The gay marriage issue is a reminder that activism is never satisfied.
Politicians and corporates compromise in the face of social activism because they believe it will make activists happy. But they misunderstand the motivations. Activists always come back for more.
In recent times social activists have challenged the business sector on matters such as smoking, obesity, corporate profits, fracking, and agricultural pollution.
Corporates evince a strange attitude in the strategy backrooms. They talk as if agreeing to the latest demand will satisfy the activists and end the war.
Sometimes they strangely even argue to make sure the problem is resolved by going further than activists demand.
Instead, buoyed by their successes, activists continue their fight. They come up with new issues and new demands.
Gay rights did not end with homosexuality being made legally permissible, nor with civil unions. It will not end with gay marriage.
When civil unions were introduced, same sex couples achieved equality in dispensation of justice. Their partnerships were accorded legal rights previously only available to heterosexuals.
This time around it is asserted that that this change is needed not for legal fairness but for social fairness – signalling the end of prejudice.
The evolution of the cause reveals that for gay activists the underlying issue is not legal fairness; it about having their lifestyle legitimised.
Like most activists, those seeking gay rights do not have clearly define what will make them happy. The end goal is rarely described. This is either because they do not know it themselves, or because they fear clarity on the goal would not help win supporters for their cause.
So they parcel the issues up. They pick a small battle. Win it. Move on to the next.
Mainstream politicians and corporates fall for the strategy every time. Tactically it looks sensible to them to cauterise the problem. They opt to give away an asset in the interests of winning the war. But the opponent takes the win and uses it as a base for their next assault.
One of the most telling factors of the gay marriage issue has been that the early wins have not only emboldened the activists, they gave power to the cause.
It has been intriguing to watch the speed at which the political class has moved this time to be on the ‘right’ side of the issue.
It was the early wins, over much harder and much more substantial matters, that paved the way for gay marriage.
A political lesson I draw from the gay marriage issue is that it may seem easy for a business sector to give way to activist pressure early on, but that will make it much tougher to fight the inevitable demands that come later.