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PM accused of misquoting gay marriage polls

David Cameron has been accused of misquoting polling results on public attitudes to gay marriage.

The Prime Minister had written to former Welsh secretary Cheyl Gllan, after the latter criticised the government’s plans to legislate for gay marriage. In his letter, which later appeared on the site Pink News, Mr Cameron wrote:

“Of course, we have put forward these proposals because we firmly believe that they are fair and the right thing to do. But they are also popular. There have been several recent published polls on the issue of equal civil marriage. All of the published polls have found that more voters support equal civil marriage – however described – than oppose it, with the number in favour ranging from 43% to 65%, depending on wording, and the number opposed ranging from 27% to 36%”.

He added: “All of the published polls also have found that support for equal civil marriage is fairly consistent across all socio-economic groups and every region of Britain. Furthermore, a recent poll by ComRes found that 10% of current Conservative voters say the policy would make them ‘less likely to vote Conservative’ compared with 7% saying it would make them ‘more likely to vote Conservative’. The difference between these figures is within the poll’s margin of error, so the finding it not statistically significant”.

After seeing this letter, Andrew Hawkins, the CEO of polling company ComRes, wrote to the PM claiming:

“Your letter of 19 October 2012 to The Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP states that “a recent poll by ComRes found that 10 percent of current Conservative voters say that the policy [to legalise same-sex marriage] would make them ‘less likely to vote Conservative’ compared with 7 percent saying it would make them ‘more likely to vote Conservative’. I should like to put the record straight because the wrong figures have been quoted.”

The figures in the PM’s letter actually relate to whether Conservative voters are more likely to vote Labour, he says, insisting that polls show:

“… both that the party loses more votes than it gains as a result of the policy, and that former Conservative voters are especially less likely to return to the fold.”

Mr Hawkins’ letter also refers to “the general detrimental impact on the Party’s fortunes’ if the gay marriage policy is pursued.”

However the quoted polling figures went adrift, I would like to think that Mr Cameron’s heart is in the right place here. It could well have been an oversight. The PM is clearly determined to push ahead with his plans to legislate in favour of this issue and I say good for him.

Of course, there remains the uncomfortable fact that a significant proportion of Tory voters remain firmly opposed to the policy. It is also saddening to read in Mr Hawkins’ message to the Prime Minister: “…your letter states that ‘all of the published polls have found that more voters support equal civil marriage – however described – than oppose it’ That is simply not the case.”

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have always been in favour of gay marriage and have written about the topic more than once. I really believe that the strongest and richest societies are those which celebrate their diversity and embrace difference.

Of course, same sex partners have been able to enter civil partnerships in the UK since 2005 and this opportunity has been taken up with enthusiasm by many. Finally gay couples had a way to cement and solidify these central relationships in their lives. But civil partnerships, while they may provide the same legal benefits as marriage, are not marriage. Marriage comes with a little extra magic. It’s more personal, more human, more resonant.

Many people, it seems, still struggle with the idea of gay marriage but attitudes are shifting and I am convinced its day will come. And sooner rather than later.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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