Gay marriage Bill: David Cameron offers civil partnership review and seeks to smooth relations with angry activists as Bill clears major hurdle

Consultation could be completed before 2015 general election as 'wrecking' amendment tabled by Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage defeated by 375 to 70 votes

Moves to legalise gay marriage cleared a crucial parliamentary hurdle as it emerged that civil partnerships could be abolished as the price for getting David Cameron’s plans on to the statute book.

A wrecking amendment tabled by Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage was defeated by 375 to 70 votes after the Tory front bench was supported by the vast majority of Labour and Liberal Democrats.

As the Commons debated the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Labour threw Mr Cameron a lifeline in his latest battle with Tory right-wingers. He faced the prospect of losing the vote on the wrecking amendment, which could have delayed the introduction of gay marriage until after the election.

A threatened Conservative rebellion faded away with fewer than 50 backbench MPs voting against their leadership line. The outcome – just five days after 116 of his MPs defied Mr Cameron in a Commons vote on Europe – will come as a relief to the Prime Minister.

After a bruising series of clashes with the party grassroots, he wrote to Tory members, insisting he enjoyed a “deep and lasting friendship” with them.

Ahead of the vote, the Government agreed to review the future of civil partnerships as it tried to head off the amendment. The Tory rebels proposed extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed to support the wholesale review as they joined forces with Mr Cameron.

A senior Conservative source said the review would be launched shortly, with a view to completing it by the time of the 2015 general election and would look at all options, including scrapping the ceremonies altogether. The source told The Independent: “How civil partnerships work and whether they continue to exist, the whole thing would be up for grabs.”

More than 53,000 civil partnership ceremonies have been conducted since they became legal in December 2005. People already in such unions would not see them annulled or lose their existing rights, but abolition would mean gay couples would not be able to enter them in future. A decision would depend on the result of a public consultation exercise, but abolition would be politically risky and could run into opposition.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay equality group Stonewall, said: “There are people who were required to have civil partnerships and want to keep them. If over time, they wither on the vine, so be it. That is unlikely to happen in the lifetime of this parliament.”

With large numbers of Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage, Mr Cameron had to rely on the votes of Labour and Lib Dem MPs to defeat a series of earlier amendments tabled by Tory opponents. They included a move to protect registrars who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. It was thrown out by 340 to 150 votes, with rebels against the leadership line including Cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson.

In a heated Commons debate, traditionalists accused their party leadership of ignoring widespread backbench opposition to speed the contentious measure into law. Sir Gerald Howarth, an ex-minister and former aide to Margaret Thatcher, said there was no Conservative majority in favour of gay marriage and said the policy was not contained in any party’s manifesto.

He added: “I fear that the playing field has not been levelled. I believe that the pendulum is now swinging so far the other way and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further.”

Senior Tories closed ranks to reject a demand for an inquiry into claims the party’s co-chairman, Lord Feldman, ridiculed activists as “swivel-eyed loons”.

The Conservative Party Board threw out a call to examine the allegations which are strongly denied by Lord Feldman, a close friend of Mr Cameron.

Mr Cameron told activists: “I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living