David Cameron defies Conservative fury over plan to legalise gay marriage

PM says it is 'good and right' that churches will not be forced to hold ceremonies

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The Independent Online

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

Outspoken Tory backbenchers queued up in the Commons today to attack the Government’s plans, which will be published tomorrow. 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 pass and be passed by a big majority, because 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.

Bob Stewart, a former Army Colonel who led British forces in Bosnia in the 1990s and is now MP for Beckenham, asked why the Government was “so hell-bent on upsetting so many thousands of our citizens in normal marriages, especially at this time?”

Edward Leigh, a former minister, said the Government should begin a consultation exercise on the issue after its “U-turn” on allowing churches to carry out same sex marriages. He was one of many Tories to warn that churches could be forced to do so by action taken in the European Court of Human Rights. “The state has no right to redefine people’s marriages,” he said.

Bob Blackman, the Tory MP for Harrow East, praised Section 28, the now-repealed law brought in by the Thatcher Government to stop local authorities “promoting” homosexuality, saying that teachers should not be forced to tell pupils about gay marriage. “I was one who strongly believed that Section 28 was the right rule so that we should not in any way shape or form promote same-sex relationships.” Ms Miller said there would be no need to change guidance for teachers.

Stewart Jackson, another backbencher, told BBC Radio 4: “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.”

But she insisted that ministers “fully respect the rights of religious institutions... I would never introduce a bill which encroaches on religious freedom or that could force religious organisations or religious ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.”