Conservative MPs are trying to sabotage David Cameron's plan to legalise gay marriage, threatening a rebellion bigger than the one in which 81 voted against the Government on Europe.
A campaign to defeat the Coalition's plan to lift the ban on civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples is being organised by traditionalist Tory MPs, who claim the idea would weaken the institution of marriage. Ministers fear the revolt will undermine Mr Cameron's drive to modernise his party.
MPs have been promised a free vote, although ministers will be urged to support Mr Cameron. Opponents claim more than 100 Tory backbenchers could vote against gay marriage, dwarfing the number who voted for a Europe referendum last October. Backbenchers have protested to ministers about the Government's backing for the change at private meetings of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. "Feelings are running high," one senior party source said.
David Burrowes, one of the organisers of the campaign against the reform, told i he was "cautiously optimistic" the proposal would be defeated in the Commons because it would "fracture" the institution of marriage.
Mr Burrowes, parliamentary aide to the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Letwin, insisted there was strong opposition to gay marriage across the Conservative Party spectrum.
"Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country," he said. "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 strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats. Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, will go ahead with a consultation process on marriage laws in March, to be followed by legislation. Civil partnerships were legalised in 2005.
Announcing his backing for gay marriage, Mr Cameron told the Tory conference last October: "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."
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