “gay marriage is opposed by almost every religion in the world”. This raises a puzzling distinction between religion and ‘religious people’.

    Does the poll, moreover, make any distinction at all between tolerance and support? I have never seen one that does. It’s also a shame that we cannot yet see a breakdown by religious grouping of these supportive views – which in some cases are inherently unlikely. And it is absurd to observe that “many religious people will believe that others, with a different world view, should also be free to live life as they choose” as if such tolerance were not equally (at the very least) to be found among atheists and agnostics. What was even the point of sounding out a section of the public capable of being described as ‘religious people’?

    Finally, the Anthony Wells link says absolutely nothing about the difficulty of ‘polling religious people’ or how one might begin to define them. It does, on the other hand, underline the very different responses when ‘gay marriage’ is respectively equated or contrasted with civil partnership.

    In short, while it is just about conceivable that the YouGov data, when published, may have some objective meaning, the headline above this piece looks both tendentious and vacuous.

    By the way, statistics “show” nothing: at most, they suggest.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well said. Amusingly enough, the Speccie teenagers fancy themselves data analysts… this poorly educated lot… mathematics being a near allergy for them. Any graph or data presentation should be presumed inaccurate, until those properly educated are available to prepare and present it.

    • DrCoxon

      ‘This raises a puzzling distinction between religion and ‘religious people’.

      In fact it is quite common for ‘religious people’ to be out of step with what their church teaches. Take a look at the theology about usury, contraception, abortion, divorce……and then see what people do/ what they think the churches teach.

  • Rockin Ron

    What this brings into even greater relief is that there are two versions of marriage – the state version and the religious version. The state version is the one that is being ‘equalised’ to include men ‘marrying’ men, women ‘marrying’ women (and no doubt in time, men marrying those under 16 and women marrying those under 16). The state version of marriage will have lots of different combinations to satisfy those who call themselves progressive but who are in reality regressive.

    Then there is the religious version of marriage which will remain the union of one man and one woman.

    However, what is coming round the corner from the ‘progressive’ lobby are attempts to challenge the religious version. This is wrong and should be resisted.

    By the way, Fraser, attempting to make a case on the basis of one poll that, at best, indicates a 50:50 split in favour of one side is illogical and plain daft.

    • ButcombeMan

      It is even more daft because of the very low proportion of people with religious views in the whole population. Without a relationship to that statistic it is meaningless.

      It is like saying (and relating it to the whole population) that 50% of Liberal Democrats wear sandals.

      One would not base a business plan to open a sandal shop on such nonsense.

      I do not agree with your two versions of marriage either. It is perfectly reasonable to hold to a traditional view of the meaning of the word marriage, without having any religious view. You are right the religious view is under attack but it is not only the religious view.

      As salieri says, the headline is vacuous

    • Trialia

      Tosh. I could have married my girlfriend in my church years ago if it weren’t for this legal sophistry and stupid argument about extending religious marriage legally to the religions who want it. There is NOT one universal form of religious marriage, your so-called ‘two versions’ are rubbish. Marriage differs in the details between most religions, and my religion just happen to want, as a group, to be able to perform our form of religious marriage legally. There is NO reasonable justification to deny us that. We’re not asking you to change YOUR religion’s definition of marriage, just allow us ours!

      (And yes, I’m a Unitarian, and damn proud to be in this instance.)

  • paulus

    Yes but they are bad religious people, not good religious people. They are intolerent, these people hate humanity and human constructs, the human race is divided into two sexes only by the coming together of both sexes can you propogate the species. This is the will of God. Consequently anyone who questions Gods natural constuct, is questioning God. Only satan had the gaull to do that. Consequently like satan they are Evil. Hitler, Stalin and Mao tried to overturn all that was natural and now the free presbetyrians and bapitist have now joined the ranks of the ungodly. Along with the lib dems and certain sections of the conservative party. God forbid that Jesus would be resurrected and taken into a bath house by 12 homosexuals wanting to form a daisy chain. Who can say Jesus would be happy with that ? its not normal I think it would fucking freak him out sitting in a sauna with Nick Clegg talking about how they view society. Obviously the second coming is not imminent with all these weirdos abound

  • andagain

    There is a quiet consensus here

    Then why was it wrong to publicly support the consensus? In fact, Cameron did not even do that. All he did was have a free vote in which MPs could vote for or against this “quiet consensus”.

