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Nuanced support for gay marriage

Away from the media glare, people reveal their true feelings about same-sex marriage.
Last modified: 18 Apr 2013 15:52
Many voices go unheard in the same-sex marriage debate [Al Jazeera]

In TV reports we like to feature case studies of 'real people' affected by the issue being discussed.

For my colleague Mareana Hond's report on changes to New Zealand's laws to allow same-sex marriage, she featured Sonja Fry and Tania Bermudez, a Kiwi couple who will soon be able to wed.

My report featured Lizi Hamer and Lisa Walton, a couple who live in Australia and therefore have little prospect of their wedding being recognised in law.

But, although there are two sides to the same-sex marriage debate, it is much harder to feature a case study representing the opposite side.

People on that side are less organised and, on the face of it, less directly affected. Church groups and politicians tend to crop up in TV reports voicing concern, but as commentators with opinions rather than people whose lives would dramatically change were laws to change.

Yet opinion polls in both Australia and New Zealand show almost half of voters are opposed to gay marriage.

They're not all people with religious objections, not all politicians: so why not have a 'case study' of them?

The truth is, it is hard to persuade those people to go on TV. First, they are not part of pressure groups - so people actively wanting to be vocal are hard to find. Second, same-sex marriage is one of those issues that people feel there is a 'progressive', 'right' opinion they should give, even if it is not one they actually hold. Stop people in the street wielding a camera and almost all say they support gay relationships. Put the camera away and people are more nuanced.

One woman I spoke to had been married 30 years. She felt for gay people, she said, but she did not agree they should have the same marriage rights as her. It would, she said, be a signal to children that society thought homosexuality was every bit as accepted - 'normal' she said - as heterosexuality.

And she did not want that. She had gay friends, she said; she had no problem with people being gay. But she wanted to maintain society's current opinion that homosexuality was the 'acceptable exception' rather than the rule.

Many would call that homophobic. But it is not the homophobia based on religion or right-wing politics that often features on TV reports. It is more subtle than that. And hard to find a case study to illustrate it.