MPs tonight overwhelmingly backed David Cameron’s controversial plan to legalise gay marriage. After more than six hours of bitter debate, the Commons voted in favour of same-sex weddings by 400 votes to 175, a majority of 225. The Prime Minister risked the embarrassment of having to rely on Labour and Lib Dem MPs to secure victory, with more than 100 Tories predicted to vote against the measure.
But tonight he took to Twitter to defend the policy in the face of the biggest Tory rebellion in history.
‘Strong views exist on both sides but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country,’ the Prime Minister wrote. Hours earlier the PM launched a last ditch attempt to persuade Tory MPs to back gay marriage, arguing it will ‘make our society stronger’. ‘I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too,’ he said.
Salisbury MP John Glen warned it would cost the Tories votes at the 2015 election while Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said he had ‘serious misgivings’ about assurances from ministers about ensuring that religious freedom will not be compromised. Former minister Edward Leigh said: ‘We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for?’
Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale risked controversy when he appeared to liken gay marriage to incest, ‘Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so,’ he said.
Home Secretary Theresa May, pictured leaving No. 10, urged Tory MPs to back the plans ‘because we are Conservatives’ It had been suggested, he said, that a civil union bill could be created ‘that applies to all people irrespective or their sexuality, or their relationships, and that means brothers and brothers and sisters and sisters and brothers and sisters as well’. Sir Roger stressed he did not subscribe to the notion, but added he recognised the merit in the argument.
However a number of gay MPs from all parties spoke movingly in favour of the reforms. His fellow Conservative Margot James (Stourbridge) warned: ‘The modernisation of the Conservative Party is not yet complete.’ Openly gay former Tory minister Nick Herbert said later he was ‘delighted’ by the result of the vote. He said: ‘The Commons has voted by a substantial majority for equal marriage, with support across all the major parties.
‘The Bill will now be examined in detail, but we believe today’s vote was a momentous step towards the goal of securing the freedom for gay people to marry.’ Culture Secretary Maria Miller was accused of pushing a policy which was an ‘irrelevance’ which did not feature in the Tory party manifesto. Opening the debate, Mrs Miller said: ‘What marriage offers us all is a lifelong partner to share our journey, a loving, stable relationship to strengthen us and a mutual support throughout our lives.
‘I believe that this is something that should be embraced by more couples. The depth of feeling, love and commitment is no different between same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples. ‘This Bill enables society to recognise that commitment in the same way too, through marriage. We are doing this very clearly as an important part of the way we can make this country a fairer place to live.’
Five of the most prominent Right-wingers in the Cabinet came out fighting for the policy in a last-minute attempt to rescue Mr Cameron from the worst Tory revolt of his leadership. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith decided to back the push for same-sex unions out of loyalty to the Prime Minister. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, a standard bearer of the Tory right, argued that the ‘collapse of marriage and families’ has ‘absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality’.
But scores of Tories rejected the plea of their leader. The Labour Whips office suggested that 139 Tories had voted against the Bill, with 132 in favour. Dozens more did not vote including several government ministers. Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson voted against the legislation, thought to be the only senior minister to do so. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and Attorney General Dominic Grieve were the two most senior figures to stay away from tonight’s vote, after the vast majority of Cabinet figures agreed to back the PM. Housing minister Mark Prisk also did not vote
Around 20 Labour MPs voted against the bill at second reading, along with Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwistle. The result meant a record number of Tory MPs rejected the leadership’s policy, far greater than the 95 Conservatives who voted against post-Dunblane gun reforms introduced by the Major government. However, Downing Street sources stress that because Tories were given a free vote those who opposed Mr Cameron’s pro-gay marriage stance were not technically rebelling.
After the result was announced, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hailed the result as a ‘landmark’ for equality in Britain. He said: ‘Tonight’s vote shows Parliament is very strongly in favour of equal marriage. No matter who you are and who you love, we are all equal. Marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay.’
Article: 5th February www.dailymail.co.uk