This rather goes to the heart of one’s ideas about how society works:
The really interesting stuff in the BSA survey is in our changing attitudes to homosexuality and cohabitation. Of those questioned, 45% said it made “no difference” whether a child’s parents were married or living together — up from 38% in 1998. Where two decades ago we were hissing at otherness from the sidelines and poking at it with sharp sticks, we’re now cuddling it and saying, “Come in, otherness, we’ve made you some camomile tea.”
The increase in tolerance of same-sex couples is a genuine achievement of the current administration, and of the preceding one, with the end of section 28, the arrival of civil partnerships and the acceptance of gay people in the army and in government. There has been a kind of mini-revolution with regard to gay rights that will have played a part in reshaping our ideas about what is and isn’t “wrong”.
I see two very different sides here.
1) People have become more tolerant because the law has changed.
2) People have become more tolerant therefore it has been possible to change the law.
I’m very much in the second camp. I really don’t believe that because civil partnerships are now available that people have become more tolerant of not heteronormative sexuality. I think that the tolerance has been increasing for decades (and closely matching at least in public the decline of strongly held religious views).
By analogy it’s like the question of whether newspapers shape readers’ views or pursue them. And the research there seems to show chase, not form.
I don’t think this is a left or right issue either: I think perhaps it tracks the statist/non-statist mind set though (and there are just as many statists in Tory ranks as there are Labour). There are those who certainly act as if they believe the State, the law, is a vanguard in such matters: there are those like myself who think it simply follows (however imperfectly) changes in the underlying society.
We might test this: there’s been little to no change in the law over the decades about cannabis smoking of cocaine usage. Yet tolerance of these has markedly increased: which would seem to indicate that it’s the society bit that’s important, not the State or law bit.
There is a joke that can be made about India Knight being the columnist that notes these things but I won’t make it, ‘coz I’m tolerant, see?