PinkNews.co.uk’s Edmund Broch explores how accurate the reliable the system is that appears to suggest that the Coalition for Marriage has amassed 400,000 signatures in opposition to the Government’s plans to allow gay couples to marry and asks ‘do their numbers add up?’

There is something fishy about Coalition for Marriage (C4M). Even insofar as the main aim of the campaign is to keep restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexuals, the origins and intentions of the group, especially its fundamentalist alliances, remain clandestine and worrisome. Thanks to a high-profile campaign, ads in national newspapers and magazines, and relentless campaigns through local churches, they seem to have garnered more than 400,000 signatures. But, to what extent do their numbers add up?

A few things must be noted first, before I explain some troubling findings about C4M. As the Independent noted this weekend, C4M has the same address as the influential Christian Medical Fellowship. And, as Adrian Tippetts noted in a column for this website, nor is the campaign a grassroots movement by any stretch of the word. Directors include Don Horrocks, head of public affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, who once compared same-sex weddings to humans marrying animals. “Soon there will be people wanting to marry their horse or perhaps three or four people all want to get married,” he once told the Guardian.

The second director, Andrea Minichiello Williams, a barrister and founder of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre. The latter organisation funds high-profile cases “to protect the freedoms of Christians in society”. These include the appeal by Lesley Pilkington, a therapist struck off after offering to “cure” a gay patient of his sexuality — though the patient in question was of course an undercover reporter.

The third director behind the project is Nola Leach, who heads Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), an organisation which spends more than £330,000 a year influencing public policy, and has sent more than 15 interns for MPs in the past five years. One of those MPs is David Burrowes, who has publicly spoken of his opposition to marriage equality.

But the most worrying of the directors is Colin Hart, who also heads the Christian Institute. Want to know the most infamous of Mr Hart’s campaigns? He distributed to the Institute’s members, an organ-donor style card which read: “In the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by homosexuals.”

So, there seems to be no doubt that this organisation is motivated by nothing but deep-seated homophobia, and religion-fuelled bigotry. Naturally, the question suggests itself as to whether the 400,000 figure they quote has any truth to it.

Before we verify the authenticity of the petition, a basic check. If it has 400,000 unique signatures, then the number of visits the site gets must reflect that fact, right? Now, most of those signatures must have been gathered online. But, let us be conservative and say only half of those signatures were gathered online, and the rest on paper. Then, on average, from the day C4M started, it should have gathered an average of 2250 to 2400 unique visitors every day. But, according to Netstat, that number stands at 622.  Which means they cannot have more than 56,000 unique online signatures at best. Are they telling us that only 14% of their signatures comes from the web?

Note that C4EM suffers from the same problem. With 111 unique visitors a day, the number of unique online signatures it has gathered comes to roughly 7750. Which is roughly 20% of its current total.

But, there is more to be said here. A source for PinkNews.co.uk has been gathering time-lapsed data from C4M website almost the day since it was launched. Using this data, whose original index files I have seen, the following chart was plotted which shows the number of signatures added to the website against date and time. Note the significant number of vertical jumps, which means several thousand signatures were added within the span of a few hours. There are nearly a dozen significant vertical jumps, which together accounts for roughly 250,000 signatures on the website. And that’s a conservative estimate.

The explanation we are likely to be offered from C4M is that these are paper signatures that were then collated on to the web signatures. Fine. If on average a sheet of paper contains 50 signatures, then, that’s still 5,000 sheets of paper. Would C4M be so good as to confirm that this is indeed the case, and that they have hardback copies of these sheets as evidence that these weren’t random additions to the website?

Sudden jumps in total no. of signatures are seen as vertical shifts

I admit. What we have here are significant suspicions, not sufficient proof. But then, petitions can only have true validity if the signatures in it are unique, verifiable, authentic, and geographically circumscribed. In other words, the signature must belong to one genuine individual living in, or related to, the UK. As it happens, the C4M website fails all these tests.

Even at the risk of contributing a dozen or so (fake) signatures to their website, I conducted a simple experiment. I used the same name, and same post-code, but three different e-mail addresses, and they all went through, adding to the signature count. Note that none of these e-mail addresses were genuine or authentic. One e-mail address I added was homophobic-c4m at googlemail, which as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist.

So, as far as you’re able to fill in an e-mail address, which doesn’t have to be genuine, and you have a valid post-code, no matter how many times you’ve used it before, your filling up the form counts as a signature to the petition. Fun, right?

What about the test of geography? You may not know of Tor, which anonymises your browser and IP address, usually by bouncing the internet signal randomly through a bunch of networks spread across the globe. (What with Google’s new privacy policy and the government’s proposed legislation which would monitor everything you do online, getting Tor is a good idea.) Guess what? Whether you’re in Angloa or Azerbaijan, Virginia or Vladivostok, you can sign the petition. All you need is a fake e-mail address and a working post-code.

All of which makes me wonder, basically, if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, determined enough, and with an internet access, how difficult would it be to get to 400,000 signatures in a few months? The only surprise I entertain is that the number isn’t high enough. Perhaps C4M is trying to maintain the number credible, incredible as it seems already.

To be fair, Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM) is using the same platform, and suffers from the same problems, in that, the website does not check for redundancy, nor for authenticity. So, C4EM, take note, and put some restrictions to make your petition authentic. Restrict it to one signature per household or postcode. Otherwise, the numbers you hold are not credible either, I’m sorry to say.

But then, C4EM is neither clandestine, nor cash-rich, nor operate with a deeper, unknown and troubling agenda. Nor does it use the questionable statistics it collects to masquerade as public opinion.

Equally, remember that revelation, where C4M’s sister petition, Scotland for Marriage, was reported to have faked several of its signatures in the attempt to tilt government policy? How can we possibly be sure that the same isn’t happening with the current petition?

As PinkNews.co.uk pleaded in a piece earlier today, the best way to deal with this is to be ruthless and fill out the government consultation forms as much as possible. Equally, spread the word about C4EM, which hopefully will rectify its platform, and ask everyone you know to sign it. The onus now rests on C4EM to publish a list of their signatories, and for both C4M and C4EM to say how exactly they collect petition numbers and signatures, and how they verify the authenticity of the signatures.

What surprises me is why more organisations haven’t come out in support of equal marriage in UK, and placed their banners with C4EM. We all know that major corporations, such as McDonald’s and Ben & Jerry’s, MTV and Goldman Sachs, are in favour of the measure. Why don’t they put their money where their mouth is? The fundamentalists are doing it secretly. Why don’t we do it openly?

So, whenever someone brings up C4M, know that and say that it is suspect at best. Unless C4M provides us with evidence that every signature on there is authentic and individually traceable, it is as reliable as that infamous poll which showed that 70% of Britons oppose equal marriage. In other words, flawed. Besides, as my little experiment indicates, at least a dozen of those signatures are definitely false.

Then, get everyone around you, and every office you work for to lend their names to the campaign. For, there is worrying evidence that the influence of the religious right, armed with flesh flow of cash from evangelical centres around the world, is having an effect. They are noisy, and the fickle politicians are paying heed. We need to make noise too. Enough is enough.

Editorial Note: PinkNews.co.uk has contacted C4M for comments/reply in this regard. But has been unable to reach them by phone. We will post their reply as soon as we have received any.