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The gay marriage wedge

A couple of months ago I was polled on the subject of gay marriage. Unlike most of the polls I answer, this one was very short. Three questions: Do you support it? Which federal party would you vote for today? And does the gay marriage issue change how you will vote?

I'm a more socially-liberal conservative, so I responded that I support it (though mostly I think it's a non-issue), will vote Conservative, and am not swayed in my intentions by that issue. It was an interesting poll and got me thinking.

Why are the Liberals raising the whole gay marriage thing anyway? Marriage laws and licences are a provincial responsibility, so you would think that if the time has come in our culture to recognize gay marriage, the provinces could make the necessary changes to the laws. Some provinces would lead the way eagerly, and some would have to be prodded by the courts. But eventually it would happen and the federal government wouldn't have to do anything. So why are the Liberals doing this? Especially when polls say a slight majority of the population is against it?

The answer comes in the third question of the poll I answered. Does the gay marriage issue change how you will vote? For most of the people that are opposed to it, I'd guess GM is a non-issue. There's a certain inertia in the population that resists change (especially in timid and fearful Canada), and the poll picks this up. But they don't really care about the issue. For the rest, those that are noisily opposed to GM, they're probably planning to vote Conservative anyway. So the GM issue doesn't lose the Liberals any votes.

But now let's look at the supporters of GM. I think their commitment to the issue is greater than the majority of those that oppose it. They're not ready to go out and march for it, but they think it's a important issue that represents their values. Many of them are as disgusted with Liberal corruption and arrogance as anyone. They can see that the Liberals have been in power too long and really should be thrown out. But as they look around the political landscape for an alternative, what do they see? They see a Conservative party increasingly associated with opponents of GM. Some of them may be able to overlook this and vote Conservative anyways, but many will hold their noses and vote Liberal. This is why GM is a winning issue for the Liberals.

I'm convinced that the popularity doldrums the Conservatives are in is a result of this issue. And they have no effective way to fight it. They can't take the Liberal position and alienate many of their members and supporters, and they can't vigorously oppose it for fear of looking 'scary'. ('Scarier', actually.)

And that's why you can count on the Liberals making GM a big issue in the next election...


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