    The trouble is because the Conservative Party regards this “quiet consensus” with hatred and detestation.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    It may be that half of religious people are employed by the State and it’s offshoots and it is therefore illegal to express opposition to it.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Oh bollocks. You can’t know anyone under forty. None of them care a damn about this. It’s an old people’s thing.

      • HookesLaw

        Broadly correct
        Worth noting that at the time of writing 18 people agree with the witless hysteria ranted by Hex

        • Hexhamgeezer

          Feel free to address the issue when you’re done with the witticisms – and that includes FP who fancies himself as the Spec’s Yoot Correspondent (oh my aching sides)

      • Hexhamgeezer

        …and so the over 40s views are irrelevant? I bow to your, no doubt, extensive polling and current experience of the under 40s. Perhaps you could enlighten us as why they think the issue is such an insubstantial irrelevance?

  • Justathought

    The recent US Supreme Court ruling is further evidence that the pendulum of opinion has swung against the traditionalists on this issue.

    Looking back at the records now it seems ludicrous that the then Labour government in 1949 would sanction the exile of Sertrese Khama because of his interracial marriage to Ruth Williams. It was Winston Churchill who lobbied that Khama be allowed to return to the Brritish colony. Khama then went onto become the President of Botswana.

    In the near future the traditionalists will look back with regret that it is they who are once again on the wrong side of history.

    • DrCoxon

      I doubt it. The same was said about abortion. I still oppose it.
      I am not afraid of being on the wrong side of history (a Marxist conceit).
      I am afraid of being on the wrong side of an ethical issue.

  • Kernow Castellan

    This was an attempt, probably dreamt up in a small team, by Cameron to show that the Tory party has modernised.

    It fell flat on its face because he managed it so poorly. It was not telegraphed in the manifesto, there was no time to allow people to come to terms with it, no debate was allowed, and it was steamrollered through.

    And the net result: the public image of the Tory party is a backward-looking infighting bunch of incompetents. Just like the public image of the Labour party in the late 80s & early 90s.

    And for what? Gay people, like me, have already got all the same legal rights as straight people, it just has a different name. Why waste all this political capital on something that changes nothing, and creates a whole load of mess. If everything in the country was perfect, then fine, tinker with a title or two, but not whilst we are still trying to deal with Labour’s financial legacy.

    Society, *is* changing, just as it did on race, on votes for women, and on slavery — all changes that the churches had to come to terms with over time — but that is no excuse for the modernisers to pick a fight with the old guard. Not, at least, whilst they are so influential.

    When you are winning the war, it is just bad manners to constantly drive your point home. For all his breeding, Cameron has forgotten this basic societal rule.

    • HookesLaw

      The promise of the legislation for parliament to consider the issue was in the tory manifesto.

      • Kernow Castellan

        Fair enough. Perhaps I should have said “was not raised prominently in the campaign”. Manifestos are full of small print that most people do not read.

      • DrCoxon

        Not true. In a document published three days before the election there was a statement about consultation.

  • HookesLaw

    Really? You are saying thats what Cameron should have said?
    well the corollary of course is that the church should have no say in state affairs.
    This is something I can agree with, but is it the right thing to imply if you are trying to placate the church?

    It is of course quite typical of you to stretch a point so you can blame Cameron for what is a clear failing of compassion on the part of the church, a church that is so prejudiced that it struggles to contemplate women Bishops.. My sister is very religious, but accepts the world is changing and of course she is not a bigot.

  • allymax bruce

    Forget what polls say; most polls are MSM/Establishment placated lies.
    For instance, the MSM papers today say Labour are top of the polls; the complete reverse of truth. MSM, guaranteed absolutely adulterered lies!
    Marriage is one woman + one man.
    Please go to Marriage for Scotland website and sign the petition.
    Only for Scottish postcodes.

