MPs vote for gay marriage bill by 400 to 175 in face of widespread Tory rebellion

Bill now faces bruising passage through the House of Lords before almost certainly becoming law this year

Whitehall Editor

Members of Parliament have overwhelming endorsed historic legislation that will give gay couples the equal right to marry.

Almost half a century after homosexuality was legalised in Britain the House of Commons voted by a majority of 400 to 175 to redefine marriage and make it available to all.

But embarrassingly for David Cameron he failed to get a majority of his own MPs to support the move. 139 Tories, including two cabinet ministers, rebelled against the Government with just 132 supporting the measure. There were 75 abstentions.

Nick Clegg hailed the result as a “landmark for equality in Britain” which showed “no matter who you are and who you love, we are all equal” while Ed Miliband said it was “an important step forward in the fight for equality”.

Mr Cameron said that while “strong views” existed on both sides he believed voting for gay people being able to marry was “a step forward for our country”.

However opponents vowed to fight on. The Conservative MP David Burrowes more people would oppose the Bill as it progressed through the Houses of Parliament.

“(The vote) was significant perhaps, even unprecedented, in terms of a government not being able to rely on half… of their own benches,” he said. “It shows the deep concern that there is in the party and I think as we go through the passage of the bill we will see increasing numbers voting (in) opposition”

Seven hours of intense and often heartfelt debate revealed deep divisions on both sides of the House.

Dozens of Conservatives, including the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the Welsh Secretary David Jones, defied the appeals of Mr Cameron to vote against changing the law claiming it would impinge upon religious freedoms. Others, such as the Government's Attorney General Dominic Grieve abstained, with some MPs deliberately voting in both lobbies to express how torn they were.

A number of Labour and Liberal Democrats also chose to vote against the Bill which will now face a bruising passage through committee and the House of Lords before almost certainly becoming law later this year.

To the dismay of gay marriage supporters neither Mr Cameron nor the string of senior Conservative ministers who have recently come out to back the change sat in the Commons as the Culture Secretary Maria Miller outlined the Government's plans.

In recent days Mr Cameron has also declined to reiterate his public support for the Bill with Downing Street insisting it was a genuinely free vote. However an hour before the vote he recorded a television interview saying the move would make society stronger.

“Marriage helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too,” he said. “This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger”

Ms Miller said the bill would allow society to recognise in law that gay couples had the same “depth of feeling, love and commitment” as heterosexual couples.

“I don't think it's the role of Government to tell people what to believe,” she said. “But I do think that Parliament and the State have a responsibility to treat people fairly.”

She was forcefully backed up by her Labour opposite number Yvette Cooper, who said: “Marriage has changed many times over the centuries… and it should change again."

The ayes

Mike Freer (Con)

“When colleagues talk about gay marriage making them physically sick or suggesting it is a step toward legitimising polygamy or incest they need to remember that there are people involved. Words spoken in this chamber hurt far beyond this chamber.” (Full text here)

David Lammy (Lab)

“The Jesus I know was an illegitimate refugee born with a death sentence on his head. He would stand up for minorities.”

Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem)

“Love should be there for one and all. Marriage should not be an exclusive institution. Let me say to honourable members who would say 'he would say that he's a gay man'. It's not. This view is one which is born of a hatred of discrimination of all types”

Margot James (Con)

“The modernisation of the Conservative Party is not yet complete. I believe my party should never flinch from the requirement that we must continue this progression.”

The nays

Edward Leigh (Con)

“We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for? We are alienating people who have voted for us for all their lives, leaving them with no one to vote for.”

Graham Brady (Con)

“I voted in favour of an equal age of consent and civil partnerships because it righted an injustice. This measure does not. I will vote against this motion tonight not because I think the world will end but because it is impossible to guarantee that religious freedoms will not be compromised.”

Stephen Timms (Lab)

“Children are at the heart of marriage... but they are barely mentioned at the Bill. It would be a mistake to lose the value on the creation and bringing up of children and in the end it will be children who lose out if we do.”

David Simpson (DUP)

“This is not the jurisdiction of this government, of any European government or any government in the world. This is an ordained constitution of God. In the Garden of Eden it was… Adam and Eve. It wasn't Adam and Steve.”

Timeline: 500 years of gay rights in Britain

1533 Buggery Act: Britain's first civil sodomy law passed during the reign of Henry VIII

1861 Offences Against the Person Act removes death penalty for sodomy

1885 Labouchere Amendment introduces offence of gross indecency – in practice, the law is used to prosecute homosexuals when sodomy could not be proven

1895 Oscar Wilde sentenced to two years' hard labour for gross indecency

1954 Lord Montagu imprisoned for 12 months for “consensual homosexual offences” in landmark case along with two other men

1957 Wolfenden Report concludes: “Homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence”

1965 Tory Whip Lord Arran proposes the decriminalisation of homosexual acts

1966 Conservative MP Humphry Berkeley proposes decriminalisation. He loses his seat at the general election. Labour MP Leo Abse takes up the issue and persuades Home Secretary Roy Jenkins to support him

1967 Sexual Offences Act allows homosexual acts in private between consenting men aged over 21 in England and Wales. Homosexual behaviour remains illegal elsewhere in the UK

1981 Homosexuality decriminalised in Scotland and in Northern Ireland in the following year

1988 Local Government Act prohibits “the intentional promotion of homosexuality” in a provision known as Section 28

1992 Homosexuality decriminalised in Isle of Man

1994 Age of consent reduced to 18 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

1999 Lifting of ban on gays in armed forces

2000 Age of consent equalised at 16

2002 Adoption and Children Act allows same-sex couples to adopt

2003 Section 28 repealed

2004 Civil Partnership Act: same-sex couples granted same rights as those in civil marriages

2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations prohibit discrimination in provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation

2008 Offence of hate crime introduced on grounds of sexual or gender identity

2009 David Cameron apologises over introduction of Section 28; same-sex couples given equal rights to IVF

2011 Civil partnerships allowed in places of worship

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