Blair takes on the Pope by backing gay marriage

The ex-PM, a Catholic convert who introduced same-sex civil unions, intervenes over issue that has split the church

Tony Blair has defied the Pope by making clear he "strongly supports" plans for gay marriage, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. The former prime minister, a Catholic since 2007, backs proposals by David Cameron for a new law allowing homosexuals to marry.

A consultation on gay marriage to be launched later this month has met fierce opposition from senior figures in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to block the "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage". It followed an attack last week by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who said allowing same-sex marriage was "madness" and a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, are also opposed. Last night Dr Williams visited the Pope for private talks at the Vatican, but it was not disclosed whether they discussed the Government's proposals.

Today the campaign against gay marriage is stepped up with a letter from two archbishops to be read to Catholic congregations across England and Wales at mass. The letter will claim that the new law would undermine the institutions of marriage and the family.

But despite the backlash, the Prime Minister and many members of his Cabinet are fully behind the plans. In a significant boost to Mr Cameron, Mr Blair – one of the best known Catholics in Britain – has told friends he "strongly supports the Prime Minister's proposal".

Mr Blair's position is likely to anger the Vatican, which is alarmed at moves in both the UK and the US for same-sex unions. Senior church figures are also opposed to church blessings of same-sex civil partnerships. Mr Blair was responsible for pushing through laws on civil partnerships and lowering the age of consent for homosexuals to 16, but he has remained silent on the issue of gay marriage until now.

When Mr Blair joined the Catholic Church, six months after leaving Downing Street, the Vatican's chief spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said his conversion "can only arouse joy and respect". He joined because his wife, Cherie, is a Catholic and their four children were brought up in the church. But Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory minister and also a Catholic convert, complained that his record as prime minister clashed with the church's teachings.

Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister who will launch the consultation on the new law, has pointed out that marriage is "owned by the people" and not the church. Throwing his weight behind the plans at his party conference last year, Mr Cameron said: "Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative."

Even Tory traditionalists have spoken out in favour of gay marriage. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said on Thursday: "I have to say I've changed my mind on this in recent years and I'm rather in favour of gay marriage."

The row overshadowed the meeting between Dr Williams and the Pope last night. Following their talks, they led evening prayers at the church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio as part of celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Camaldolese (Benedictine) monastic family.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
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
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
  • Get to the point
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