    • HookesLaw

      A civil partnership is no different to marriage. You may say that is one reason not to formalise it into marriage but for the same reason there is no reason why you shouldn’t

      But ultimately why should anyone care? What harm does it do that people make a commitment. I would have thought the church should be more conferenced with where there is a lack of commitment, where it is replaced by casual self interest and self gratification.

      Hey ho – I doubt we will see many ‘Gays for Independence’ websites then?’

      • allymax bruce

        I’m not against anyone; especially God’s own Creation. God Loves everybody; the fact man continues to make manifest ‘his’ sins, is all our problem. I will qualify this. Jesus, is God’s only begotten son, thus determining absolute omnipotence over ‘man, and his religions ‘. Therefore, no ‘expanse’ nor extrapolation of God’s Word will alter what is written. Many people don’t understand the axiom, ‘it is written’; but it is, regardless. It matters not, to God, and the chosen few, the righteous, the named, the saved; what sex/sexual preference a human-being has. What matters to God, is that you Love Him. That’s all. But you must keep His laws, in your heart; Salvation, at least, depends on this. Every God-given Spirit has than chance to come back to God. Every body, qualifies. God Loves all his Creation. What we, as humans, do with our lives, matters to us; creating meaning in our lives (in the like & minded ideal of ‘The Fall of Man’), (Genesis 3) , should tell all of us that it’s not for us to judge; Jesus does that.
        Our job is to Love God, understand our ‘lot’, and by that pretense, we become, an analogy of ourselves; what’s already written.
        In other words, try as we might, we wont change a thing.
        But what is ours, while we have it, is what we make; the meaning of life. The meaning of life is better understood as the meaning to life; sgt, history, politics, philosophy; everything we, Greeks, Excel in.

        • HookesLaw

          say that again?

      • ButcombeMan

        “A civil partnership is no different to marriage. You may say that is
        one reason not to formalise it into marriage but for the same reason
        there is no reason why you shouldn’t”.

        There is, because the redefinition of marriage offends so many people.

        I agree with you that Civil partnerships should and do offer the same rights as marriage. I supported Civil partnerships, I do not support changing the meaning of a word that has thousands of years of history behind it. I suspect there are many people like me and I have no religious view, I have no religion.

        Cameron made yet another mistake.

    • David Lindsay

      the MSM papers today say Labour are top of the polls; the complete reverse of truth

      Who is, then?

      • allymax bruce

        I don’t know. But I can tell you the Conservatives will win the 2015 General Election. However, not a ‘majority’ win. Its very important UKIP sustain their upward rise in England; Conservatives & UKIP are a better coalition fit, than the Lib-Dems. I wouldn’t trust the Lib-Dems anyway, theft would likely jump bed risk rainbow Claptoon with Labour, and that would be disaster for this country.

        • David Lindsay

          That was not the question.

          • telemackus

            You’re my hero.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    It’s instructive, laddie, that the only argument you have with Dave the Cameroon is that he’s not more like your hero Tone.

    He’s certainly trying, Lord knows.

    • HookesLaw

      No he isn’t

  • Count Dooku

    I’ve changed my mind on the gay marriage issue and now fully support it. To be honest, what people choose to do in their bedroom and whatever contractual agreements they choose to go into with each other isn’t my business and it certainly shouldn’t be the governments.
    My main worry though is that people who don’t agree with gay marriage will be targeted by the govt and lefties if they voice their opinions. We are already seeing it happen and are well in the way down the slippery slope to the thought police.

    • allymax bruce

      The EU are ‘managing’ this forced policy in countries they have targeted for ‘complete automoton control’. This is not about marriage, rights, nor a stupid sense of equality, this about chastising the child, (eu nations), to manage its compliance; oh-Yeh, and the Zionists think it’s funny to make us accept laws they wouldn’t!
      Trust me; I’m right.

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