Cameron reaffirms commitment to gay marriage in face of criticism from church leaders and Tory MPs
By Charles Walford
Last updated at 2:13 PM on 21st February 2012
Gay marriage will be legalised despite growing opposition to a change in the law, Downing Street has insisted.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has spoken against the proposal to change the status of marriage, claiming it ‘constitutes one of the greatest political power grabs in history’.
He denounced David Cameron’s planned move as a ‘hostile strike’ on the traditional view of marriage.
But his words – and the continued opposition of some Conservative MPs – have provoked an angry backlash from gay couples and campaigners.
But Number 10 insists that the Prime Minister is resolute in his determination to end discrimination faced by homosexual couples.
A senior Downing Street source said: ‘Nothing has changed on this as far as he is concerned. He is very passionate about this subject – it is something that has defined him.’
Margot James, the first openly lesbian Tory MP, told the Independent: ‘The Government isn’t introducing a change that will mean churches have to marry same-sex couples if they did not want to.
‘There are many gay people who are committed people of faith. They have a profound need to marry in a more traditional setting than would be provided by a civil partnership.’
A new grassroots organisation, the Coalition For Marriage (C4M), which opposes the redefinition of marriage to include same sex couples was launched yesterday in response to next month’s publication of a consultation document by the Equalities Minister, Lib Dem Lynne Featherstone, on how to introduce same-sex marriage before 2015.
Ms Featherstone told The Independent: ‘This Government is promoting a fair society where people respect each other.
‘We are not changing religious marriage, or requiring religious groups to go against their traditions.’
The C4M led by Lord Carey, which is backed by Tory MPs, peers and family groups, wants the Government to leave traditional marriage alone.
It says the changes are not wanted by the majority of the population and will require the rewriting of 800 years of legislation.
The two sides will now go head-to-head ahead of this spring’s Queen’s Speech, in which proposals could be announced.
If given the go-ahead, the first gay weddings will take place by 2015 at the latest.
If the law is changed, Britain will become the sixth European country, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and Norway, to recognise same-sex marriage.
The word ‘marriage’ appears 3,258 times in UK legislation, which underlines the central role the institution plays in national law.
If the change goes ahead the Government could face legal challenges from the heterosexual community.
Dr Carey is backing a new organisation, the Coalition For Marriage, which opposes the redefinition of marriage to include same sex couples
Ministers have ruled out extending civil partnerships, which became law in December 2005, beyond the gay community.
Yet Downing Street, in a bid to avert a damaging rebellion by the bishops who sit in the House of Lords, has insisted that the gay marriage ceremonies will not be allowed to take place in church.
Mr Cameron is still facing a major revolt by up to 100 Conservative MPs who have threatened to vote against or abstain when the measure, which is backed by Labour and the Lib Dems, comes to the Commons.
Mr Cameron told last year’s Tory conference: ‘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 in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.’
In his article, Lord Carey says: ‘Like many others, I was baffled by this statement.
‘Not because I begrudge rights and benefits to homosexual couples. I was baffled because this Government’s proposal constitutes one of the greatest political power grabs in history.
‘The state does not own marriage… The honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.’
Colin Hart, campaign director of C4M, said the proposed upheaval was being driven by the forces of political correctness and a handful of single-issue pressure groups.