Gay marriage: a lesson in PR

When it comes to legalising gay marriage, South Africa was an early mover – same-sex marriage has been legal since November 2006 when the Civil Union Act came into force. By doing so South Africa became only the fifth country in the world to take the step (the first in Africa) and we’ve earned a lot of good PR around it.


It’s an often-used example of the strength of our constitution, the broadmindedness of South African policy makers and the acceptance and tolerance of South Africans as a whole. Regardless of your personal views on the matter, it holds significant positive PR value for South Africa.


South Africa took the bold step over 6 years ago, and since then only 13 more countries have followed. Supposed global leaders like the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia have still not legalized same-sex marriage, and the United States is most certainly not united on the matter, with gay marriage only being legal in 9 states.


Reading recent media reports it made me realise that there is a point at which the PR value of doing a good thing tips from being positive to negative, even though you’re still doing a good thing. That point will naturally be different for different events, but even a seemingly positive move, if made too late or after too much duress, can still be highly negative in the eyes of the public.


For same-sex marriage the tip is happening now – any country that still hasn’t taken the step is attracting negative PR for not doing so, and when they do take the step, the message remains negative, focusing on why it took so long, or why certain politics stood in its way. There is very little positive PR left to be gained – it’s all already gone to the likes of South Africa and the other early movers.


The reason why the tip is happening now is that the topic has been a part of modern conversation for a long time now, and the concept of same-sex marriage has made its way into the mainstream. From TV shows like The Simpsons and Modern Family to video games like the SIMS, same-sex marriage is presented as acceptable and normal. There will always been those who oppose it, but the more mainstream the topic becomes, the more the public will tip.


For anything, the tipping point is when the correct action, left too late, becomes negative. Doing the right thing sometimes isn’t good enough – you have to do the right thing right away.