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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project