The politics of the same sex marriage issue

In previous posts I’ve touched on what I regard as the principled case for allowing same sex couples to marry. In this final post from me before the first reading, I want to touch on the political side of the issue – and how it might impact MPs, especially National MPs whom have the most undecided MP.

1 – Most New Zealanders support marriage equality

Several polls have found New Zealanders support allowing same sex couples to marry by around a 2:1 majority. Amongst those under 35 it is over 4:1 in favour and 3:1 in favour amongst under 55s.

The following demographics all show majority support for – under 55s, men, women, all household income levels, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Provincial cities, Rural areas.

2 – Most National supporters support marriage equality

The polls show the higher the household income, the more likely it is the voter supports same sex marriage. It is well known that National receives more support from higher income households.

Also the National Party Annual Conference in 2012 (not exactly a bastion of socialism) voted by 2:1 on the main floor to support allowing same sex couples to adopt, a related issue.

3 – Swinging voters most strongly support marriage equality

Historically female voters make up a higher proportion of undecided or swinging voters, as do younger voters who are yet to develop a voting preference. The poll data suggests that around 80% of women aged under 55 support allowing same sex marriage.

4 – A law change is inevitable

With 70% support from those aged under 55, a law change is absolutely inevitable – even if it doesn’t happen in 2012. Around the world, 11 countries have already voted to allow same sex marriage, as have six states in the US.

Unless you can think of some reason that younger voters will change their mind in the next few years the trend is clear.

This graph from 538, is from the US, and shows the huge change in public opinion over 20 years. That trend is not going to reverse.

5 – Do you want to be on the wrong side of history?

Personally I fully understand why some MPs struggle with what they see as redefining marriage. I’ll never judge an MP for voting in line with their honest beliefs – even if I disagree with them on an issue.

But future voters may not be so generous. In 15 years time, new voters especially will struggle to understand how their local MP voted against allowing their friends who are happily married, to get married. It may be a bit like an MP in 1908 explaining to female voters why they were against them having a vote in 1893!

6 – People vote on what actually affects them

Yes there are some people who write angry e-mails to you swearing they will not vote for you if you vote for same sex marriage. However we know that actually people tend to vote on what impacts them. Once this debate is over, no voter will actually be impacted by the fact there will be a few more couples married than was previously the case, They get impacted by jobs, wages, health care, education etc etc.

On the other side of the coin though, those who are not currently able to marry their loved ones do get impacted by a vote denying them that choice. It is personal to them, and it does affect them. It may not impact their party vote, but will impact their electorate vote. And they have friends, and colleagues.

Also the reality is that your primary opponent for the seat is highly likely to also support same sex marriage. They won’t be winning votes off you on this issue.

Now I don’t think MPs should vote for same sex marriage just because it is popular. Some MPs will vote for it because they deeply think it is the right thing to do, and some will vote against as they deeply think it is the wrong thing to do – and I respect that.

But some MPs are undecided – they see both pros and cons, and they do not feel as strongly on this issue as they do say on improving education. And for them, they do look at the political impact of an issue also.

I actually think the bill will pass. The media have reported they think it has the numbers for first reading. So my concern is not getting the bill over the line – it is that an MP doesn’t vote against the bill today, and regret that vote in years to come. I know a number of former MPs who deeply regret their votes against civil unions and before that against homosexual law reform.

As I said this is the last post from me on this issue before the (hopefully) first reading tomorrow night. However there will be a guest post tomorrow morning on it. Also for those who support a law change, there is a rally at Parliament at 1 pm tomorrow.

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