British embassies were banned from flying the international "gay flag" around the world after ambassadors sparked furious protests by displaying the emblem at their buildings.
Worried Foreign Office (FO) bosses imposed the veto after noting that flying the rainbow flag "opens up too many potentially difficult and divisive questions", confidential documents have revealed.
At least three British ambassadors – in Latvia, Poland and Brazil – won praise from the gay community by agreeing to fly the flag to mark gay pride marches in 2008. But, following local protests, the FO sent a confidential "eGram" to embassies, saying that the decision was a precedent which could bring troublesome repercussions.
The message, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, revealed the FO had "considered very carefully" whether to amend its flag-flying policy, but concluded that "we should continue to restrict flag-flying... to national flags, as currently set out in guidance".
It adds: "Flying other flags opens up too many potentially difficult and divisive questions." But ambassadors were told "it would be entirely appropriate to send a message of support".
David Cameron has placed heavy emphasis on his support for gay rights. At the Tory conference earlier this month, delegates applauded as the PM backed gay marriage "because I'm a Conservative".
A ComRes/IoS poll found evidence that public opinion is moving towards a more liberal view, with a majority, 51 per cent, of people agreeing that "same-sex marriage should be legal in the UK", with 34 per cent disagreeing.