Is an issue ever settled?




22nd February 2023

The controversy in Scotland surrounding Kate Forbes and her bid to become the new leader of the SNP has raised the issue of gay marriage – something many appear to have thought was an argument of the past, coming, as it does, nearly a decade after its introduction.

The particular issues arising from the SNP leadership battle are numerous, but thinking instead specifically about gay marriage, where do the British public currently stand?

Previously when Deltapoll researched this, we tested support for three separate issues, with the order randomised for respondents:

  • Gay men and women being allowed to marry their partners
  • Women being paid the same as men for doing the same work
  • Trans women being allowed to use women’s toilets

The full results can be downloaded here and demonstrate three different stages of public opinion.

It is safe to say that women being paid the same as men for the same work is a ‘settled issue’. You will never realistically get 100% support for anything and opinions do change, but while there is no hard rule on what constitutes a settled issue, a good starting point is anything that gets at least 80% support and lower than 10% opposition. With 90% support and only 5% opposition, equal pay for equal work easily qualifies by that criteria.

At the other end of the scale, trans women being allowed to use women’s toilets is an issue that very much divides the country at the present time. A plurality of four in ten (40%) support the principle, but a third (33%) are opposed – along with a relatively large proportion of respondents (27%) saying they don’t know.

In between we have gay marriage. Though certainly no longer something that divides the country, the data suggests this is an issue which is not yet settled and on which opinion is still evolving. Just over eight years after gay marriage became legal in England and Wales, and over sixteen years after the introduction of civil partnerships, in April 2022 a large majority of nearly three quarters (73%) supported the principle, up from 69% in October 2021. On the other hand, there is still a non-trivial minority of the country that are opposed. In April 2022 nearly one in six (15%) respondents actively opposed, with almost as large a proportion (13%) who said they didn’t know.

While this is clearly good news for supporters of gay marriage, it also suggests that the issue is not yet settled. More than a quarter of respondents (28%) do not actively support gay marriage, compared to just one in ten (10%) who do not actively support women being paid the same as men for doing the same work.

Other surveys such as the British Social Attitudes Survey go much further back and strongly demonstrate the long-term trend towards support. While opposition is dying out – often literally – a figure of 15% still equates to more than seven and a half million British adults. For many, the views of Kate Forbes may be unpopular, and even uncomfortable, but they are more common than some may realise and suggest the issue is still not settled… Yet.

Deltapoll interviewed 1,610 British adults online from 21st-23rd April 2022 and 3,043 British adults online from 13th-15th October 2022. The data has been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. View the full results here.

Joe TwymanAuthor: Joe Twyman