Conservative peers in the House of Lords are attempting to scupper plans to allow same-sex couples to hold civil partnerships in churches.
Under regulations drawn up by ministers, religious denominations would be allowed to open their doors to same-sex couples in the new year. But the move is now being opposed by Tory peers, led by Baroness O'Cathain, pictured,who argue that the new law would not properly protect faith groups from being "compelled" to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.
Government whips are confident that the measure will pass but Downing Street will be embarrassed at the sight of Tory peers rebelling against government equality legislation.
It also signals trouble for what is likely to be a much more significant battle over Coalition plans to legalise gay civil marriage. These are due to go out for consultation in March.
Under the proposal, religious denominations could allow their premises to be used to conduct civil partnerships. So far, the Quakers have expressed interest in allowing civil partnerships in their meeting halls bit the Church of England and the Catholic Church have both made clear they will opt out. "If ministers have delivered what they said they would in terms of genuine religious freedom, we would have no reason to oppose the regulations," said a spokesman for the Church of England.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, said it was "disingenuous" to suggest that the plan does not protect faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships.
Mr Summerskill admitted that the plan to allow same-sex civil marriage is likely to be more controversial. Although it is backed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, many church leaders feel deeply uncomfortable with the idea.
Baroness O'Cathain was not available yesterday for comment.