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Ministers expect big win on gay marriage vote despite increasingly bad-tempered protests from Tory traditionalists
00:02 GMT, 11 December 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron is said to be 'relaxed' about the fact that some Tories are reusing to back gay marriage
Plans to legalise gay marriage will be passed by a ‘big majority’ amid increasingly bad-tempered protests from Tory traditionalists, it was claimed yesterday.
Speaking as ministers prepared to set out detailed proposals today, the Prime Minister accepted that equal marriage rights were ‘not a priority by any stretch of the imagination’ and said he was ‘relaxed’ about the prospect of some Conservatives refusing to support them.
Bur David Cameron dismissed the idea that too much energy was being devoted to the issue, saying Parliament was quite capable of considering more than one issue at a time.
He insisted that permitting gay marriage, while protecting faith groups who do not wish to perform such ceremonies, was a ‘good and right’ thing to do and said he expected the measure to be approved by MPs by ‘a big majority’.
Tory opponents of gay marriage spoke out in increasingly rancorous tones yesterday, with Hendon MP Matthew Offord prompting uproar in the Commons as he appeared to liken same-sex marriage to polygamy.
Mr Offord asked Culture Secretary Maria Miller whether the Government would also consult on allowing polygamous marriages as some ‘minorities’ believed in allowing men to have more than one wife.
Beckenham MP Colonel Bob Stewart, former head of British forces in Bosnia, said the Government appeared ‘hell-bent’ on upsetting people in ‘normal’ marriages.
Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough, predicted ‘civil disobedience’ if gay marriage is permitted, while Harrow East MP Bob Blackman praised the notorious Section 28, which barred teachers from discussing homosexuality in a positive light and was repealed by Tony Blair.
MP Matthew Offord caused controversy in the Commons when he compared same-sex marriage to polygamy
Veteran MP Edward Leigh, a Catholic, has raised concerns about the impact of the change in the law on the definition of consummation of marriage – currently established in case law as involving a man and a woman.
Under existing law, couples can apply to have marriages annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.
‘It will have profound effects on the ability of individuals to have a marriage annulled,’ he said. “This is important to Catholics for whom annulment is permitted by the church but divorce is not.’
However, senior Tories, including former prime minister Sir John Major, Chancellor George Osborne, Education Secretary Michael Gove and London Mayor Boris Johnson are backing the campaign to permit equal marriage.
But 120 Conservative MPs have indicated some degree of unease at the proposals in correspondence with constituents.
In response to the argument that gay marriage is a distraction from more important issues the Government should be concentrating on, Mr Cameron told a Westminster lunch: ‘This is not a priority by any stretch of the imagination.
‘It is something I think would be good and right to fix. Parliament can fix it. Everyone can have a free vote. Let’s try to keep a reasonable debate about it.’
Mr Cameron insisted that any church or other place of worship which does not want to host same-sex marriages will be ‘properly protected’ in law.
Mrs Miller will today confirm that the Government plans to allow faith groups which do wish to conduct gay marriages – such as liberal Jews, Quakers and Unitarians – while providing an ‘absolute protection’ for those which do not.
‘I think we have come up with a very good answer, I think it is a good step to take and I think those of us in Parliament have to take a relaxed view of the fact that there will be many people that want to cast their vote in a different way,’ the Prime Minister added.
‘There is no disadvantage to them if they do that. They are free to do that. That is what a free vote is all about. I believe it will be passed and passed with a big majority because the time for this has come.’
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: ‘Marriage is not the preserve of any individual faith or organisation. Civil marriage is about the way the state views and values long-term relationships and the state should not discriminate.’
Culture Secretary Maria Miller will confirm today that faith groups which do wish to conduct gay marriages – such as liberal Jews, Quakers and Unitarians, will be allowed, while providing an 'absolute protection' for those which do not