Current Affairs

ASA rules Coalition for Marriage ads did not mislead or offend

Stephen Gray June 13, 2012
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The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that Coalition for Marriage adverts which said 70 percent of people wanted to keep marriage ‘as it is’ in a bid to promote its anti-gay marriage petition were not misleading or offensive.

Twenty-four people complained to the ASA that the claim was misleading and could not be substantiated. Eleven believed the adverts were offensive and three said a print version of the advert appearing in Country Life was misleading because it did not mention that the group opposed gay marriage, only that it supported ‘true’ marriage.

On the second and third points, the ASA ruled today that the adverts could not be considered to be capable of causing “serious or widespread offence” and that in the context of the equal marriage debate, it was clear what the Coalition for Marriage stood for.

The ASA investigated the Coalition for Marriage’s ability to substantiate the subject of the first complaint, the 70 percent figure, and found that it could do so satisfactorily.

In the context of the debate on marriage equality, many took the 70 percent figure quoted by the Coalition for Marriage to imply that that proportion of people opposed equal marriage, a figure at odds with most other polls on the question.

However, the ASA said the individual claim made by the Coalition for Marriage, that 70 percent of people wanted marriage kept as it was, could be substantiated by the ComRes poll commissioned by Catholic Voices, pointed to in the advert.

ComRes had found 70 percent of people agreed with the statement: “Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.”

Commentators pointed out that the question made no mention of marriage for gay couples, only an undefined change, and commissioners Catholic Voices themselves acknowledged that the figures, when used to try to gauge public support for equal marriage, were out of line with other polls.

A YouGov poll for Stonewall’s 2012 Living Together report released this week found 71 percent of people to be in agreement with the government’s plans to legalise marriage for gay couples.

Catholic Voices later said the ComRes poll was not in fact designed to “gauge support for same-sex marriage” but to “assess support for the state promoting the existing understanding of marriage”. If the public “realised” what allowing gay couples an equal right to marry involved, they claimed other results would fall into line with theirs.

The ASA ruled that the way in which the Coalition for Marriage presented the 70 percent figure in its campaign against marriage for gay couples was not misleading.

It affirmed that ComRes ran the poll in a proper way and that the figure it found would have accurately reflected public opinion on the statement in question.

The ASA said in its ruling: “Although some complainants believed the claim made in the ads was misleading because it did not reflect the results of other polls on the issue of same sex marriage, we considered the claim accurately represented the responses received to the poll conducted by ComRes and that the source for the claim was sufficiently prominent to ensure that those viewing the ad would be aware that it referred to the results of that poll only.

“Most people would expect polls relating to matters of opinion to lead to differing results depending on the exact wording of the question and the context in which it was asked.”

A complainant who wished to remain anonymous told they felt the way the Coalition for Marriage used the 70 percent figure was “misleading to the ordinary person” and that today’s ruling was “extremely disappointing”.

They added: “I was offended and I feel a greater majority of LGBT people would have been as well.

“We need to make our voices heard, and if LGBT people don’t make a stand on these issues, then the ordinary folk probably would not even pay attention to what is happening. I do feel that the general public sympathizes with our cause, as I do believe most people either have a relative who is gay, or know someone who is gay, so these are important issues for us in trying to achieve equality, and those people I am sure would, and do understand our plight.”

The magazine of the Women’s Institute refused to run the Coalition for Marriage advert, saying it had the potential to offend “many” of the charity’s members.

The ASA published its ruling today and recommended no further action.

More: Advertising, coalition for marriage, equal marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

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