PM could face rebellion from more than 100 MPs
Protest would be bigger rebellion than that which opposed Cameron’s EU veto move
Consultation on legalising gay marriage in March
By Chris Parsons
Last updated at 3:09 PM on 17th January 2012
David Cameron today faced the prospect of his biggest ever backbench rebellion over his plans to legalise gay marriage.
Conservative MPs are threatening a protest even bigger than that against the PM’s EU veto following the Coalition’s plan to lift the ban on civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
Opponents claim more than 100 Tory backbenchers could oppose gay marriage, although MPs will be encouraged to support the Prime Minister, according to the Independent.
Mr Cameron has made no secret of his plans to modernise his party, and declared at their party conference in October that he supported same-sex marriage ‘because I am a Conservative’.
The announcement prompted some delegates to walk out of his speech, with further rebellion promised from traditionalist MPs if gay marriage is officially legalised.
Those set to oppose Mr Cameron’s action believe the move would weaken the institution of marriage.
Mr Cameron said in October he supported gay marriage ‘because I’m a Conservative’
MP David Burrowes, one of the organisers of the campaign against the reform, told The Independent: ‘Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country.
‘There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.
‘Gay marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about.
‘It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that.’
Those who oppose gay marriage have been outspoken in their protests, sometimes to the detriment of their careers.
In October, James Malliff, a cabinet member of Tory-controlled Wycombe District Council, Buckinghamshire, was suspended from the party after claiming the Conservatives ‘may as well legalise marriage with animals’ because Mr Cameron supports gay marriage.
Earlier he same month Gerald Howarth, a junior defence minister, said the move was a ‘step too far’ – and said Conservative MPs should not be forced to vote in favour if the issue comes before Parliament.
Mr Howarth, the MP for Aldershot, said that changing the law to allow same-sex unions to be characterised as marriage should be a matter of ‘conscience’ for MPs – meaning they should be allowed to vote which way they chose.
‘Some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
‘I take the view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. That is what Christian marriage is about.’
Mr Burrowes suggested that, rather than legalise gay marriage, there are ‘many other ways that the Conservatives can show they are a modern party’.
When backing the legalisation of gay marriage last year, Mr Cameron had told his party at their annual conference: ‘Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment.
‘Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.
‘So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.’
There will be a consultation process on gay marriage in March, followed by legislation.
Gay rights campaigners responded to the potential rebellion by saying that a similar threat to marriage was made in 2005 prior to civil partnerships becoming legalised, but these failed to materialise.