Gay Marriage: MPs Voting On Government Bill

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Gay Marriage: MPs To Debate Plans Amid Rift

MPs are voting on changes to the government's bill to legalise gay marriage.

One proposed amendment, allowing registrars opposed to the reforms to opt-out of performing the ceremonies, has been defeated.

However 150 MPs - mainly Tories - voted in favour of the amendment.

Sky's chief political correspondent Jon Craig said: "We've got getting on for 150 opponents on the Tory side of gay marriage, that’s more than we had Euro rebels last week. Some of those are not Conservative, but the vast majority are."

Meanwhile Labour has launched a bid to save the bill overall, amid fears that a "wrecking amendment" extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples could stall the legislation.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has warned that the amendment - tabled by Tory former families minister Tim Loughton, an opponent of gay marriage - poses "significant challenges" to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which is due to be subject to divisive debates in the House of Commons over the next two days.

David Cameron's official spokesman earlier said the Prime Minister was expected to vote against the Loughton amendment, but declined to say whether defeat would scupper the bill.

Ministers warn that straight civil partnerships would introduce significant delays to the introduction of same-sex marriage and impose additional costs of as much as £4bn. They have put forward an alternative proposal for a review of the future of civil partnerships to take place in five years' time.

Now Labour has put forward its own amendment, which would spark an immediate consultation on straight civil partnerships.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told Sky News: "We are trying to rescue the bill from the mess it seems to be getting into now, everything seems to be getting sucked into this vortex of Tory infighting.

"We in the Labour party strongly support the equal marriage bill. We want people to be able to get married regardless of their gender and sexuality." 

Mr Loughton's amendment would require the support of a large number of Labour MPs to have a chance of success this in this evening's vote, when MPs of all parties have been given permission to vote with their consciences.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it was Liberal Democrat policy that civil partnerships should be available to heterosexual couples but said he would not back amendments that would derail the bill.

"The bottom line is I will do whatever I judge is best to safeguard the bill and to make sure it doesn't become hijacked by those whose ulterior motive is actually to discredit or to derail the legislation," he said.

Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, was among several senior Conservative MPs to speak out against the amendment. 

She told Sky News there was "no significant demand from heterosexual couples for this to happen" and called the amendment a "distraction" that would delay the legislation.

The Prime Minister is expected to vote against Mr Loughton's amendment later. Asked whether the Bill will be dropped if the the amendment is passed, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "The Government has its legislative agenda and it is getting on with it."

Mr Loughton highlighted a ComRes survey of 159 MPs from across the parties which found 73% agreed that civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexuals "in the interests of equality" if gay marriage is legalised.

"If the Government think it is right to extend marriage to everyone then it has to be right to extend civil partnerships to everyone too," he said.

"This can only be good for improving stability for many more of the near three million opposite-sex couples who currently choose to co-habit but are in no formally recognised relationship."

Meanwhile, MPs are also due to debate amendments to protect teachers, registrars and religious organisations from sanctions if they voice their opposition to gay marriage.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Amendments have been tabled to exempt teachers and others in public roles from supporting equal marriage. If MPs vote to accept this, it would undermine many of the positive aspects of the bill.

"Members should focus instead on supporting amendments that will allow same sex couples in occupational pension schemes to be given the same rights as everybody else, as well as making civil partnerships available for straight couples.

"Voting these measures through would strike a real blow for equality."

The row over gay marriage is the latest test of David Cameron's authority amid intense debate within his party over Europe and the rise of the UK Independence Party.

A group of more than 30 current and former local party chairmen warned that the gay marriage plans would drive Tory voters to UKIP and make a Conservative election victory in 2015 impossible.

Bob Woollard, chairman of the Conservative Grassroots group which organised the protest letter to the Prime Minister said: "Same sex marriage is really a tipping point, a bellwether issue if you like - people have just said 'I've had enough, I'm off, I will never vote Conservative again'."

Sky News Deputy Political Editor Joey Jones said the issue of gay marriage was "very uncomfortable" for the Conservative party, which was "divided" over the matter.

"It is difficult because the leadership have set out a line which is in support of gay marriage yet Mr Cameron has some Cabinet colleagues that are voting against or complaining that too much time and energy is being spent on this when they think there are other more important like the economy," he explained.

If the Bill clears the Commons it will head to the Lords, where fierce opposition to the proposals is expected.

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