Cameron wins the day on gay marriage

British MPs overwhelmingly back draft legislation, but PM’s alienation of majority in his own party could have consequences

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 4:47am


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British lawmakers voted in favour of controversial legislation allowing gay marriage, despite fierce opposition from members of Prime Minister David Cameron's own party.

Britain's newspapers said the vote had alienated Cameron from many members of his own party and could have far-reaching political consequences ahead of the next general election in 2015.

The move puts Britain on track to join the 10 countries that allow same-sex couples to marry, but Cameron had the embarrassment of seeing more than half of his Conservative legislators refusing to back his plan.

Cameron insisted that the plan to allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales would "make our society stronger", although the draft law still has several other parliamentary hurdles to clear.

"Strong views exist on both sides, but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too is a step forward for our country," Cameron wrote on his Twitter page after the vote.

Strong views exist on both sides, but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too is a step forward for our country

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads the Conservatives' coalition partner the Liberal Democrats, hailed the result as a "landmark for equality". "Tonight's vote shows Parliament is very strongly in favour of equal marriage," he said. "Marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay," he said.

The vote passed by 400 to 175, mainly because it had overwhelming support from the Lib Dems and opposition Labour Party. But just 127 of Cameron's 303 Conservatives voted in favour of the plans, with 136 voting against and 40 more either formally abstaining or not voting.

Cameron had allowed lawmakers a free vote on the issue.

Opponents attacked the bill during an often impassioned day-long debate ahead of the vote in the House of Commons.

Pleas from Cameron's heavyweight cabinet allies to persuade their Conservative colleagues to back his plans and avoid damaging divisions fell on deaf ears.

A former junior defence minister, Gerald Howarth, said the government had no mandate for such a "massive social and cultural change". "I believe this bill is wrong, the consultation was a complete sham. It has caused deep and needless divisions within the Conservative Party," he said.

Another Conservative opponent, Roger Gale, said the legislation was "Orwellian". "Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to rewrite the lexicon," he said.

Same-sex couples in Britain have had the right to live in civil partnerships since 2005 but cannot marry.

The right-leaning Daily Telegraph said Cameron had "sown needless discord" in his party, while the Guardian said the result showed the Conservatives were "hell-bent" on losing the next election.

But the left-leaning Independent dished out rare praise for Cameron, saying he "should be congratulated on his clear judgment, his common decency and his leading from the front".

The bill must next be scrutinised by a committee of lawmakers and then go before the House of Lords before becoming law.