Downing Street stresses gay marriage is 'free vote' issue after minister Philip Hammond says there is 'a real sense of anger' over Government's 'redefinition of an institution'

There is no great demand for gay marriage but plans have caused widespread upset, according to the Defence Secretary

David Cameron's plans for same-sex marriage have unnecessarily upset "vast numbers of people", Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

 Mr Hammond said there was a "real sense of anger" among voters over the Government's legislation to allow gay weddings.

Today Downing Street stressed that gay marriage was a free vote issue. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Individual Members of Parliament will have their views. They have the ability through the free vote to express that.''

Mr Hammond said there was no great demand in the country for change and criticised the amount of parliamentary time which had been devoted to the issue.

" I have just never felt that this is what we should be focusing on," he told BBC1's Question Time.

"This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes.

"There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage."

He said the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 had dealt with the "very real disadvantage" that gay couples faced in the past.

"There was no huge demand for this and we didn't need to spend a lot of parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this," he said.

Mr Hammond's comments echo the concerns of many traditionalist Tory MPs who say the issue is driving supporters away from the party.

But they are likely to irritate the Prime Minister, who has made the change a key symbol of his efforts to modernise the Conservatives.

Equality Minister Maria Miller last night put forward plans for a review on extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, in a bid to quell opposition to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons.

But under the amendment tabled by Mrs Miller, the review would not take place until five years after gay marriage has been introduced, to allow time for the impact of the new arrangements to be assessed.

The review could pave the way for civil partnerships to be extended, or, if demand has plummeted, scrapped altogether.

The proposal was dismissed today by Conservative former children's minister Tim Loughton as "a spoiling measure from the Government".

Mr Loughton, who has tabled his own amendment for the immediate introduction of straight civil partnerships, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "They should have done this with the Bill."

In a Government consultation on gay marriage, 61% of people said they would like to see civil partnerships extended to heterosexuals, he said.

"They've had the consultation, there's a clear mandate for it, there's a clear majority - as will be shown in an opinion poll this weekend - amongst MPs. Let's get on with it, rather than let it drag on and on."

Mrs Miller has warned that the addition of straight civil partnerships to the current Marriage Bill would significantly delay the introduction of gay marriage and add to the cost of the changes. But Mr Loughton, an opponent of gay marriage, insisted his amendment was "absolutely not" designed to wreck the Bill.

Current proposals will create an inequality between gay couples, who will be able to choose between civil partnership and marriage, and heterosexuals who will only have the option of marriage, he said.

"There are 2.8 million cohabiting couples who don't want to get involved with the whole paraphenalia of marriage but are in a committed relationship and a third of them have children as well," said Mr Loughton.

"I just think we need to give them the option, as gay people now have with the civil partnership - quite rightly - to be able to be in that relationship, to have the rights and responsibilities that go with it as a formal legal recognition and to be able to do that publicly. That's got to be good for stability of families and particularly good for the way we bring up our children. There's a real social need."

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill returns to MPs on Monday and its passage through parliament is expected to remain bumpy.

It is unlikely that couples will be able to take advantage of any law change until well into next year, with the review of civil partnerships then likely in 2019.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones