Backbenchers threaten 'civil disobedience'

 

Plans to legalise gay marriage will become law despite an increasingly vocal campaign by Conservative MPs who oppose the move, David Cameron has insisted.

Outspoken Tory backbenchers queued up in the Commons yesterday to attack the Government's plans, which will be formally published today. Ministers will confirm that, in a key change from their original proposals, churches will be able to opt in if they want to carry out same sex marriage ceremonies, but will not be forced hold them against their will.

Describing the move as "good and right", Mr Cameron said: "I believe it will be passed by a big majority, because I believe its time has come."

With more than 100 Tories set to oppose the measure in a free vote next year, Maria Miller, the Equalities Minister, was given a rough ride in the Commons when she was forced to make an emergency statement because the Government had trailed its plans last Friday.

Matthew Offord, the Tory MP for Hendon, said the Government should also be consulting on allowing polygamous marriages because some "minorities" believed in allowing men to have more than one wife.

Stewart Jackson, another backbencher, told BBC Radio 4: "There will be a legal quagmire. The only people who will be happy will be the lawyers. There will probably be an impasse between the Lords and the Commons. There may even be civil disobedience."

Ms Miller criticised "scaremongering" about the Government's plans, saying they had been drafted so there was only a "negligible" chance of religions which did not want to carry out gay marriages facing a legal challenge. "The Government should not stop people getting married unless there is very good reason and being gay I don't believe is one of them," she said.

But she insisted ministers "fully respect the rights of religious institutions when they state they do not wish to carry out same-sex marriages... I would never introduce a bill which encroaches on religious freedom."

Edward Leigh, a former minister, was one of many Tories to warn that churches could be forced to begin offering marriages to gay couples due to action taken in the European Court of Human Rights.

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