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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried