The House of Commons is set to vote in favour of legalising gay marriage by a big majority, according to a survey of MPs who have disclosed their view on the controversial issue.
It shows opinion running 4-1 in favour of the Government's proposal to bring in same-sex civil marriage. Despite vocal opposition from many Conservatives, it found that the number of Tory MPs who have declared support for the plan (63) outnumber those who oppose it (44).
The rolling survey is being compiled by the Coalition for Equal Marriage, which is lobbying for the change. It is based on public comments by MPs, petitions they have signed and letters written to constituents.
Tory opponents of same-sex marriage claim their numbers will grow after Downing Street made it clear that David Cameron will allow a free vote when the issue is put before the Commons. However, the survey suggests that strong support among Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs will ensure the move is approved.
The running total shows 233 MPs have come out in favour of gay marriage and 56 against, with 15 undecided and the views of the remaining 346 MPs not yet known. So far, 133 Labour MPs back the change, while five oppose it. Some 33 Liberal Democrats endorse it, with none yet against it.
Stonewall, the gay rights group, accused "noisy clerics" of being out touch with their own members after the Church of England warned the Government's plans would pave the way to legal challenges that could force churches to conduct religious gay marriages. A YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people for Stonewall found that 58 per cent of those with a religious faith back gay marriage. Seventy per cent of the public support the move, including 82 per cent of those under 50.
Ben Summerskill, Stonewall's chief executive, said: "Recently we've heard senior clerics distressingly compare marriage for gay people to polygamy, bestiality and child abuse." He added that the polling demolished their claim to speak for the majority of Britain's faith communities.
Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales joined the attack on the Government's plans. It said marriage was a "unique institution" centred on the "biological complementarity" of men and women and the possibility of children. The proposed change would "permanently diminish" the significance of marriage for the whole of society, it warned in a submission to the Home Office consultation exercise which ends tomorrow.
Downing Street said it was confident safeguards to stop religious organisations being forced to take part in services would not be overturned by European courts. "No religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals," said a spokeswoman.
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